Bob McMurray: Vital that F1’s roots are honoured
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Unsurprisingly the F1 world has been dominated and preoccupied with just one subject this last week.
The ousting, if that is the right word, of Bernard Charles Ecclestone, from the platinum throne he had built over four decades.
“About time” say some. “Bad for Formula 1” say others. “He ruined the sport.” “He made the sport what it is.” “Too soon”, and just about every comment between.
Almost poetic that another team goes out of business, due in part to the way the profits from F1 have been shared out, just as the man who orchestrated that funding model is deposed and who is to receive about NZ$40 million from selling his F1 shares.
With the almost certain demise of the Manor Formula 1 team, the grid will now be down to just20 cars, 10 teams.
Is that enough for the ‘pinnacle of motorsport’? I do not think so.
The job has just got harder for new owner Liberty Media to sell the sport to the world for surely that is what it must do, sell the ‘entertainment factor’, especially to the American market.
In 1995 at the Monaco F1 Grand Prix there were the maximum 26 cars on the grid. There were 30 cars entered for the weekend from 15 teams.
In earlier years the entry list had occasionally grown to 39 or even 40 cars but having that number of cars on track, at the same time, was thought to be dangerous.
That brought about the pre-qualifying era, introduced to the sport as so many teams and cars wanted to enter a Formula 1 event and were able to find funding to compete. Maybe not finding the performance or the drivers, but they could find the financial package, minimal as it was back then.
As the world’s economies went into a slowdown and Ecclestone went into overdrive with his financial master plans for the sport, many smaller teams dropped out and by 1992 the pre-qualifying era had passed. At this time I cannot see it being necessary for it to return.
In 2014 only 18 cars made the grid for the Grand Prix in Austin Texas.
So what does Liberty Media have to sell to the American market? Not a lot that the market needs at this time, it would appear.
Twenty cars with foreign drivers.
Although there is an American-based team headquartered in North Carolina, it is run and operated from a factory in Banbury, UK.
There is no American driver at this time in Formula 1 and the names of the current drivers are largely unknown to the public of that country. Although Lewis Hamilton is trying, single handedly, to change that.
Although Liberty Media, in the form of new Formula 1 chief executive Chase Carey, has intimated that the traditions and more importantly the traditional races that helped build the reputation of Formula 1, are still vitally important to the sport, many within the sport are fearful that Liberty Media will have to steer the ship into a new era of showbiz entertainment in the Nascar mould.
To quote Carey, “The British Grand Prix is an important race in the calendar. Although we want to stage new races in destination cities such as London, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, we recognise the European foundations of the sport and want to continue that tradition.”
In an interview in the Telegraph newspaper, he said, “The problems are across the board, 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.
“There’s a transparency to what we are doing, there’s a context in which decisions are being made. It’s not a case of everybody playing a game of poker, trying to bluff each other. ” He added that Formula 1 had been “somewhere between ineffective and dysfunctional”.
Those are strong words but words are easy to say. The “how” of the matter will be difficult.
A diminished grid, haves and have-nots, manufacturers pulling long, strong strings, a reducing TV audience, circuits unable to afford the hosting fees, empty grandstands, new regulations that seem designed to prevent actual racing, staggering amounts of money being spent on pointless aerodynamic devices and hamstrung by existing restrictive contracts with teams that extend to the year 2020 plus a dozen other speed bumps in the way.
This is no easy task that Liberty in general, and Carey in particular, has taken on.
Places such as Baku, in Azerbaijan, Sochi, in Russia and even Bahrain do the sport no favours when they are entered into the calendar at the expense of the French, German or British GP events.
Carey needs to sail the Formula 1 ship to the US and dock it successfully there while still looking back at the “old country” to ensure the elements that made this sport great are still able to function.
Good luck with that.