19 Dec 2016

Can Formula 1 be saved?

The 2018 Malaysian F1 Grand Prix will be the last. The Malaysian Government is no longer prepared to bankroll the annual race to the tune of A$ 92 million per annum(!) and have decided that they have better things to do with their money. This is not surprising. In recent years spectator numbers at the Sepang circuit for the GP have been small although the Moto GP race has drawn a huge crowd. No surprises there. Moto GP(motorcycle racing) is exciting and the ticket prices for the Moto GP are much lower that for the F1 GP. One interesting fact is that the cost of holding the Malaysian F1 GP has increased 10 fold since it was first held in 1999 and almost all of this increase is in the payments made to the F1 rights holders -CVC.
Malaysia is far from the first GP to drop out due to the cost of staging  the race. France has not had a grand prix for a number of years which is a disgrace. France the birthplace of motor racing cannot afford a GP. Korea, India and Turkey all dropped their GPs after a couple of years-finding that the costs were prohibitive. Even Germany could not afford a GP in 2015 and it is only a provisional starter for the 2017 calendar. Britain has retained its GP- just -but outside the committed fan base it does not attact much visibility-a far cry from the days when the British Grand Prix was seen as a national sporting event up there with the Grand National and the FA Cup Final. I am surprised that the taxpayers in Melbourne have not jacked up at the ridiculous cost of staging the Australian GP.

F1 is in a major crisis. Traditional circuits cannot afford to stage the races and TV viewers are turning off - taking it off free to air television in the UK did not help-but even without this viewers were voting with their feet. The consensus is F1 is boring, the rules are way too complicated and the show behaves like a pack of overpaid prima donnas -which they are. The hordes of PR minders and the lack of driver involvement with the fans has also turned the fans off.
The  F1 Rights were owned by CVC Capital Partners until this month-a private equity company-need I say more? They left the geriatric, now 85 year old, Bernie Ecclestone to run it for them.
CVC have owned F1 since 2005 and in that time they have not invested a cent, not a brass razoo, in the sport. They left it to Ecclestone to extract as much cash from it as he could. And he certainly was very succesful.

Now Bernie is a man who loves a good autocrat. He has previously expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and he has said that Vladimir Putin would be a good man to govern Europe so it is no surprise to hear that he is a big fan of Donald Trump. None of this would matter if Bernie was expressing his views in the day activities room of the Sunshine Years Nursing Home where he should be but sadly he has been applying his skills and autocratic mindset into running F1 into the ground. His latest nonsensical outpourings are that F1 does not need innovations and he has reportedly recently said that "I don't know why people want to get to the younger generation. I'd rather get to the 70 year old who has plenty of cash."
With views like that no wonder the show is so jaded and spectators have left in droves.
Bernie I have news for you -the 70 year olds are bored with it too. Very bored.

However the cavalry may be on the way. The big US company, Liberty Media, have bought the F1 rights from CVC for $8 billion. The man who runs Liberty Media is Chase Carey who wants to turn F1 back into a major world sporting spectacle.  The big question is have Liberty Media and Carey arrived in time to save F1? Only time will tell.
The task they face is immense. Firstly the show itself -the racing-has to be made exciting and thrilling again. That means totally reshaping the rules, changing the circuits and changing the mindset of the participants.
Secondly costs have to be bought down. Feeble attempts have been made to rein in the ridiculous expense of F1 over the past few years but there was no real will or commitment. Everyone has their snouts in the trough-private jets, minders to the left, minders to the right and opulent lifestyles.  No one wants to climb off the gravy train. Cutting costs and running F1 on sensible budgets may prove impossible - the rot may have set in too far.
Thirdly F1 has to engage with the fans openly. In Nascar, WEC and GT racing the top line drivers are fan friendly. In F1 many of them seem to go out of their way to alienate the fans. Daniel Ricciardo is the exception and look at the profile and following he has as a result. A grid full of clones of him would be a good start for Chase Carey.
Fourthly Ecclestone has to go. He is the cause of the current sad state of F1. I am sure Carey knows that so watch out Sunshine Years Nursing Home a very opinionated and nasty little man is about to be retired and he may well be heading your way so lock up the dominoes.

Photo above taken by me at the 1968 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch and shows the great Mexican Driver Pedro Rodriguez in his BRM. This was the last GP won by a private entrant when the Swiss Driver, Jo Siffert, won in a Lotus-Ford entered by Rob Walker. Nowadays the sum Rob Walker spent in a season on his private entry F1 team would barely cover Lewis Hamilton's mobile phone bill.
I took the photo with a Leica 3A with a 50mm Elmar lens at Kidney Bend and I developed the film at my home in the bathroom. A lot has changed in 48 years.

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