In September 2016, it was confirmed that Liberty Media had bought the commercial rights to Formula One from CVC Capital Partners for £3.3 billion ($4.4 billion). This led to the demise of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the man that had been in charge of the business for 40 years. From the get-go, it was obvious that Chase Carey was going to do things differently to Bernie. This was partly due to the immediate emphasis on social media, as the Formula One Instagram account is now the fastest growing sports account on the network, now with nearly four million followers. Now, we have a new logo and in the coming years will have new engine regulations: so have the changes been a good or bad thing for the sport?
Just something in advance, if you're expecting a paragraph about that new logo, don't. It's awful, and that's the end of it.
As I have said, one of the first things that Liberty did when they came into power was relax social media rules for the teams, which would now allow teams and drivers to post videos of the paddock and the pits. There was still restrictions to the on track footage, to protect the deals with the TV companies, but in general things were a lot more relaxed. This has lead to Formula One having the fastest growing social media presence across all sports, but especially on Instagram.
Formula One themselves has also been putting a lot more onto their social media platforms, with much more being put onto the official accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as putting plenty of videos onto their YouTube channel, which now has an impressive 822,000 subscribers and a huge 248 million views in total.
This has been one of the simplest, yet best things that Liberty Media has done for Formula One, as it has increased the popularity of the sport, and the influence that it has on people worldwide. It also gives the impression that Formula One is more open, and not the closed-off, political world that it was in the Ecclestone era.
F1 Fan Zone
The F1 Fan Zone was launched at the Spanish Grand Prix, and it allowed visitors to take part in a range of different activities, such as racing simulators, a 200 metre zip line, pit stop challenges and live performances from local DJ's. Alongside all of this, a fan TV channel was also launched so that spectators at the track could watch live interviews, analysis and much more by current and former drivers.
Then, the two-seater F1 car was also introduced, which allowed fans and celebrities to be driven around the track by a former driver.
This improved fan experience has got to be seen as a positive for the sport, as it allows the paying spectators to be more involved in the sport and is more of a reason to travel to a race, rather than just staying at home and watching it on the telly. It helps to show that the main focus of the sport is the fans, just as the increased social media presence does.
This was another early change made by Liberty Media, and that was re-branding the GP2 feeder series to Formula Two, so that new fans can easily see the link between the two series.
In truth, it didn't actually make much of a difference to the series itself, as it was in the end just a name change, but it did make a difference in the way that Liberty Wanted it to: there is now a clear, well-defined feeder series into Formula One that has been gaining more and more interest in the past year, with Sky Sports F1 here in the UK expanding their coverage, and the results being published more and more alongside F1 results.
Finally, another thing that has changed about Formula Two is that all of the races on next years calendar will run alongside the Formula One races, which will further increase the popularity of the sport to the fans watching the Grand Prix, as they might as well stick around and watch the Formula Two, as it is virtually guaranteed to produce an exciting race.
So in conclusion, this is yet another change that Liberty Media have made that although small, has made an impact in the ways that the fans view the sport, without damaging the sport itself.
As, you may know, Ross Brawn is a very experienced man when it comes to Formula One. He was previously the Technical Director at Ferrari during their dominant years, and then went onto be the Team Principal at his own team, the hugely successful Brawn GP, which went onto be the dominant force that is Mercedes.
In my opinion, I think that he was a critical hire for Chase Carey and his team at Liberty Media, as he is a well respected figure in Formula One, and it has reassured fans that Liberty know what they are doing. This is because Brawn has made his vision clear: he wants to bring an end to the sudden, 'knee-jerk' reactions that Formula One has shown in the past on the technical side of things (i.e. the regulations are suddenly changed to fix one problem, but they end up causing another as they are not properly thought about and researched). He would also like to lower the costs of the sport so that new teams are encouraged to enter the sport, but in a way that doesn't detract from the quality of the racing or prevent the development of the sport.
I will expand on one of the main changes that he is proposing in a minute, but for now it has to be said that Ross Brawn has had a positive impact on the sport. This is because he has created a new team of people that are solely focused on improving the sport for both the fans and the teams, on the technical side of things, and that can only be seen as a good thing.
The 2021 Engine
In 2021, the engine regulations are set to change. Not in a huge way, but the cost needs to be reduced and the sound needs to be increased.
The basic proposal made by Liberty Media to the teams is that the current 1.6 litre V6 Turbo Hybrid engines will be kept, but the MGU-H will be removed, as this is the most complicated and expensive part of the engine (just ask Honda!), and also the engine will be run at 3000 rpm higher than their current rate of an already huge 12000 rpm. This will be increased so that the sound is greater, in the effort to bring back a bit of the screech and excitement of the previous generation's V8.
Also, according to Liberty, several rules will be introduced in order to "restrict development costs and discourage extreme designs and running conditions". This will be effective both internally and externally, with "a plug-and-play engine/chassis/transmission swap capability". In basic terms, the complexity of the designs will be reduced, with no (very) different designs allowed in order to ensure a more level playing field.
Something that is also going to be changed is the design of the turbo, the energy store and the control electronics, as they are all going to be 'standard' parts issued to all teams, again to reduce costs and improve the racing (the control electronics have been 'standard' for a while now).
There is also going to be more of a focus on the MGU-K, as this is set to become a lot more powerful (to counteract the loss of the MGU-H), and it will act a lot like the KERS system of the past, as there will be a focus on driver deployment.
Ross Brawn has said that "The 2021 power unit is an example of the future way the FIA as regulators, F1 as commercial right holders, the teams and the manufacturers as stakeholders will work together for the common good of the sport. "
"The proposal presented today was the outcome of a series of meetings which took place during 2017 with the current teams and the manufacturers who showed their interest to be part of the pinnacle of motorsport. "
"Also, we've carefully listened to what the fans think about the current power unit and what they would like to see in the near future with the objective to define a set of regulations which will provide a powertrain that is simpler, cheaper and noisier and will create the conditions to facilitate new manufacturers to enter Formula 1 as powertrain suppliers and to reach a more levelled field in the sport."
So, have Liberty Media improved the sport that Bernie left them?
In short, yes. This is because the increased acknowledgement of the fans has increased the popularity of the sport, especially among younger audiences, with highlights (sort of) even featuring on Snapchat. By increasing fan engagement both at the race weekends and online, it means that the impression of Formula One being only for the elite has diminished, and this was the mindset caused by the Ecclestone era. For example, the access to the paddock has been increased on a massive level, which brings fans closer and close to the action, and this has to be a good thing.
The new technical team is also a good change made by Liberty, as Ross Brwan with his many years in the sport clearly has a good understanding on what specifications of cars will give an exciting championship. The fact that more research is going into any changes that go into the cars, no matter how big or small is good because it means that there is much less of a chance that the changes will be detrimental to the sports, like the car crash that was the elimination qualifying a few years ago.
Finally, arguably the biggest technical change that will come under the new management will be the 2021 engine changes. At a glance, it seems that the new regulations will be a good thing for the sport, as costs will be reduced, and the gap between the best and worst engines on the grid will decrease leading to closer fought races and championships.
In conclusion, more research and development will need to be done into the proposals, but on face value it looks like it could entice more teams into the sport and improve the racing.
We'll just have to wait and see.
Who's the better boss: Bernie or Chase?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments and by voting in the poll!