The new old era: never before had Formula 1 lived such a hectic pre-season. But will 2017 really bring substantial changes or will it just be another year of moving things around?
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Days after winning a championship, Nico Rosberg issued his retirement from the sport. Consequently, the decision cast rumours regarding its predecessor and it would not be until early 2017 that Mercedes would reveal Lewis Hamilton’s new colleague – Valtteri Bottas.
And like a domino effect, “the Valtteri decision” had a huge impact of the never-really-retired Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver took a step back in leaving the Formula 1 circus and came back to Williams to drive alongside Lance Stroll.
The new regulations got all the attention; teams, drivers and media were all speculating about the consequences those may have. However, one of the most impacting news was the departure of Bernie Ecclestone after Liberty Media completed its Formula 1 takeover.
To be honest, sports is a field Liberty Media knows very, very well: the conglomerate owns the Atlanta Braves, an NFL team, apart from owning the Eurosport Channel. Besides, it has recently acquired 25% of the shares of Formula E.
The new owners of Formula 1 are set to introduce thousands of changes and innovations so the sport can reach new audiences and the brands may show interest for the category. To be honest, sports is a field Liberty Media knows very, very well: the conglomerate owns the Atlanta Braves, an NFL team, apart from owning the Eurosport Channel. Besides, it has recently acquired 25% of the shares of Formula E.
To understand the revolution Liberty Media plans for Formula 1 is necessary to know the people behind such a shift, starting with the chairman – John Malone. The 76-year-old business executive is an institution regarding decision-making processes and negotiation. The American businessman began building his empire by acquiring a small telecoms company. Today he is the only man that can be compared with what Rupert Murdoch achieved in the past.
But he is not alone in his Formula 1 adventure, next to him is Chase Carey. The new Formula 1 chief has a great deal of experience in television. Indeed, he was behind the success of Fox Sports and News Corporation. Carey lands in Formula 1 at the right time, just when the audiences of the competition are dropping dramatically, from 600 million viewers in 2008 to 400 in 2016.
One of the big changes Liberty Media plans to carry out is to seize the potential of marketing within the sport. To such a task, Carey will rely on Sean Bratches – once the Vice President of Marketing & Sales at ESPN. He is known for being someone with a wise vision regarding revenue and advertising. Furthermore, he moves like a fish in the water when is about digital platforms and getting new sponsorships. He himself acknowledged the importance of changing the current digital strategy and focusing more on the fans.
“Formula 1 is one of few truly global tier-one sports, and I am encouraged by the manifold opportunities to materially grow the business, work closely with current and future sponsors, race circuits, television rights holders as well as create next-generation digital and on-site race experiences to best serve the Formula 1 fan”, Bratches comments.
Carey lands in Formula 1 at the right time, just when the audiences of the competition are dropping dramatically, from 600 million viewers in 2008 to 400 in 2016.
More familiar within the motorsport family is, of course, Ross Brawn. The British engineer has considerable expertise in Formula 1 as he worked for McLaren, Ferrari and Williams to name a few. Now he comes back to the competition as Managing Director, someone that knows the technical aspect of the sport as the palm of his hand. On his table he will have to struggle with issues such as downforce, hybrid engines and a new model that ensure equals opportunities for teams to fight for the championship.
The digital world
Liberty Media aims to extend the Formula 1 brand through the Internet by breaking current boundaries and bringing the competition to new markets as well. To do so, creating and offering exclusive content is paramount for success, especially if the new holders want to provide it 24/7. As long as the content is worthy, people will pay for it, so the revenue will increase too. Likewise, allowing teams to share more information with the fans will also increase their engagement.
Presumably, other points that are going to change in the future are the Grand Prix weekends. As Liberty Media has confirmed, they want to transform every race into a Super Bowl. What does that mean exactly? They want to start by boosting the practice sessions, making them more appealing for the public so most fans would not only attend the Sunday’s race but also the previous days.
Nevertheless, these ideas do not do wonders by themselves. A better competition is required, meaning that teams would play on the same pitch and the budget differences would not be huge since it would be limited.
Broadly speaking, this may be the Formula 1 of the future. Nonetheless, changing such a world with many stakeholders involved will be a challenge. Some of the ideas even include a race without world champions. Personally, and considering Formula 1 is a sport where fans take their involvement with favourite teams very seriously, removing the championship from the image can definitely turn out to be a double-edged sword for the new era.