F1 is in a transition phase that could determine the course of the sports future

So, Formula One appears really close to being sold. That’s a pretty big deal considering that Formula One remains the pinnacle of motor sports racing. It may not be the most popular at this point in time, but it still holds the biggest sway among all racing series on a global scale. Yes, I know NASCAR and Indy 500 are the two most popular ones in the US, but F1 takes the cake on a global scale. It’s a “football vs football” comparison, only on four wheels.

Ok, about that sale. It’s worth pointing out that the reported “number” in the sale is $8 billion. Personally, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing when you take into account the fact that the Ultimate Fighting Championship was just sold for $4 billion to a group led by talent agency WME-IMG. Considering the status and exclusivity of Formula One, I’m led to believe that either that group overpaid for the UFC or Liberty Media is getting a bargain with the $8 billion price for Formula One.

In any case, it’s going to be interesting to see how this transaction closes and the details that will come out of it. In the mean time, the pending transaction does provide us with the time and opportunity to talk about what might happen in Formula One if it does end up changing owners as it’s being widely reported. On the surface, don’t expect any drastic changes because the current 2016-2017 is on-going.

But moving forward? That’s where things become interesting, especially if the owners are as pro-active as I expect them to be in addressing some of the issues plaguing the sport these days. In light of this, I’ve come up with a mix of predictions and recommendations on what I think is going to happen once Formula One is sold to Liberty Media.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Increased presence in the US

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I think this is one of the first things the new ownership group will address in large part because the current administration hasn’t done enough to really introduce the sport to mainstream American audiences. I admit that it’s going to be very difficult to break into a market long dominated by NASCAR and Indy 500. But, there is an opportunity here because Liberty Media, being a US-based company, is in a great position to understand the pulse of American racing and sports fans since it’s already involved in some capacity with sports as the owner of the Atlanta Braves.

And if anything, an argument can be made that tapping into the American market is one of the biggest solutions in revitalizing Formula One. It’s not the only way to do it, but it’s going to go a long way by the sheer number of fans that it can attract in the event that happens. Remember, more people watching means more advertisers and sponsors coming in, and more of that means more money for the sport. Just look at the NBA now and the formula is right there to be used.

A more grounded fan experience

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The current owners of Formula One have done a lot to make the sport more watchable, but there also remains a certain population of fans that think that it’s too high-brow for them. Maybe it’s the fact that the glamour teams of the sport happen to be Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes, or maybe it’s because the most high-profile drivers command some of the highest salaries in all of sports. The point here is that a lot of people think Formula One isn’t for the masses, and to some extent, there’s some truth to that.

If Liberty Media does acquire Formula One, making F1 more mainstream is another issue that it needs to address. Granted, a lot of this will need the cooperation of the Formula One teams because they’re the real keys in making the sport more accessible to the fans. Maybe schedule more appearances, or create social and civic programs that allows drivers the opportunity to not only interact with the fans, but teach them some pointers on the art of racing in Formula One. There are plenty of opportunities to tap into to make the sport more fan-friendly and there are real-life templates from other sports that are available on how to make it happen.

More competitive racing?

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This one is a little trickier because I don’t expect the new ownership group to dive deep into the actual product and make sweeping changes without knowing the consequences of those changes. But, like most F1 fans, this is the biggest problem with the sport now and it’s been the case for the better part of seven years now. The sport is just not competitive and that’s because of a variety of issues that the new owners are unlikely to figure out without the help of the FIA (the sports governing body) and the Formula One teams themselves. I’m not going to spend too much time addressing this because there are literally a number of ways to go about making races more competitive. It’s just that in order for that to happen, a lot of people have to come to an agreement . And knowing Formula One and the colorful personalities behind it, just putting all of these people in the same room is a challenge.

Turn the drivers into personalities that more fans can get behind

This is tied into the fan experience prediction/recommendation that I mentioned above and it’s arguably the biggest key to getting more fans invested in the sport. Think about it. One of the biggest appeals of NASCAR is that a lot of their drivers have some of the most outrageous personalities involved in the sport. “Colorful” is an understatement when you describe the likes of Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a host of others. By comparison, who’s the most personable Formula One driver in the grid? Lewis Hamilton? Sebastian Vettel? Fernando Alonso? Except for Hamilton and his well-documented tantrum issues, there aren’t a lot of “characters” among Formula One drivers. It says a lot when one of the most interesting drivers in the grid is a man known for not saying anything! Yes, that’s you, Kimi Raikkonen!

Make the terminologies easier to understand

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This is one of the most difficult things to accomplish because Formula One, at its core, is a technical sport that relies on cutting-edge technology to gain an advantage. Imagine how difficult it already is to explain to a non-racing fan broad concepts like power and aerodynamics. Now take that up to F1’s levels and the terminologies become telemetry, slipstream, KERS, DERS, and a host of others. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to come to a point wherein mainstream fans will be able to fully grasp the technologies that make Formula One the unique sport that it is, but I think the new ownership group should try to at least bridge that gap as much as it can. It’s a hard thing to achieve because a big part of that will be the fans and their willingness to actually understand these concepts. But, stranger things have happened, right?

What’s your input?

Obviously, all of these predictions/recommendations aren’t going to happen the way I described them. Some might not even happen at all. But I care enough about Formula One that I’d like to see it succeed under its new owners. Also, if anybody has any more suggestions or predictions, feel free to comment on what you think. Let the debates begin!

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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