Revolutions are dangerous things. They begin with great expectations of social equality and the alleviation of poverty and, all too often, when change does not materialize, things turn nasty. In 1793, four years into the French Revolution, a seemingly innocuous body called the Committee of Public Safety was created and ‘The Terror’ began. Thousands were sent to the guillotine, as the revolutionaries tried to push forward change.
The departure of Bernie Ecclestone from his leading role in the Formula One Group may not have caused dancing on the streets, although some in the sport are overjoyed at the departure of the old dictator. The paddock in Melbourne was a happy place, bubbling with enthusiasm, energy, ideas and expectations. It was a very different atmosphere. There were, of course, a few who were glum, believing that the sport without Mr E in charge is doomed and that his replacements will knock the sport out of equilibrium and things will change for the worst, but for the majority the feeling was one of liberation.
Ecclestone is not the kind of person who would have flourished in the role of Best Supporting Actor and so he has been shoved aside and the new men are beginning their work to drag Formula 1 racing to what they believe will be a better place. They seem to be smart people and they also seem to have some respect for the sport. There is much that can be changed for the better. F1 has long been jumping from one crisis to the next. Ecclestone’s way was to keep the pot boiling so that no one was ever comfortable, and no alliances were allowed to form against him. Everything was done at the last minute; planning and promoting was minimal.
Liberty Media has smart people and knows that if you want peace, stability and growth, you need to have a fair system. Equality of finance and of political power may not be easy to achieve, but these are what is needed for a solid base to be built on which to grow the sport. Liberty, equality and brotherhood is the aspiration, but to get the old aristocrat of the sport – Ferrari – Liberty has to be prepared to give a little bit, or be prepared to face a fight – and potentially the guillotine as well. Ferrari has adopted a strange attitude under the current management. It has been unhelpful, greedy and arrogant and it has few friends. It is great to see the team win a race again and I hope to see more such battles and more victories, but the company has long adopted the view that it will not help the media, nor the sport – and ultimately the fans as well. It wants to take without giving back. Liberty Media wants to grow the sport, make it bigger and better, and it wants everyone to work together to achieve that, but unless Ferrari is willing to give up its unfair advantages, it is going to be difficult to achieve this.
There was a press conference in Melbourne involving Formula One’s Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches, in which Brawn mentioned some of the aims for the future, including “close racing”, “healthy teams” and a “true meritocracy of drivers”. In order to achieve healthy teams Brawn also said that he was looking to find ways of “limiting the resources that teams have at their availability” and said that he wanted to change the system so that “a good small team could beat a very good big team”. The implication of this remark is very clear: the organization is going to be looking at ways to equalize spending.
“We don’t want to lose any names in Formula 1,” Brawn said. “So we have to try and find equitable solutions for everyone. It would be great if we didn’t have the sort of Mexican stand-off that has been historically the case in these discussions. Our objective is to convince those teams about the bigger picture of Formula 1.”
Ferrari needs F1 as much as F1 needs Ferrari, but the team is going to have learn the art of compromise. It can threaten to leave F1 – as it often has – but we all know that this would be stupid. Ferrari does no traditional advertising; its only promotion is motorsport and no form of motorsport has anything like the market penetration of F1. With F1, Ferrari effectively gets free advertising. It also gets 5% of the revenues of the Formula One Group, half from the other teams and half from the Formula One Group. This means around US$85m more than its nearest competitor, before the other prize funds. It also gets US$30m as part of the prize fund known as the Constructors’ Championship Bonus, which gives the three most successful teams (in terms of race victories over a four-year period), a huge bonus. Winners win too much and if all the revenues were spread equally everyone would just get on with the battle on an equal basis, rather than wasting time and energy on the politics. <