If I Ran F1: George Woods Baker

If you had a chance to run Formula 1, what would you change to improve it? That is a question that has been posed and answered by dozens in and out of the sport. For months now the chorus of opinions of what is wrong with Formula 1 and how to fix it has been growing more deafening by the hour.

Of course, you know the expression. Everyone has one. Everyone, including Bernie Ecclestone it seems, agrees that Formula 1 has, in many respects, lost its way.

That might be too simple an explanation. I believe Formula 1 is simultaneously playing catch-up while racing toward a crossroads. What isn’t clear is how this road-racing unicorn can reinvent itself to remain the vibrate global sport and business ecosystem it has become. And that, in my opinion, is what makes the challenge such an opportunity.

Is Formula 1 really in trouble? Are the issues that plague it chronic and ultimately fatal? If the start to this 2016 season is any indication, it would suggest that the doomsday predictors are suffering from hysterics. Still, there are significant issues that need to be addressed if the sport of Formula 1 is to remain at the pinnacle of all motorsport in a way that is relevant to current and future generations of the avid fans.

It’s important to appreciate that there are still many things right about Formula 1. The fact that this sophisticated enterprise and powerful brand has persisted through seven decades owes everything to the clever mind, hard work and vision of one man. Love him or vilify him, we are all debating the merits of something Bernie Ecclestone fully developed, if not created, over the past forty odd years. Never forget that.

When we talk about Formula 1, we are really talking about two related entities: the sport of high-end racing and the business of Formula 1 that exploits the commercial rights of that sport.  It’s a fair distinction that bears keeping in mind as changes are discussed and made.

Formula 1 is a blend of racing and entertainment. It is an unfolding annual event divided into chapters complete with cutting-edge technology, colourful characters and political intrigue as numerous agendas play out in paddocks around the world. It provides a complete world for the fan to immerse themselves into with barely a break from one season to the next. It is a show that is perceived in the moment with each moment compared to and added to its history.

If I were to acquire control of Formula 1, I’d focus first on stabilising the racing while I worked to overhaul the ownership and governance of the business. After all, if the spectacle fails to deliver, there’s little point in investing any effort to nurture and exploit it in any sustainable way. It’s also far easier to effect positive change in the racing that will, in turn, drive positive change through the byzantine business interests that must also evolve to maximize Formula 1’s overall value.

Not everything needs to evolve, in my opinion. Sometimes progress is made by revisiting and preserving aspects of the past.

Like any great sport Formula 1 has a legacy. And like any sport that has stood the test of time a piece of that legacy belongs to everyone. Part of that legacy is the caché of Formula 1, an exclusive environment that teases a peek at the glamorous world within. If you take care of that legacy, you deliver the rewards all the way down the chain leaving a smile on the face of every stakeholder and a bag full of coins in their vaults.

Love him or vilify him, we are all debating the merits of something Bernie Ecclestone fully developed, if not created, over the past forty odd years. Never forget that.

Films are made all over the world, but everyone wants their movie to be associated with Hollywood. Likewise, Formula 1 has circuits that are steeped in history. Circuits where innovation was first introduced and tested, where records were set and broken, hard fought victories celebrated. The new circuits want to be part of that, to be mentioned in the same breath as Monaco, Monza, Spa or Silverstone. The technology that drives Formula 1 relentlessly forward deserves the context that these storied circuits can provide – even if they themselves have evolved over time. The ghosts of past races still echo around their corners and down their straights.

So let’s start by securing some of the past to create a foundation for the future. Establish Legacy or Heritage Circuits: Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Sao Paulo, Suzuka and Canada. Circuits that are protected with reasonable long-term contracts that allow them to prosper. Establish a second tier that might presently include China, Australia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi as tent poles that have earned their place regionally in extending the sport globally beyond its roots.

By all means homologate as many as 28 to 30 potential circuits around the world. Allow those not previously mentioned to bid at a premium for slots on the calendar on a rotating basis so that each one has a chance to bring Formula 1 to its region without the potential of wearing out its welcome as so often happens to new venues in developing markets.

I’d even have one of the “off” circuits bid to hold a mid-season test. Include two short races on the Saturday and Sunday for whoever wants to show up. Grids would be set in order of the current driver standings. Anything goes. No points. Just testing and the pure enjoyment of racing. Allow the venue to make it a three-day festival of Formula 1.

The stakeholders of Formula 1 are always trying to get the US market on board. My advice is not to attempt to bring those fans into the fold across a full season of races, but rather focus on a half dozen must-watch events. Events that carry an extra bonus and can be viewed during reasonably normal hours.

I’d bring in a sponsored grand slam series of 5 feature races throughout the season with a separate $50mm purse for top 3 scores ($25mm/$15mm/$10mm). If you built and marketed that to the US audience and sponsors, you’d create a valuable franchise.

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