Circuit posturing F1’s new normal

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By Bayden Westerweller, Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the #5 Ferrari. (Photo by Pablo Guillen/Action Plus via Getty Images)

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    Formula One’s owner Liberty Media’s professed desire for “21 Super Bowls” is being tempered by multiple existing circuits seeking to exercise their right to renegotiate hosting fees.

    Coupled with Miami’s impending inclusion on the calendar pro bono – a privilege shared with Monaco, and other destinations such as Hanoi and Buenos Aires in the pipelines – current venues are assessing their options as Liberty edges closer to universal autonomy of the sport from 2021.

    Silverstone and Baku are both pursuing break clauses in contracts which weren’t due to expire for several years, while Hockenheim – the sole host of the biannual German Grand Prix since 2014, and in the final season of its commitment – insists that any future agreement must be more favourable.

    The British GP, which has been held exclusively at Silverstone since 1987, activated its clause following last year’s event, dictating that the 2019 edition will be the final unless new terms are reached.

    Considering the prestige attached to the race, in tandem with a lack of viable alternatives within the country that hosted the first World Championship event in 1950, this is unlikely to come to pass, though it demonstrates that promoters are game to test Liberty’s resolve in the post-Bernie Ecclestone world.

    Indeed, British Racing Drivers’ Club chairman, John Grant, remarked at the time “we are fully supportive of the changes the Liberty team are making to improve the F1 experience”, undoubtedly hoping that sentiment is extended to venues.

    Grant was upfront in saying “the challenges associated with the contract signed in 2009 with the then owners of Formula One have been well documented”, adding that “the reality is that for many years the British Grand Prix has made a net loss.”

    Conversely, Azerbaijan, which has only featured on the calendar since 2016, doesn’t enjoy as much leverage despite the past two events being some of the most memorable in recent years. Its existing arrangement was one of the final legacies of the Ecclestone era.

    Hockenheim is an anomaly in its recurring presence on the calendar, having been left without a partner when the Nurburgring disappeared, yet it should be commended for persisting as long as it has.

    That Mercedes has dominated the sport for the past five seasons and Sebastian Vettel is firmly back in title contention, though Germany remains indifferent to Formula One’s spectacle since the heady days of Michael Schumacher, is a riddle.

    It’s only fair that it has tired of dipping into its own pockets, with no support from the government or manufacturers, so it looms as a case study for Liberty to determine if it should intervene or move on.

    Where Liberty must tread lightly is finding the right compromise between understanding promoters’ requests based on factors such as loyalty and worth, while pushing forward with its expansion into lucrative markets.

    It will also want to distance itself from some of the more dubious deals struck under Ecclestone’s watch, with Baku firmly meeting this criteria. Thus, the merits of placing its fate in Liberty’s hands so soon into the partnership are questionable if the break clause is actioned.

    Smart promoters know their place – some already wield power, others will choose to keep their powder dry until a time they can negotiate off numbers which render them indispensable. The rest…

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