Liberty Media's sophomore season

Owner seeks best formula for evolving business

Sebastian Vettel putting his Ferrari SF71H through the second practice session at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne.
Sebastian Vettel putting his Ferrari SF71H through the second practice session at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE • When Liberty Media took over Formula One in January last year, the most immediate impact was the ousting of Bernie Ecclestone, who had run the sport for decades.

Chase Carey, an American whose resume includes long stints with the News Corp and DirecTV, was named chief executive of the Formula One Group.

A regular presence in the sport's paddock, his style of leadership has been to act first and talk later.

It has made for a striking change in a sport that had long conducted negotiations via public salvos.

"If I go back, I feel pretty good about what we've achieved and where we've gotten to in 12 months," he said.

"Because we don't go out and talk about where we are in various discussions doesn't mean there isn't a lot of stuff going on, but it has complexities to it that we're wrestling to the ground."

The coming year will be important because the Ecclestone-era commercial agreements binding teams, determining the system of governance and the distribution of the prize fund will expire in 2020.

  • Changing identity

  • GRID GIRLS OUT, GRID KIDS IN

    The walk-on female models employed to parade before the start and stand by drivers' cars with their race numbers have been phased out. In their place come the "grid kids", aspiring young racers who will get to meet their heroes.

    NEW LOGO, LATER STARTS

    Formula One introduced a new logo at the end of last year, one of the more visible changes since US-based Liberty Media took over in January last year.

    Race starts will be at 10 minutes past the hour to allow television broadcasters time to air the pre-race show.

    Grands prix in Europe and Brazil will also begin an hour later than before.

    All practice sessions and qualifying at those European rounds will also start an hour later.

    REUTERS

The deals have historically taken several years of negotiating, and discussions on the shape of Formula One are under way.

And efforts to improve F1's online presence have increased since Liberty took over.

F1 TV, Formula One's new multilingual streaming service, will make its debut at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Now, Carey would like to solve two of the sport's main problems: its business model and team competitiveness.

"Our goal is to have a healthy sport for fans and a healthy sport for teams," he said.

"It should be balanced. There should be rewards for success and failure and the like, but the business model we've got really isn't as healthy as it should be for teams.

"The economics are too difficult for too many teams to play, and I think we need to make that better."

Economics is not the only issue. Critical to the process will be the engines used after 2020.

The Ferrari and Mercedes teams want to continue along the expensive path of the complex hybrids, while other teams favour a simpler and cheaper solution.

Not for the first time in the sport's history, Ferrari have threatened to pull out if they do not get their way.

With competitiveness, Carey wants to reduce the gap between teams.

In the last 10 seasons, only four different drivers have won the championship, and eight of the constructors' titles were won by Red Bull or Mercedes.

Predictability and a lack of competitiveness have become a pressing issue.

"Go back to the sport on the track," he said. "I don't think it's as competitive, and the action is as good - it's gotten too perfect.

"Something that makes competition interesting is mistakes or errors. If nothing ever goes wrong, you can admire the fact that nothing goes wrong, but it doesn't create the most exciting and dramatic outcome.

"At the core for fans, we want to create a product that delivers everything they grew up with, if not more.

"I don't think you'll get a transformation that all of a sudden you've got 10 equal teams competing.

"I hope it is competitive as it can be but, at least within that, I hope you get some things that create more drama and excitement.

"We had some of that particularly between two teams last year, but we need to have it on a broader level."

The goal, he said, is to put a "great sport on the track".

"We need to make sure that we put on events that are truly spectacles. We want every one of our races to be really a week-long celebration that captures the world's imagination."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Owner seeks best formula for evolving business'. Print Edition | Subscribe