The challenges facing Formula One in 2018

From ESPN - February 15, 2018

In the year since Liberty Media took the reins of Formula One much has gone on behind the scenes to turn the global championship into a professional organisation worthy of the sport's reach. In the London headquarters, sizeable content and digital teams are being put together, and the sport has a centralised marketing department for the first time in its history.

The 2018 season will see several more fan events along the lines of last year's popular London Live, with city centre spectacles planned for Shanghai, Miami, Berlin, Marseille, and Milan. There are expected to be changes to the amount of filming allowed in the paddock, with promoters given more scope to publicise their grands prix, and F1 is making a concerted effort to link promoters with local partners with a view to making races more financially sustainable and locally engaged.

But all of these efforts -- plus the ongoing development of new multimedia platforms, apps, and engagement tools -- has come at a cost. Headcount has grown along with expertise, and promotional spending has meant that team payments are down, leading to some discontent over the winter.

Ahead of the 2018 season, ESPN sat down with F1 CEO Chase Carey to discuss the challenges ahead and F1's immediate goals for their sophomore year in the sport.

Does F1 need dictatorship or leadership?

F1 in 2017 was more energetic, more open. But it was also a honeymoon year, a period in which the incomers were given room to find their feet. This season, however, expectations are high -- there are circuit contracts to be renewed, new regulations to discuss and develop, and a new series of agreements between teams and commercial rights holder to begin framing and negotiating.

There is also the spectre of a Ferrari rebellion, schisms over cost cutting and budget caps, and a lot of politicking going on in the background. Carey's approach is to lead, not dictate.

"This sport is a big ecosystem," he said. "You have got the promoters, you have got the sponsors, you have got broadcasters and then other select partners, and we have talked about building a partnership. There are always going to be issues we have to deal with with any one of those constituencies. We really do want to build partnerships, and that requires spending time to engage, express the issues, to try and understand what are their concerns, what are their problems, what do we want to do, how do we find things to do together?

"Decisions are not democracy of making a vote. Getting input and feedback from others is not the same consensus -- I think it's making informed decisions. Bernie and I used to have this debate: he said the sport needs a dictator, and I said, no, the sport needs a leader. What a dictator does is make decisions and does not care if everybody is grumbling behind. I think a leader feels people have had an opportunity to have input and then hopefully you have more of a following.

"If you are trying to create a partnership and trying to have people working together to a common goal, I think it's important that they feel that they have a voice in it and you talk.

"We had a meeting two weeks ago. We had all the promoters in from around the world and they have obviously been expressing concerns about costs and other issues and we are dealing with it, engaging with it. They said it was the first time they'd all been together in a room. The first time they had an opportunity to hear about the things we are trying to do to grow and expand the sport, as opposed to just doing things and everybody grumbling. Their issues have not been considered, they have not had a chance to be heard... I do not think it's the healthiest way to try to grow the sport."

Improving the racing

Since taking the helm of F1 Carey has been explicit about his intention to keep business behind closed doors until deals are done. Liberty have made a point of announcing achievements, not leaking teasers of things to come. But one clear aim is to improve the action on track.

"At the end of the day there's a lot of stuff we want to build around [the sport], but it's all built on having great racing at the track. Everybody we have talked to on the motorsport side I think would agree our racing should be more competitive, with more action, and probably less predictable.

"Every time somebody told me this track we are going to is bad for passing, my first reaction -- I am a neophyte in this -- would be, 'well, then create three spots that are good for passing'. And I know it's not that simple, but we have got to solve it. If we want competition, action and less predictable races, then we have got to dig in. We are obviously midstream in that, and as you get to the specifics there are always going to be differing views on how do you achieve it.

"I think there's an alignment on the broad-based goals but clearly, when you have as many parties as we do, you will have a range of views. Therefore we have to engage with the teams, with the FIA, with the constituents that are involved in making the sport on the track be everything it can and should be for fans. I mean, that's why you race. You do not race for the teams to go out there in a vacuum, you race to create something, create an event that is engaging and spectacular for fans."

Dealing with Ferrari's quit threat

One of the biggest adjustments of the 2017 F1 season was getting used to an administration that avoided airing its laundry -- dirty or clean -- in public. Far from the slings and arrows we had become used to, F1's new owners simply got on with business and announced achievements as and when they happened.

Attracting new teams


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