A crucial season is finally upon us…
This is a big year for Formula 1, most likely a defining one in terms of framing its future shape and direction of travel.
We’re used, after a season of Liberty’s being at the helm, to the sport being owned by an ambitious, marketing-savvy media giant; under their tenure, a far more open atmosphere has blossomed within the paddock, for which they deserve great credit.
Last season, though, Liberty got a little lucky as we were treated to a right old ding-dong between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for most of the year. When the track action’s right, it does a lot to quiet dissent, and it bought Liberty some time to begin rolling out their plans for taking F1 to the people. They unshackled social media coverage and staged the London Live event – both big steps toward the goal of ‘massively engaged fans’. cFor this season (though not in the UK) they release an ambitious ‘OTT’ streaming service to revolutionise how fans watch F1 [see James Allen’s new column on p32].
All of this has been welcome and there’s much more to come. But, to burgle a once-ubiquitous US slogan: “where’s the beef?” Where’s the ‘killer riff’ that articulates what F1 should become?
The absence of an easily understood mission statement matters, because F1 faces pressures like never before. The rise of Formula E – though not yet a competitor – raises questions about powertrains, sustainability, and relevance. Meanwhile, ever-spiralling costs, amid talk of enforced budget control, remain troubling: elsewhere in the issue Force India, COO Otmar Szafnauer talks of 450 staff being “about right” for a mid-grid team, while we learn of Mercedes employing nearer 1,500. Huge numbers for what remains an essentially simple sport.
Some might even consider the higher figures ‘bloated’ – a word which, sadly, can be applied to the current generation of F1 car. Stunning to watch up close – and this year they will be the fastest ever – they’re also behemoths: capable of awe-inspiring performance by bludgeon, rather than artistry.
Our own Peter Windsor discusses this weighty topic in his column on page 26; it’s precisely the kind of thorny nettle that Liberty and the FIA must grasp, unflinchingly, to ensure F1’s future health.
We hear that the likes of Ross Brawn and Pat Symonds are framing the template for a 2021-generation F1 that should increase simplicity and improve spectacle – while also preserving all of those talented F1 workforces. Not easy – but when has anything in Formula 1 ever been easy.
Ahead of what promises to be a thrilling season, we await developments. Hungrily.
Anthony Rowlinson Creative content director