Testing times ahead for F1’s new owners

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By Scott Pryce, Scott Pryce is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    What does the future hold for Formula One? (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

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    Liberty Media begin their second year as Formula One’s owners with a massive challenge ahead of them. They have invested $8 billion and upon completing their rookie year there were signs we should look forward to 2018.

    Gone are those ridiculous grid penalties, shark fins and T-wings. We still have those funny coloured tyre sidewalls though.

    Mandatory for 2018 is the halo cockpit-protection structure. The French and German Grands Prix are back and 2018 will equal the 2016 season as the longest season in history – oh, and we have a new logo.

    Regardless that they ran a loss in 2017, Liberty’s first-year report card seems above average. Their confidence boosted with an eight per cent increase on 2016 attendance figures – an extra 4 million fans attending the 20 races in 2017.

    However, Liberty’s confidence took a hit as it got a firsthand lesson in figures clouded with controversy. It was found some promoters submitted inflated attendances to represent huge increases at their race – Azerbaijan, for instance, enjoyed a 138 per cent increase in numbers compared to 2016, but once all the figures were adjusted, this dropped dramatically to 58 per cent.

    Again, in typical style, the explanations for this and many other discrepancies were dark and confusing, beginning with the formula used to measure the 2016 data becoming obsolete at that season’s end. The new method for measuring 2017 data interpreted the data using a different formula favouring positive results for the promoters.

    Liberty are acutely aware of races, like Azerbaijan, being held in countries where motor racing is scarce, simply buying their way onto the calendar by paying a big fee.

    With collective hosting fees contributing to over 30 per cent of Liberty Media’s revenue, you could argue it would be in their best interest to retain these, and seek more, races for these big fees. Well, refreshingly, Liberty has the fans’ interests and the sport’s image at heart and find this practice contradictive to their plans to excite.

    Their ideology is finding countries that have a history in the sport, which should prove easy, and will allow them to host races at discounted fees. This, Liberty feels, will rebuild the sport’s image while benefiting all three parties: Liberty, promoters and the fans. It may take some time and we may need to be patient, but Liberty is in it for the long haul.

    Within the establishment, Liberty haven’t been afraid to put teams on notice, with cost capping and equality seemingly inevitable. As these measures will compromise team payments, it appears not everyone wants to play.

    Ferrari’s Marco Mattiacci, echoed by Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, has said if Liberty choose to go down these roads then maybe F1 is not in their plans. Both teams stated they don’t need F1, leading to rumblings of a breakaway series.

    Red Bull’s Christian Horner’s comments relating to the cost capping refers to the inability to police such a measure. These comments are born from the legacy of Liberty’s predecessors, where favouring established teams had been a priority.

    It’s not surprising these three teams topped the payment list for 2017. If you were to study the extraordinary complex system used to decide team payments in this distribution – totalling $986 million – the imbalance is outrageous.

    In any other performance-based reward system, you are permitted to think it inconceivable for a competitor preforming lower in the final standings to earn more than a higher performing team. But not in F1.

    Ferrari finished second in 2017, yet topped the list, earning $180 million. Mercedes, champions for the past four years, received $9 million less, with Red Bull rounding out the teams to receive over $100 million, with a payment of $161 million.

    Spare a thought for Force India, they finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship and received $72 million – $25 million less than McLaren, who finished ninth, good for second last. What’s more, Ferrari’s bonus payments were more than Force India’s $72 million performance-based total payment.

    Four teams – Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren – all received a Constructors’ Championship bonus, a guise for separate agreements with F1, averaging $35 million. Haas received $19 million in total. Ferrari received an extra $70 million for, well, just being Ferrari.

    With such a system it is clear, and has been for a long time, why smaller teams fall off the back of the grid while the larger teams maintain a solid foothold.

    The problem for F1 is this has rendered the sport boring, with Liberty now chartered to rectify this conundrum.

    The next three to four years are a pivotal period. The existing contracts conclude at the end of 2020 and Liberty Media, we hope, will have a blueprint for the next chapter, creating a greater spectacle.

    Liberty appear to have a different view of the sport than their predecessors – something F1 is not used to – with a can-do attitude, being unmoved by Ferrari’s threat to quit.

    To bring what is needed to have the premier open-wheel series in the world, Liberty will hold all concerned as equal and won’t bother who stays or who goes.

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    The Crowd Says (2)

    • January 16th 2018 @ 3:29pm
      Bamboo said | January 16th 2018 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

      Sorry not to be pedantic, but Marco Mattiacci hasn’t been in the sport since 2014. I think who you are referring to is Sergio Marchionne.

      It will be an interesting year. My two cents:

      – What impact will the halo have on things? I can see there being a very anti F1 sentiment after FP1 at Albert Park.
      – Max Verstappens success won’t be determined by his skill, but by Renaults performance and reliability.
      – Speaking of which, how far up the grid will McLaren go?
      – Honda showed glimpses of performance towards the end of last year with Alonso a Q3 regular by season end. How will Toro Rosso go?
      – Its a big year for Lance Stroll. If he gets beaten by a rookie in Sirotkin (to be announced later this week), and was beaten by Massa last year, what future does he have in the sport, if any?
      – Where to for Williams? Paddy Lowe is a good acquisition, but they have relied on Venezuelan oil money for the last couple of years, and now Lance Strolls Dad. Can Williams afford to drop Stroll if he doesn’t perform this year?
      – How long is harmony maintained in Force India this year? If Perez has any higher aspirations in the sport, he needs to beat Ocon.
      – Where does Danny Ric end up, and what does his relationship with Red Bull look like this year? Its fair to say their priority for the future is Verstappen, but does that compromise things this year?

      I could go on and on. The grid is packed pull of talent this year, with the only exceptions being Ericsson and Stroll. Everyone else is there on merit, and I cannot think of a time where so many were there purely on merit.

      Bring on Melbourne!

      • January 16th 2018 @ 7:48pm
        Scott Pryce said | January 16th 2018 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

        Haha so it was ‘Sergio Marchionne’ rookie mistake, I like you were pedantic its what is needed in this case.

        I don’t think the halo will have any difference, if it did, good or bad it would have been found out during the test runs last seasons.
        Yes true on Max, he will still show that he is on his way to the top, gutsy driver
        You are correct about Honda, never count them out, they were happy to leave McLaren where they had all the pressure, now with Toro Rosso, where there will be less pressure and with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley waiting to prove themselves
        Williams need something to happen quickly, but I can’t see anything on the horizon
        Big year for Danny and Perez, they both need to do well as under preforming will raise questions where to now.

        A feisty year I believe with the young ones

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