New F1 boss after a global reach
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Chase Carey has given a bracing verdict on the problems Formula 1 faces after 40 years of Bernie Ecclestone’s supremacy, describing decision-making within the sport as “somewhere between ineffective and dysfunctional”.
On his first full day as CEO of the F1 empire Ecclestone created, Carey, who made his reputation as a hard-edged negotiator at 21st Century Fox, did not temper his words as he lamented the business’ sustained failure to exploit its global reach.
Carey acknowledged the byzantine world of F1 politics had taken him aback.
“We’re not marketing the sport, we’re not enabling fans to connect with it on the platforms that are available today, our sponsorship relations are one-dimensional, the events feel old, the hospitality feels as if it’s at least 15 years old.”
The conversations with Ecclestone, sidelined by Liberty and shifted into a decorative role as chairman emeritus, are understood to have been difficult. The 86-year-old discovered he was being forced out in a conference call on Monday night, mournfully claiming afterwards that he had been “deposed”.
Carey sought to show some empathy for Ecclestone’s anguish at finding himself marginalised by Liberty in this £6.5 billion deal.
“I meant it when I told him that I would value his advice and help as we go forward.”
As personalities, Carey and Ecclestone could hardly be more opposite. Carey has a keen eye for diplomatic protocol and an aversion to acting unilaterally. Ecclestone would always prefer to shoot from the hip.
The elder statesman, a dealmaker extraordinaire, was also short-termist in his obsession with the bottom line, awarding grands prix to Bahrain and Azerbaijan despite widespread human rights abuses in those countries.
Carey has enlisted the services of former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, as well as one-time ESPN vice-president Sean Bratches — both answerable, like him, to John Malone, the little-seen billionaire who controls Liberty — to reinvigorate a sport struggling to engage a younger audience.
Carey wants to create a “destination event” in the United States, most likely in New York or Las Vegas, which would redress F1’s deficiencies in tapping into the lucrative American market. He promised, though, that he would keep the core of Western European races intact.
Brawn’s appointment is an astute one. A popular figure in the paddock, having had an influence upon 20 world titles at Ferrari, Mercedes and his own team, he offers a precious connection to the past and a protection to Liberty against fears that they might be seeking to Americanise F1 beyond recognition.
Still, the restlessness for action is intense. Nico Rosberg, the champion who announced his retirement in December, said : “Change has been overdue.”
Brawn, likewise, has grown exasperated from afar at the sport’s struggle to agree upon innovations that work. Pointing to the farrago of the qualifying system trialed last year in Australia, where many cars stayed in their garages, Brawn said: “That’s a good example of where it can go wrong if it’s not properly thought-out.
There was a concern that Mercedes were going to dominate the championship again, which of course they did, but any artificial attempt to damage the competitiveness of a team is always fraught. Fans see through these manufactured solutions.
“DRS, or drag reduction system, is not universally popular, either. The fans all know that you press a button in the cockpit and you overtake the car in front. Is that really what they want to see?”
But Brawn did offer a generous tribute to Ecclestone as the toppled general prepared to slip into the sunset. “I admit that a race without Bernie will seem very odd,” he said. “He has been exceptional in what he has achieved.”