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F1 Midweek: Is Liberty Media Trying to “Americanize” Formula One?

Since Liberty Media took over the reins of Formula 1, the organization seems to be getting a taste of what is in store for them as the Concorde agreement nears in three years’ time.

Since the two heads of Liberty, Chase Carey, and Sean Branches are American, many F1 fans have it in their minds that following the U.S. Grand Prix pre-show last fall, that all races and even the sport itself, will become too “Americanized” and will be compared to America’s most notable motorsports series, NASCAR.

With the prospect of another American race, this time on the streets of Miami, along with the potential of other races in Vietnam or Denmark, the question arises of whether the F1 Championship will become an exhausting affair with 25 races and have too much “show” in their program?

It certainly was not that way before. In the early 1980s, two factions at the time, FISA and FOCA, the International Motorsports Federation and Formula One Constructors Association, respectively, were in a battle over the regulations on how the sport should be run. Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley dueled it out with President of the federation, Jean-Marie Ballestre. Eventually, Ecclestone ended up leading the Formula One Association, FOM, and Mosley was voted in to lead the new FIA, International Automobile Federation, after Ballestre was voted out of office.

From that moment onward, F1 changed. Ecclestone turned the sport into a huge cash cow, with sponsorship everywhere. The Briton turned F1 into a bigtime money-making organization, while Mosley kept things in check through his branch. Until 2010, both individuals were leading very well-organized companies.

After a scandal ended Mosley’s reign, former Ferrari manager Jean Todt took over, while Ecclestone by this time, was seeing a very different future and did not like it. The rise of internet journalism was helping Ecclestone ignore changes in the landscape, where, in his old-fashioned way, he accepted only journalists with credentials who were in newspapers and magazines. Another issue dealt with races in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East regions that Ecclestone recognized had the money, which would buy the country new race. It got many traditional F1 fans upset and with controversy coming every day, Ecclestone needed a successor.

He found it in Carey, who owns American Liberty Media, and following a rookie season last year, Liberty is now trying to “improve the show.” This effort showed last fall at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, where the pre-race festivities began with an introduction of the drivers by a boxing ringside announcer, and the top two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel stood next to the F1 winner’s trophy. Many, especially the European fans, were stunned by what they saw and thought that this could be the future of the sport that Liberty envisioned.

So, what could happen by the time the next Concorde agreement is reached? Already, smaller engines and more reliable power could be in F1 cars, along with an improved “show” which now has the stamp of approval of Hamilton. Vettel meanwhile, takes a more conservative approach and favors that every round of the championship be their own show however they would like it, only if it brings the audience closer to an entertainment value.

But Liberty had another suggestion recently that might be a little over the top for fans. An event to keep the public interested during the off-season by having something like an NFL draft. But fans need a break during the off-season, and too much “Americanism” might not be good for the sport. This especially is the case when this sport is worldwide and not nationwide.

So, if Carey makes a future for the sport, then it must something that the fans and the drivers would agree with. After all, they are both the heart of the event.

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Russ

Think you have touched on an important topic. For me the danger in Liberty’s acquisition is exactly this : trying to turn F1 into Nascar. I don’t believe that F1 fans want a spec racing series with finishes that are decided by either subtle manipulation or a thumb on the competitive scales.
As to the year round coverage I think it already exists but not in such an over the top way as is attempted with Nascar.
Regardless, we shall see what Liberty is able to do.

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