Choosing the right races

It is no great surprise to hear that Bernie Ecclestone is saying that the German Grand Prix could drop from the Formula 1 calendar. The government (at national, regional and local level) does not wish to pay the Formula One group to hold a race each year and so any promoter must try to make an event pay by other means. This is virtually impossible in the modern age. One can argue that such an approach is unreasonable given what an event brings to a country, but that is the way it is in Germany, despite the fact that the country has had a rich history in the sport in the last 25 years. One of the most important players in F1 is Mercedes-Benz and both BMW and Volkswagen are German and both could get involved in F1 if the circumstances were deemed to be right. The World Champion for the last four years has been a German and there are four German drivers in F1, more than any other nationality. The German GP itself has existed since 1926 and has been held in all but two years since the World Championship began in 1950. It is a core F1 event. On a personal level, it is clear that Ecclestone has no reason to be nice to the Germans. He has been put on trial there and could end up in jail in the country if the courts decide that he is guilty. It is hardly surprising that he would be less than helpful. Having said that perhaps in a few weeks – just before the trial begins – he will offer them a cheap deal…

Equally, it is no great surprise to hear that Ecclestone has done a deal to take Formula 1 to Baku in Azerbaijan, probably in 2016. The country is one of the former Soviet republics, but is an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim state, although it does not have good relations with its neighbour Iran, which is also Shia. The country is rich (and getting richer) thanks to oil and gas. The country’s exports are 90 percent reliant on energy products but the government wants to use its wealth to promote growth and spur employment in non-energy sectors. This all makes sense enough. The bad news is that the country does not score well when it comes to corruption. Transparency International ranks it 127th out of 177 countries, on the same level of perceived corruption as Russia. The Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) last year named Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev its person of year – which is not an award anyone actually wants to win.

The vast sums of money available mean that the government can afford to pay for a Grand Prix in a country that has a population that is only slightly larger than London. Two million of the nine million people live in Baku, which is seven times larger than any other city. The city bid for the 2020 Olympic Games but was rejected by the IOC. However it has held a couple of international motor races, the FIA GT Series visiting the city in 2012 and 2013. The race took place on a 2.5-mile street circuit close to the dramatic Baku Crystal Hall arena, next to Flag Square, part of the developing Caspian waterfront in the city.

Money may be the ultimate goal for Bernie Ecclestone and those behind him but it is worth noting that the Russia and Azerbaijan are the lowest ranking countries to have been included in the F1 World Championship in the last 20 years. The lowest before that was India (94th), China (80th), Brazil (72nd) and Italy (69th). Given the damage that is being done to the sport by Ecclestone’s adventures in Germany – whether they prove to be true or not – it is perhaps not wise for the sport to be reaching lower and lower down the list… Big multinational companies look at these kind of things when they consider whether to get involved in sponsorships.

68 thoughts on “Choosing the right races

  1. Depressing… We all know there is very little idealism or morallity in the business of F1, but it would be nice not to have our noses rubbed in it quite so blatantly.

  2. Maybe Mercedes, VW, BMW, & Audi might want to help the German GP find the money they are very happy to invest in China ranks low on the transparency scale and is just as corrupt in more ways than you can think.

    I don’t think B is really serious about Baku and I also don’t believe he really thinks he can influence a court case in Germany because of playing games with German GP if he does it must be really time to retire..

  3. Yes, well the motorsport history of Azerbaijan is obviously the attraction here for Bernie & the F1 Circus……however for fans, it is clearly obvious that the sport needs a total root and branch overhaul. The current business methodology of F1 is just asset stripping really, and without the demise of Bernard I fear it will decline. In my view and that of other long term enthusiasts, this has been the case for several years now, and adding Baku to the list whilst dropping Germany ( another jolly Bernard wheeze which in his dotage he may think will assist him as a threat for the German legal system ) will only help to hasten the end of the series as it now exists. Try telling the Board of Daimler Benz that they really don’t want to showcase their brand in Germany!
    Of course with dotty old Bernard, one never knows what he has in mind, maybe he just wants to make the series very unattractive to investors so CVC can’t float it or sell any part of it. And it is obviously not the case that Bernie wants to pull in VW to the series without a German round of it. F1 from the outside for all of us who love racing, is isolated as a series, where it used to be a part of the whole landscape. This is wrong, and has resulted in the Circus acts living an Alice in Wonderland existence that is only sustained by illogical viewing figures and corrupt governments. Race tracks cannot afford the series which is so concentrated on its navel that it can’t see that the World is moving past it and into a future where it will face a financial collapse caused by abandoning its core market. The absolutely laughable “fans” on other forums/blogs, clearly identify this issue as they have no interest or knowledge of the history of motorsport or indeed of the history of F1. Neither do they have any interest in motorsport, they only talk of F1 and then mostly to disparage certain drivers or each other. It is truly pathetic especially as Bernie seems to think these people are the only ones he wants to engage with. Hence I guess, the talk purportedly from him in recent months, of 1 hour races and 30 minute sprint races. Really with these fanboys, he’d be better off having 10 minute F1 events, as that is just about the level of their attention span. Very sad outlook for a sport I’ve followed for 50 years.

    1. ‘maybe he just wants to make the series very unattractive to investors so CVC can’t float it or sell any part of it’ – now there’s a thought – he’s getting a bit old to do it all again though surely?

  4. I can’t see the credibility of F1 being helped by these type of deals but Bernie Ecclestone is running F1 not me.
    I think these questions are worth asking.
    How many of the nine million population are interested in motor racing?
    What type of crowd could we expect to see? It never looks good when any sport has empty stands.
    How proficient are the marshals going to be? Any profit from the event would be insignificant if a serious incident occurred and the marshals where found wanting.

  5. So you’re saying that F1 is quitting a country where its ringmaster can be locked up for bribery for one where bribery is commonplace.

    Fancy that…

  6. I like Baku. The Muslim situation is quite low key and the young appear able to dress in modern fashion. The president is putting a lot back into the infrastructure compared to his father – once upon a time the only decent road was the one from the president’s palace to the airport. However, it is a difficult work environment because of “their methods of business”. Oiling the cogs is another person’s corruption. I would think it might be a good venue for a GP. It is a great location and will not be sterile like some we have.

      1. A bit sensationalist yes 🙂
        But even if its not WW3 – I would think there might be a high chance Russia will be at war (Or just out of war ) at the time of the GP

        1. Ah, but Russia will not be at war. Haven’t you heard Lavrov state that there are no russian troops in the Crimea? Just well armed and organised neighbourhood watch guys (see, no insignia, right), so it won’t be Russia making war (I do know that this is as believable as Bernie training Horner as his successor)

  7. Oh yes! Just like Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Renault, and any other manufacturer , as well as sponsors involved in the series, I’m sitting on pins and needles in antisipation of the Grand Prix of AzerbyWTF!

  8. Joe read your earlier post on media management, which was pretty spot on as someone who is a trade media jourmno, but could this not be just the same thing, keeping the Russians and the Germans on their toes? We’ve been promised a New Jersey grand prix for 2 or 3 years have we seen one – well no basically.
    And worth noting, Singapore, where I live, attracts 80k – 90k to its GP with a population of 5m, so I think marketing might be key.

    1. Almost no chance of the New Jersey GP ever happening. Too many buildings would have to be rebuilt, and roads altered. The disruption would be so great that there would likely be political fallout. And then, of course, the promoters won’t make any money. And then someone has to pay to put the road signs back and all the rest of the public infrastructure. Maybe if a billionaire stumped up the $100 million it would cost, and sweetened the pill for local people… The best we can hope for is Long Beach. But even there I doubt it – far too expensive. The only people who can afford F1 GPs nowadays are corrupt governments.

  9. I think B does not care too much about Transparency International ranks… It seems to being attractive to him, I guess.

  10. Blimey, Bernie gets a good kicking. He has been reasonably instrumental in the success of this sport. Look how the WRC has disappeared off the radar and Le Mans is a one horse race. F1 is a global sport not a European hegemony. (Mind you, I am in Melbourne next week. Will I experience the pace car being the noisiest car there and see it completing the most laps? Damian’s concerns being added to perhaps)

    1. I think Bob, that Bernie & Max were mostly instrumental in pushing the WRC and Sportscar racing off the radar. However, Audi and others, are now making sportscar racing interesting again, and drawing enthusiasts again. The WRC is also getting more marques involved although marketing it is pathetic at present. The thing with other series like F2 & F3000, was that they were well followed, but that didn’t suit Bernie who wanted all the money and all the spectators for F1. This pursuit of money at all costs to the sport, has directly led to motorsport categories dying out. Who really is interested in GP2 & GP3? I couldn’t tell you who the last 3 or 4 champions have been in either. Unlike F2 or F3000, they don’t interest me at all. It’s just one make formulae, and that has never been interesting for me or many others.For me F1 isn’t really a global sport, it’s The Emperors New Clothes. It takes place in parts of the globe that have no interest or history, in motorsport, and leaves huge numbers of fans without races, in places that do have that interest and shared history. And even now, the costs involved are frankly ludicrous and pretty obscene. I don’t want to see people lose jobs, but I have never understood why anyone should think it necessary for 1000 people to be needed to build and run 2 cars for 18 or 19 2 hour races. 1000 people for 36-38 hours of racing and £100’s of millions spent on it, it absurd…and one of the primary reasons why it is getting less popular with the public. Even the Greens aren’t impressed by the new formula for this year. The answer is for Bernie to retire and CVC sell back to the participants, and then let the Teams seek from the spectators and fans, what they would like to see. I would bet, simple straightforward rules for making the cars, less exotic materials, fewer far flung events, and close racing that requires skill, not aero nor trick tyres nor trick brakes etc etc, just pure racing between fine drivers.

    2. I think its a case of “absolute power, corrupts absolutely”. Bernie i believe started off with good intentions and did a lot of good for the sport early on. Unfortunately, at some point, the greed and ego has overtaken the passion and he is now in the process of hugely weakening the spectacle he built.

      WRC is starting to have some kind of revival now with changes to the series, more manufacturers coming back in and no one individual dominating the championship. As for Le Mans, its managed to join up with alternate series around the world which has helped to attract 3 of the biggest car brands (Porsche,Toyota, Nissan) into its ranks in the past few years and seems much healthier than it was when Peugeot left and handed Audi the top spot on a plate for years and seems to be oversubscribed when it comes to grid places.

      Compare that with F1 that has lost several manufacturers, only gaining one and putting others right against the ropes in survival terms. viewing figures in decline, one of the biggest teams struggling to find a title sponsor and due to the sport going behind paywalls in many countries less chance of pulling in new young fans to become tomorrows engineers, drivers or god forbid paying racegoers.

      I think in recent history the BTCC has done the best job of turning around a failing series. After the manufacturers unlimited budget supertouring days, the sport declined massively with half empty grids and not much audience. now its in rude health, grids are full, the field is competitive and close, the races are accessible and affordable, the drivers have personalities and every race is unmissable. All things that just don’t apply to F1 any more.

      1. Well one answer would be for someone like Alan Gow to start an open wheel series with races at the F1 circuits that matter, like Spa,Monza,Suzuka etc etc, and with sensible regulations, a transparent set of rules and prize money distribution, and access for the fans. If kept to 14-15 races, and if designer led as F1 used to be, with wind tunnels removed and less high tech things, it should make for a good spectacle,be much cheaper, and then Circuit Owners would have a better choice, stick with CVC or go for something spectator orientated. One might find that it would suit certain of the F1 teams to upsticks and try it, and if enough tried it CVC might be left with an empty nest!

        1. That model already exists in IndyCar and the results speak for themselves. You could also apply that model to A1GP and AutoGP, same result.

          1. I think comparing one-make series to what Damian proposes is a little unfair. The pattern is always that variety is the spice of racing life, and as soon as vehicle variety falls then spectator interest falls accordingly. When IndyCar was multi-manufacturer it was popular; when it went one-make it dropped away. When BTCC was populated by Ford, Vauxhall, Volvo, Alfa, BMW and the rest it was popular. A few years later when pretty much only Vauxhall were left it was almost dead. F3000 used to have lots of different manufacturers, including some old F1 chassis, but as the years dragged on and Lola became the de facto and finally the official only choice its popularity plummeted. When the WRC was a multi-manufacturer battle between Ford, Subaru, Lancia, Toyota, Mitsubishi and others it was popular. As a two hander between Citroen and Ford it bored the life out of many of us who used to huddle in dank corners of Clumber Park to watch the RAC.

            NASCAR understands this and has tried to keep the diversity there, albeit in synthetic form through massive CoT design restrictions almost literally papered over by stickers designed to make the cars look a little different. No new one-make series has ever really taken off except as a sporting jaunt for wealthy executives, and even there as soon as the revitalised multi-manufacturer GT2 and GT3 classes were up and running they started stealing a lot of the limelight from the Porsche and Ferrari one-make series. I think a lot of the credit for the revitalised manufacturer interest in the LMP classes has to be given to the foundation of public interest that the GT classes have built in the last half a dozen years.

            Fundamentally, spectators can’t see the drivers during a race, so the only visual identifier is in differences between the cars. Watching 30 of the same thing drone round and round is dull beyond belief, even if they are all painted different colours. Variety in design also means there is variety in the racing, as different cars will have different strengths an weaknesses. Just look at this season’s F1 testing. Everyone agrees that Red Bull are phenomenal through the corners, but their motor is letting them down. Williams have a great motor but are they as good in the twisty bits? Won’t it be fun finding out?

            If a new series wants to be successful it simply has to have some mechanism for attracting and keeping a number of constructors. If Formula E can do this (and solve the rather dim ‘changing cars in mid race’ issue) then I think F1 should start to get a little worried. Just because the cars aren’t outright as fast as F1 doesn’t mean people won’t watch. If they can develop proper multi-constructor racing, in glamourous city centre locations that look good on TV and will attract the beautiful people to attend, with good media coverage and quality drivers, I think people might get interested. I used to watch the F3 on the BBC and it was great entertainment, but when Reynard became the only chassis choice the interest dropped off and Auntie Beeb dropped the coverage shortly thereafter.

            Starting Formula E as a one-make series makes sense from some angles, but if they are serious about making at last it needs multiple manufacturers very soon indeed. However, if they can parley the current novelty value interest into serious interest in the competition itself then F1 is going to have to work hard to keep up. Formula E can literally go places that F1 can’t. I can’t ever see somewhere like Hyde Park being used for F1 racing as the neighbours would have a fit about the noise. The burghers of Kensington and Westminster are used to road closures (London Marathon, Olympics, state occasions, etc etc.) but the noise would be intolerable. But if the series develops along the lines Damian suggests then a combination of the classic race venues with new city circuits seems to me to be an F1 killer in the making. Alan Gow doesn’t need to start a series, it potentially already exists…

            1. You got my point entirely. And yes you are also spot on about variety. There are Porsche and Ginetta series in the UK, that have some good young drivers and tight racing, but the cars are just….plain…boring!!!!
              The only uplifting thing for me, about the new F1 regs is that for the first time in about a decade they actually look a bit different to each other, so one can identify each car by shape, as opposed to colour scheme, where a lot of the time one didn’t have a clue who was driving which team car unless one knew what their helmet scheme was for each race. Having all the cars look identical and all the engines identical and all the new circuits identical ,maybe Bernie has OCD, was making F1 look boring. many friends of mine who have no motor sport interest have said to me that they all look the same and the tracks do too, so why bother to look at each race anyway? Even friends I have who love motorsports, have turned to WRC or MotoGP and abandoned F1. It really needs change, and as you said, one make series or a series where all the cars/engines are almost exactly the same, eventually become totally boring and lose public interest. It was impossible not to see the differences in a McLaren M23, Tyrell 006, Ligier JS5 , Brabham BT44 etc, this has slightly returned this year, but I fully expect that the divergence seen now, will evaporate once all the aero guys work out who has the best body shape, and we will be back to a virtually one make series. And of course, the engine/power unit variety is non existent as has been the case for about 20 years now.

    3. ‘reasonably instrumental’ – whatever you think of him I think you can knock off the reasonably bit – its just a shame F1has got into the state it currently is in – but that’s not (all) his fault and we all bang on about how it could be reformed – more team unity , budget restrictions etc. – to no avail

    4. Audi, Toyota, Porsche, and soon Nissan only equal one horse? Seems to be more manufacturer interest in Le Mans than F1.

      1. I was being a little sarcastic: Audi victors 12 times in 14 years at La Sarthe is not as exciting as the C1 years unless you are shareholder in the company.

  11. Although this kind of thing does rather make you wish somebody would lock Bernie up, I have a feeling that he isn’t really the root of the problem and any full-blown businessman taking over from him would run the show with even less regard for the interests of Formula 1 and its participants.

    Surely the root of the problem is the FIA’s scandalous decision to sell the commercial rights n the first place? Money talks, and once you have a commercial rights owner who owes no duties to the sport and has no constraints, they will obviously operate the business to maximise profit. It isn’t greed, as so often claimed, it’s just business. There is no reason at all why they should care about the interests of the teams, or the circuits or the fans. If they can generate more money from a smaller number of viewers on a pay-per-view contract, why should they care about the teams or their sponsors? This is what the FIA set up.

    As far as Bernie is concerned, at least he is a racing enthusiast and his instincts about what will improve the racing are generally about right. Whoever replaces him (and I don’t see why the owners should consider anybody from within F1) may well have no racing instincts and the sport may well be even worse off than it is now.

  12. I think Bernie (or whoever is running F1 in the next few years) is going to have an increasingly difficult time getting gov’ts in the developed nations to underwrite F1 races. There are just too many competing interests for those limited dollars and a strong case to be made that if the market demands those races, they will find alternate ways to pay for it.

  13. Others elswhere have said it better than I can but my first reaction is to feel sorry for the fans who love F1. There seems little room for us in Bernie’s and fom’s plans.
    Losing core historic events is a painful prospect. I know it’s pure romance to long now for the old F1 oecumenia, but Joe’s reports [informative as they are] on Russia, Romania, and the like, and now Baku of all places, fill me with unease….

    Maybe a twenty minute run round the freezing park will fix those blues

    At the same time I hesitate slightly to wonder who “Transparency International” are and how much faith we ought to put in their list.

  14. Mr Misdirection is at it again! Whilst everyone is focusing on the left hand, I wonder what the right is doing?…

  15. Azerbaijan (and other central Asian states) need to change their brand… as a block, they are an increasing confident global force evidently… rapid modernisation and oil-wealth that is s-l-o-w-l-y percolating through the levels of society. That said; most of the world know nothing about them… whilst they have income, their social and commercial infrastructure appears to be at first base – and the standard impression is that of wide open plains, ruddy faces and machinery powered by ropes and animals…

    On this basis I completely get why they want to make a world splash with an F1 race… and I support them.

    But the point is that F1 should not be an easy club to join – there needs to be a gestation period to demonstrate committment and desire. Instant gratification for a price just helps sustain the CVC model, and is completely unacceptable at the expense of existing locations with a very important historic association with the sport.

    The IOC holds big grandiose assessments and elaborate voting ceremonies on potential Olympic host cities – the FIA should grow a pair and do similar for new locations… if they hadn’t just been paid to keep out of it that is… tut, tut…

  16. For far too long Bernie Ecclestone has being peddling the idea that the world needs Formula One.Which often results in millions of taxpayers money been wasted by countries where half the population is starving. Not to mention circuit owners driven to near bankruptcy to comply with the demands of the big man, who in the end makes the bulk of the profit..I love Formula One, have done all my life. But professional sport should pay for itself, like any commercial business. Formula One, and Bernie, depend on Countries, Circuits, Sponsors and fans, to make their billions.But the fact is Countries do not need Formula One.There are many other sports that make great viewing for a fraction of the cost.

    1. Unfortunately your argument fails because F1 is still going strong and has more venues than it knows what to do with. Why? Because people watch it.

  17. If F1 is not very, very careful it is going to end up like the America’s Cup – a few billionaires waving their dicks at each other while the rest of the planet completely ignores them.

    Pay per view + ticket prices + spec racing + Azerbaijan = irrelevance.

  18. isn’t there an old saying about a good manager looking for the organisation to do well after they have retired, but a not so good manager want the organisation to fail after he’s gone.

    Could somebody perhaps be preparing for his retirement by signing the sport up to long term deals in dodgy locations?

  19. Ultimately I don’t care where they race as long as they are on free television. But it does seem, that with the perceived world leadership in the automobile manufacturing/development, that anyone with an interest in maintaining that perception would like to have F1 racing to continue in Germany. That said, greed seems to trump every thing in the world today.

  20. You can’t really blame Eccelstone for moving to where the money is at. If you are concerned about long term implications, well Eccelstone, probably won’t be around by then.

  21. i know that to bernie, money is money no matter the origin, but your point is quite strong. if i were in charge (ha hahaha ha) i would be willing to take less money to race somewhere like new york than more money to race in baku. the potential for ancillary profits from racing in more high-profile places seems to me to be a huge selling point.

      1. I see your point. I would think that the German race promoters will be relieved at the prospect of not losing money on another Grand Prix.

  22. How much of the Azerbaijan story is the influence of Andrew Craig, ex CEO of CART (he took the company public), now a consultant on the European Games scheduled for Baku next year?

  23. The absence of a German Grand Prix would be a loss to the calendar for sure, but just as F1 has plenty of governments willing to step up and pay to play, there are plenty more that make sound decisions to pass on the hosting “opportunity”.

    Maybe F1 racing’s time in Germany is past, but I don’t agree that hosting an event without subsidy at established tracks in next to impossible in the modern age. It is only impossible because of the terms set by Ecclestone. With the money generated in F1 it is actually more possible that everyone (race promoters included) could make out OK than it has probably ever been.

  24. Bernie loves doing deals, I wonder if this is just his way of having one last hurrah before circumstances usurp his power. Making things uncomfortable for the Germans would add just a cherry on top.

  25. Bernie has mentioned all but a few countries in the world in the past few days to host an F1 race. He talked about Mexico, New Jersey, Long Beach, France, India, Korea, London. I guess the only place he didn’t mention on the planet was the Antarctica.

  26. Bernie, FOM, CVC, FIA are of the view that spectators at the track are superfluous because the real money and audience are in the TV contract. And while autocratic dictators are willing to pay to host F1 races, there is not enough money to properly fund the extraordinarily expensive cost of the circus participants.
    Perhaps Bernie and FOM should just cut a deal with Electronic Arts and turn the Formula One World Championship into a virtual series. No spectators to worry about and no race promoters crying poverty; just pay for the software development and hire a few writer enthusiasts to write the script each season. I think Joe Saward would be a great choice for head writer.
    No teams to fund so no need to share 50% of the revenue with the circus talent. And now, all of the team sponsorship money can – which apparently only cares about TV eyeballs anyways – go directly to FOM. A team sponsor is unhappy? No problem, just write that team a more prominent role in next week’s race.
    And the coup de grace is that the younger generations will love the new, virtual F1 as it will comport with their view of the world, which is largely virtual.

    1. Had to chuckle at that idea, however as an extra joke, Bernie could sell seats in the team cars, or as team principal or head designer? Isn’t there some virtual reality world where one can buy a life and become someone else as an avatar??

  27. Refreshing to hear that multiple layers of government in Germany aren’t going to cough up an outrageous fee for a GP. The irony is that while the sport’s ‘owners’ would proudly proclaim themselves as innovative entrepreneurs, they generally have one customer: the taxpayer. Maybe it’s time Bernie and his friends got booted off the dole elsewhere as well. This would perhaps encourage the development of a business model that’s not almost entirely dependent on ‘state welfare’.

    1. What’s wrong if the business model works for all concerned? All the big sporting events require government money.

      1. I agree that global-scale sporting events often seem to need government money but I’d suggest that the fees that are extracted for an F1 race exceed the value delivered, although I’m sure there are exceptions (Monaco?).

        I live in Adelaide and loved the entire 10 Australian GPs that ran here from 1986 but in the cold light of day I reckon there are better ways for our regional government to spend $25m a year than on a payment to Bernie and his mates. We still have a car race in Adelaide on pretty much the same circuit through the city but it’s for the local V8 Supercar series. It attracts roughly the same paying audience, fills all the hotels and restaurants, and by all accounts makes a profit for everyone.

        How about a new business model for F1 where everyone can potentially make money?

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