Ten days ago, F1 was racing in Singapore. Next weekend we will be in Malaysia and while those without ties, have stayed out in sunny places, most have trekked home to spend time with their families and will now trek out to Asia again. Staying away means a month on the road and most people just don’t want to do that. F1 is tough on families. And it doesn’t need to be, if the calendar was better planned. I accept it is not easy to fit the dates around all the variables, but to have as many stand-alone long-haul races is incomprehensible. They are expensive, draining for those who do the travel – and utterly illogical.
One hopes that the purchase of F1 will lead to a little more logic in the future.
The news that Zak Brown is to step down from his role at Chime Communications is no great surprise. Zak was clearly uncomfortable talking about a possible role in the Formula One group when I talked to him in Singapore, and I take that as a good sign because lesser men would simply have told a lie and claimed later that they had no choice. Zak didn’t tell me a lie, but nor did he answer the question – which answered the question. I think that he’ll be great in a commercial role in the Formula One group and I suspect we will see a string of new faces coming in to join him and new sponsorship deals coming through once he gets his feet under the desk. He has an amazing contact book and has an easy and convincing way with people. This is what helped him build such an impressive company and will be of great value to the sport in the long term. We know that there are some ambitious targets that Liberty has set the group and, with the share price dependent on good performance, there is much to be done. Liberty’s Greg Maffei made the point recently that the Formula One group has 17 sponsors in an official capacity and said that Major League Baseball, by comparison, has 75. It also had dozens of marketing people, while F1 has only three. The sport also derives less than one percent of its revenues from digital activities, while having the potential with available data to do a great deal more, particularly in gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality. There is also money to be made from gambling, particularly in Asia. Liberty is planning to increase the number of races and has no apparent plans to reduce the hosting fees, but it’s different approach and style may make it easier to attract government money, which really should be happening for every race, while also being willing and able to take in its own race promotion in key markets which will not support such fees, notably the United States.
One challenge will be to get more manufacturers. The technology in F1 is attractive, but the costs are huge and we see Formula E taking advantage of this fact by pulling in a string of car companies. The most recent in BMW which has just announced plans to go Formula E and WEC GT racing in 2018. Formula E is cheap as chips at the moment, while WEC is not huge but is growing and provides useful technology and the right image. F1’s lack of self-promotion of its hybrid technology has always been daft – as has the fact that it will not deliver a budget cap. F1 will have to change in the years ahead. With up to 25 races teams will need to accept more sensible calendars and less freight if it is to be flexible enough to move more quickly from race to race. There are two options: increasing the staffing levels and the spending; or making the whole thing more efficient and lugging less stuff and fewer people around the world, using more sensible ways to do things. There are lots of avenues worth exploring, such as the increased use of charters or indeed bespoke aircraft to speed things up and ultimately reduce costs. That would requires some rethinking of how the sport operates.
Nonetheless, these are exciting times for Formula 1, with the potential that the previous owners willfully squandered (or never even thought about) ready to be developed. Of course, it won’t all be plain sailing, but there are a lot of brilliant people in Formula 1 and having them work together for the common good (in a capitalist way) can only produce better results.