Tag Archives: Liberty Media

Formula One: Arm the Sprinklers!

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Formula One returns to Paul Ricard this weekend for the first French Grand Prix in twenty years. The legendary circuit redeveloped in the early 2000’s under the guidance of former CEO Phillipe Gurdjian, has in recent years become a venue of choice for Formula One tyre development testing and was the logical home for the return of Formula One to its spiritual home of France.

Redevelopment of the Paul Ricard circuit was initially focused on the venue hosting racing testing and development programmes. Succesful completion of this objective came in the form of the FIA awarded the circuit as First Centre of Excellence for Motor Sport Safety. This recognition comes in part due to the layout of the circuit, it’s approach to run off areas and ability to sustainably simulate dynamic weather situations. As mentioned in an early article here on JWGP available here.

Whilst the venue’s approach to vehicle safety, through large tarmac covered run-off areas, perfectly lends itself to performance testing, minimising the risk of a driver being penalised for on-track errors and will likely lead to teams pushing the boundaries of track limits throughout the Grand Prix weekend. Coupled with this, the current philosophy surrounding Formula One aerodynamics have left many well informed observers to suggest overtaking will be somewhat of a challenge through the race:

With this in mind Formula One is at risk of a fourth successive event in which on track excitement looks set to be minimal. But worry not, there is a solution! As mentioned the Paul Ricard HTTT (High Tech Test Track) has a visionary trick up its sleeve, under the guidance of previous circuit owner Bernie Ecclestone and more recently his ex-wife Slavica, the circuit has an inbuilt sprinkler system.

The system is capable of simulating a multitude of wet weather scenarios at the touch of a button. Formula One returning to France and Paul Ricard offers owners Liberty Media the ability to bring to life the long-promised proposal from Mr Ecclestone to spice up Formula One through the use of sprinklers! (check out some of  his other proposals here)

Of course, with no announcement of such trial being made prior to the race weekend, Liberty Media will have to manufacture a scenario in which the magic sprinkler system can be activated by mistake thus creating global media coverage for an otherwise uninspiring event.  Winne Harlow, what are you up to this weekend? 😉

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Formula One: Preparing for the budget cap

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The Liberty Media vision for the future of Formula One Teams is clear. The owners expect 12 commercially viable, profitable, franchises all capable of challenging for race victories. In his role as Managing Director of Motorsports, Ross Brawn, has been mandated with the task of delivering a strategy to ensure this vision is achieved.

12 commercially viable & profitable teams, on paper, sounds fantastic. With the variable of available finances removed, the resourceful nature of F1 teams will truly be put to the test. Outwardly it seems as though there is widespread support from the teams for such a move. Afterall, what business wants to spend more money? With representatives from leading teams including Red Bull Racing emploring Liberty Media to ‘ Save F1 Teams from themselves’ the route to implementing a budget cap should, in theory, be straightforward.

However, As with any commercial decision in Formula One nothing is straightforward. The first major hurdle to overcome is the existing structure around payments and the legacy of disparity. In 2017 Joe Saward explained the complexities around the current structure in this article. The existing structure rewards success and longevity, a something which is not overly inviting to a new team, nor geared towards a midfield team ever being in a position to surprise. In an estimated payment fund of $900M per season, the top 3 teams receive approximately 60% of the revenue, leaving the remaining, currently 7, teams to compete for 40% ($360M) between them. It is estimated that the smallest operational budget in F1 today is in the region of $100M, with only $50M coming from the championship, teams have a significant shortfall to cover.

A more appropriate payment structure would be equal distribution amongst all teams, with a proportional bonus for constructors championship position, similar to that seen in the Premier league as detailed here.  Unfortunately, in order to reach this point, the largest teams, with operational budgets believed to be in excess of $400M per season must agree to a cut in support from the system under which their team structure has been developed. What business would agree to lose as much as 50% of its funding without a clear view of how it will cut costs or increase revenue through other ventures.

Convincing; Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Ferrari, and Mercedes Grand Prix to agree to this change will be one of the key tasks ahead of Ross Brawn through 2018 and 2019 if a new system is to be introduced under the new commercial vision for the sport in 2020.

The task is far from simple, the infrastructure of the top teams has been built around a mindset of a limitless budget. If a budget cap of $150m per season were to be introduced in 2020 with no consultation from the teams, it would be almost impossible for the top teams to comply. From a personnel headcount perspective alone a team such a Mercedes Grand Prix, with in excess of 1400 employees, if an average salary of $50,000 is applied, the team commit 46% of its budget to salaries before considering building a car. Without modifying the current team structure, introducing a budget cap within the next 3 seasons, unless Liberty Media expect teams to make more than 50% of their workforce redundant, is not feasible.

On a more positive note, there are indications that the top teams in question are preparing for the change. A budget cap in Formula One will not mean that the likes of operating entity such as Mercedes Grand Prix or Red Bull Racing will be limited to an expenditure of $150M per season, rather their allocation of resources to F1 will see this limit applied.

As a result, it is highly likely that diversification will be a key element to the future of F1 Teams. Over the past decade, McLaren and Williams have established an industry-leading position in the application of engineering solutions developed to improve performance in motorsport being incorporated into manufacturing processes and commercial entities.  For these teams, this third-party business will likely continue to grow. it is, however,  unlikely Ferrari or Red Bull Racing will view this as an appropriate use of resources or brand credibility.

Instead, expect the very top teams to move towards expanding their foothold in other forms of motorsport.

  • Mercedes Grand Prix has already made steps in this direction with the announcement of a commitment to Formula E team from season 6 of the championship. This alongside the development of the Mercedes Project One, which to many is a clear indication of Mercedes ambitions to return to Endurance Racing. A return which with LMP1 regulations under review and the prospect of the reinvigoration of the FIA Global Engine strategy, Mercedes are well positioned to find success.

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Credit to Sean Bull Design for the concept Mercedes Formula E livery 

  • Similarly, Red Bull Racing through their partnership with Aston Martin has acknowledged an interest in taking the Valkyrie racing, and under guidance from Ross Brawn will no doubt be seeking to bring the Toro Rosso team entirely in-house.

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  • McLaren has taken the decision to take control of their GT programme, and have already explored further engagements in championships including Indycar following the positive coverage generated through the one-off partnership with Andretti Autosport at the Indy 500 in 2017.

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  • Ferrari continually talks of a return to Endurance Racing, and could, similar to Red Bull Racing consider a strategy of an in-house B-team with which budget cap compliance could be achieved.

In conclusion, political posturing between the top teams in Formula One, Ross Brawn, and Liberty Media throughout the 2018-19 seasons will likely overshadow on-track performances. Fans of the sport should take any empty threats from top teams to walk away from the sport as just that. Empty threats. The financial implications of such a move make the option unviable. Instead, teams will double down on motorsport, getting involved with more championships, with the eventual winner being the fans.

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Formula One: Underestimate me at your peril – Marchionne to F1

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Underestimate me at your peril. The resounding subtext pointed in no uncertain terms towards Chase Carey and Formula One from Sergio Marchionne at the launch of Alfa Romeo’s title partnership relationship with the Sauber F1 Team this weekend. 

The long rumoured return of Alfa Romeo to Formula One with the Sauber F1 Team was finally confirmed earlier this week. The announcement of the return was closely followed by an invitation to the worlds motoring media to attend a press conference in Milan. On the face of it, the objective of this event was to confirm 2018 Sauber F1 Team drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Antonio Giovinazzi taking on a 3rd driver role and to unveil the 2018 livery theme. What transpired was a master class in negotiation from Chief Executive Officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Sergio Marchionne.

After a period of observing, tinkering, and to some extent grandstanding, the final races of the 2017 Formula One season have seen Liberty Media begin to share their vision for the future of Formula One. Until now, key protagonists set to be impacted by this vision have largely kept their views to themselves or at least limited opinions to isolated sound bites. Sergio Marchionne and FCA, have now firmly stuck their head above the parapet to makes themselves and their views clear for all.

Elaborate team and sponsor launches are something which for many had been consigned to the history books with the vast majority of team unveiling now taking place minutes before pre-season testing on a chilly pitlane in Barcelona. Yet this weekend saw the team finishing plum last in the championship host over 400 media representatives from all over the world at the Alfa Romeo Museum situated just outside of Milano launch a sponsorship less than one week after the end of the season. With media from the US being flown in First Class with 48 hours notice, it would be conceivable to say that the budget of this single event exceeded the marketing and activation budget of the team for the entire season. Sergio Marchionne wanted an audience for his message, and he wanted his audience to leave the event singing his tune.

In addition to the media contingent, Sergio Marchionne and FCA invited newly reappointed FIA president and former Scuderia Ferrari Team Principe Jean Todt to attend and speak at the event, alongside Formula One CEO Chase Carey, with Sauber F1 Team owner Pascal Picci. So with the stage set, Sergio Marchionne opened the event, in Italian, focusing on the great news of Alfa Romeo returning to Formula One. This was followed by Mr Todt waxing lyrical about the passion of the brand and its significance with motorsport. Chase Carey then took to the stage to applaud FCA for bringing Alfa Romeo back to Formula One, he acknowledged their history in the sport and spoke of his enthusiasm for their return. Then the big reveal, driver line up confirmation and an indicative view of the team livery.

What followed was pure mastery. Sergio Marchionne returned to the podium for a few more words. In the space of 10 minutes, he politely panned the Michael Buffer COTA show, make clear FCA & Ferrari did not want to be part of a ‘dumbing down’ of Formula One, asserted the sport should be focused on technology over entertainment, and what could be the knock out blow, “our partnership with Sauber is until 2021, if we don’t like the direction the sport is taking at that point, we will leave and we’ll take them with us”

This rhetoric was delivered not only to a room full of media, but squarely at Chase Carey seated directly below the rostrum at which Sergio Marchionne made his speech.

Following this, team owner Pascal Picci and team principle Frédéric Vasseur returned to the stage for an open Q&A session. I would not like to suggest any questions were ‘planted’ but the position of FCA strength ahead of any negotiations with Formula One over the future of the sport was highlighted at every available opportunity.

Of course, Chase Carey and Liberty Media did not get to where they are today by chance, I have no doubt they have more than a few tricks up their sleeve as they head into negotiations with Formula One teams over the future of the sport. Sergio Marchionne has simply set the tone of future discussions and made it very clear he is more than happy for any discussion to be made in full view of the media and the Formula One fan.

The three P’s of Formula One: Points, Penalties and Prizes – Paddock Magazine

The 2017 Italian Grand Prix served to highlight once again that current Formula 1 regulations around grid penalties for exceeding…

Source: The three P’s of Formula 1: Points, Penalties and Prizes – Paddock Magazine

Formula One: Motorsports Mayweather vs. McGregor

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The Formula One circus springs back into life this weekend with the championship heading to Spa for the iconic Belgian Grand Prix. If history is anything to go by we can expect to see Red Bull Racing have made a step forward in performance through the break, and for Lewis Hamilton’s form to kick into high gear.

For the F1 fan during a Grand Prix weekend, it can easy to forget other forms of motorsport exist let alone other forms of sport, but this weekend it will be nigh on impossible to miss the relentless coverage of Mayweather vs McGregor.

Everyone loves a cross over! Mayweather vs McGregor is the sporting world’s ultimate cross over. The undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather coming out of retirement to answer the challenge of UFC legend Conner McGregor. Cynics would say it’s all about the money with each fighter set to earn in the region of $200 Million for the night and let’s face it, it is, but who cares?

Give the fans what they want and the world will talk about it. Prepare for every social media record ever set to be broken!  It costs more for a sponsor to have their name on Conor McGregor’s elasticated waist for 1 night than it does to be title sponsor of a leading F1 team for an entire season!

How can any other sport compete? Has there ever been a comparable event in motorsport? Could F1 or any other category put on a similar show?

What the world of boxing and UFC have in Mayweather and McGregor are personalities. Neither are backward in coming forward, both believe they are the best in everything they do and both have a constant need to tell the world. Their respective categories embrace this, encouraging them to build their names, which in effect will build the category. They are showman, they are entertainers. Within Motorsports this level of self-adulation isn’t overtly encouraged, the sport is about the team and is often attached to an automotive manufacturer whose reputation could be tarnished by an extrovert driver. In the coming years, should F1 elect to move away from it’s mandate of acting as a basis for automotive development and focus more on entertainment, the Mayweather and McGregor characters could emerge. Until then, we’re stuck with drivers being forced to apologise for sneezing in a way which could damage the brand they represent.

Motorsports is no stranger to a crossover. This year alone, Fernando Alonso was given the opportunity to try his hand in Indycar and proved to be no slouch, drivers often compete in multiple categories such as Jean Eric Vergne racing in Formula E and the World Endurance Championship this season. But when did a champion of one series last race directly against another champion? The simple answer is the annual Race of Champions event, which can attract a high calibre of driver including the likes of Vettel and 2016 champion Montoya, but given the knock out style of the event do they really get to race against each other? Is it really want the fans want?

Motorsport can do better than the Race of Champions. Liberty Media should take inspiration from Mayweather vs McGregor and go all out.  What would you like to see them do? Who would you like to see compete?

Finally, how many F1 drivers will be getting up at 5AM / staying up until 5AM on Sunday morning to watch the arguably the greatest sporting event of the year, and how many drivers will dare tweet about it?

Formula One: Could F1 consider cloud seeding to ensure Sunday’s race?

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Friday free practice running for the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix was all but a complete washout. With conditions at the circuit and the neighbouring city, in which the hospital on call for medical emergencies from the race weekend, too poor for helicopters to operate in, the FIA delayed and eventually cancelled most of the days running.

Current weather forecasts suggest conditions will improve for tomorrow, but are likely to return on Sunday. Should forecasts prove to be accurate there is a real possibility that it will not be possible for the race to take place on Sunday as scheduled. With only a one week turnaround between the Chinese and Bahrain Grand Prix it will not be possible to hold the race on Monday or at a later date. As such FOM, the FIA, teams, drivers, and broadcasters are apparently in talks to host the entire race weekend activities tomorrow.

Within Formula One, there is no prescient for a race taking place a day earlier than scheduled, and in reality with the highly complex global broadcast agreements in place, it is highly unlikely that terms for running the race a day early can be agreed. Sponsors, Broadcasters, race attending fans, teams, will all seek compensation. As such at this point in time the most likely outcome, if the poor weather returns, is that fans will be treated to a four hour broadcast of no track action at all on Sunday.

This will significantly damage the reputation of Formula One globally and most specifically in Asia, a market in which the sport is struggling (note the discontinuation of the Malaysian Grand Prix agreement from 2018 announced earlier today). To avoid such an outcome it is time for Formula One Management to get creative? Could they look towards a solution involving Cloud Seeding?

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification, a way of changing the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. The usual intent is to increase precipitation (rain or snow), but hail and fog suppression are also widely practiced in airports. (thank you Wikipedia). The process could be applied in areas away from the circuit and the route to the hospital supporting the race.

It is understood organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix, have long used this technology to ensure a dry race weekend during the rain season for the region.

The process was used during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to ensure a dry Olympics.

No doubt, as the weekend processes, the weather forecast will evolve and fans concerns will evaporate!

Formula One: FIA clarifies position on sale of one per cent shareholding in Delta Topco

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The FIA have issued the following press release in response to inaccurate reports. To ensure no confusion the press release has been posted here in full:

Following the unanimous approval by the World Motor Sport Council of the change of control of Delta Topco Limited (the holding company of the Commercial Rights Holder of the FIA Formula One World Championship) from CVC Capital Partners in favour of Liberty Media Corporation on 18 January 2017, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has been made aware of certain declarations and comments, clearly inaccurately informed or made maliciously, relating to this process.

In light of this, the FIA wishes to make clear the following once again:

  • Firstly, the prize money allocated in the Formula One World Championship is done so in accordance with the bilateral agreements that exist between each team and the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH).  The FIA has no knowledge of these agreements
  • Secondly, there is no conflict of interest on the part of the FIA with regard to its approval of the change of control of the CRH which has been approved by the World Motor Sport Council taking into consideration exclusively the terms of the existing agreements between the CRH and the FIA and the best interests of the Championship
  • As per the Agreements made in 2001 for 100 Years, the FIA could only have withheld its consent in the event that the change of control would materially alter the ability of the CRH to fulfil its obligations; it is obvious that the taking of control of the Formula One Group by Liberty does not create such a risk, and nobody has ever suggested a different view in this respect

The FIA would naturally be happy to demonstrate the absence of any conflict of interest to any competent authority that may so request.

Once again, the FIA looks forward to its collaboration with both Liberty and the Formula One Group to create a constructive relationship that will ensure the continued success and the development of the FIA Formula One World Championship in the long term.

The press release from the FIA can be found here

Formula One: Heineken F1 – More than a race

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The Italian Grand Prix saw Heineken formally launch its Formula One partnership. Whilst the Dutch brewer took title sponsorship at the Canadian Grand Prix earlier in the year, Monza was always set to be the event in which the campaign shifted into high gear.

In the weeks preceding the Italian Grand Prix at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Heineken executives spoke of strategy to bring Formula One to the fans, to improve the race going experience and seek ways in which to engage a millennial audience. If I am entirely honest I was somewhat sceptical. Brands all to often focus Formula One activation strategies around corporate entertainment and business to business network development.

With this in mind, upon arriving in Monza on the Thursday ahead of the Grand Prix the first thing I did was head to the fan village. In recent years the fan village, an area surrounding the circuit open to all ticket holders, has become little more than a few merchandising stands. It can feel as though the interests of the fan have been overlooked. Heineken have gone to great lengths to address this issue erecting a huge pop bar and entertainment space for fans, as pictured below. Whilst the beer isn’t free, prices are reasonable and they have created a communal space for fans away from the circuit.

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Building on this, Heineken have addressed another common frustration amongst race going fans. How do you fill your time outside of track action? On Thursday evening, Heineken installed a temporary five a side football pitch on the start finish straight challenging Champions League stars to a game against Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer. Whilst it soon became clear the F1 drivers’ talents did not extend to the football pitch, it was fantastic to see Heineken hosting an event for the public outside of the regular F1 weekend schedule. More than 2000 fans filled the main grandstand to watch the game.

Of course Heineken must also use their partnership within F1 to address the fans at home and it would be naive to think there are no business to business expectations around the agreement. On Friday evening, Heineken set about explaining how these would be addressed. At the core of this session was the launch of the two advertisements Heineken have developed featuring Sir Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard. The production values of both films are incredible, and both have been extremely positively received. So much so, that Freddie Hunt, son of the late James Hunt has suggested Heineken use footage of his father in their next campaign.

To see the Heineken F1 adverts in full click here

What struck me about the Jackie Stewart film in particular was the core of the message. If You Drive, Never Drink.  Whilst anti drink drive campaigns are nothing new, making this the fundamental message of a campaign for a beer company is a bold strategy. One unimaginable in other sectors. Heineken should be commended for this approach. They have acknowledged the challenges of associating alcohol with motorsport and addressed it head on.  More over they are seeking to evolve an F1 weekend, from 2 hours of racing on Sunday into something much more significant. This is neatly tied up in the tagline ‘more than a race’.

I am hopeful that Heineken’s approach to fan engagement within Formula One, alongside a fresh approach from the sport’s new owners Liberty Media, will apply pressure to existing brands in the sport to do more with fans. In the beverage sector brand loyalty is fundamental to success and if Heineken can demonstrate new customer loyalty through Formula One and through engaging with fans you can be sure more brands will follow and the Formula One experience will only improve.

To read my interview with Heineken ambassador David Coulthard follow this link