Formula One Looking Up As Bernie Is Shown The Door
2016 was certainly a year for the record books in F1, but not exactly for all the right reasons. The good news on the racing side is that 2016 saw a first time champion in Nico Rosberg, who beat his multi-championship winning team mate Lewis Hamilton to take the top honors for the season. How it played out in the final race was not at all enjoyable, perhaps one of the biggest blots on the recent history of F1, with Hamilton backing his teammate up by purposely doing slow laps and blocking any attempts to pass, letting the competition get very close. Hamilton needed Rosberg to finish further down the order to win the champtionship, and he was willing to do everything including ignoring team orders to do it. Rosberg managed to hang on for second place in what was one of the ugliest situations in Formula One history, and it was more than enough that Rosberg promptly retired from the sport, giving his nasty tempered team mate a sort of one finger salute in a way. Hamilton will not have a chance to avenge his loss.
2016 also brought along a tectonic shift as the series was sold to a US company called Liberty Media. While they were only originally support to buy part ownership (which would have left them not entirely in control) they moved forward and bought more than enough to own and control the sport. When that deal concluded in early 2017, they did the best thing they could: They kicked Bernie Ecclestone out of office, and gave him instead an emeritus title that likely means nothing. I have been saying that Bernie needed to go for years, and finally someone showed up with enough money to get the job done.
Sadly, Bernie wasn’t shown the door fast enough to save Manor Racing, which went into receivership in early 2017. They scored points in 2016 but not enough to secure 10th place, which meant they lose out on something above 30 million dollars that would have at least partially funded 2017 for them. Without any buyers at the door willing to get involved, the team has been shut down. That means 2017 starts with only 10 teams on the grid again, with a couple of them still teetering on the edge of financial disaster.
On the plus side, 2017 will introduce new rules, bigger tires, more downforce, and cars that finally lap faster than F3 cars. Scrapping some of the silly engine token rules has also allowed Renault and Honda to both take another decent stab at getting their power trains right, which may lead to somewhat closer competition.
The real question is Liberty Media. They seem to have a pretty good idea of where Bernie went wrong, from failing to move into the digital media arena to moving races away from traditional markets, they have at least talked about the major points with some enthusiasm, including the desire for more races in the US. While it’s not easy to walk away from Middle Eastern oil money and dictatorship dollars, they appear to be at least understanding that without a fan base in their key marketplaces, they will fail to attract sponsor dollars and fail to make the series an ongoing success. Already Singapore appears to have closed the door to an F1 future, and there will be no race in Malaysia this year. There are a series of Bernie-sodes such as Korean and India which showed his desire to plump up the short term bottom line rather than looking at the long term of the sport. He basically allowed races that would most certainly fail over time get added to the schedule in place of more traditional events because they paid more.
That short term, bottom line focus has cost F1 significantly in many ways. It has distanced the sport from it’s fans, and made TV viewing hard for many with races running at all sorts of weird hours. Having the races moved away from free OTA TV to pay channels has also been a costly move, it certainly has brought F1 a ton more income but it makes it harder for casually interested people to get hooked on the sport. The lack of a good digital presence online, the lack of good worldwide streaming options, and a series of stars and top names who apparently don’t like the public very much hasn’t helped either. While Liberty Media cannot change that all overnight, they are already looking for solutions and trying to move forward.
The hope is that for 2017, that the new cars with wider tires and more downforce will produce much faster racing, much more interesting racing, and be more interesting to the fans. Getting the cars to be faster than lower series is pretty important, the premiere motorsports series should be a significant step above everything else around it, otherwise it’s meaningless. It would have been more reasonable to run f3 rules with a little more horsepower the last few years, it’s been that bad. The hope is also that the new rules will both shake up the grid and make the distance between the leaders and the followers smaller. Closing the gap so that the winner of the race is not almost predetermined would go a long way to adding interest and excitement in F1.
Liberty’s goals for the next few years are to stabilize the sport and get more teams on the grid, more sponsors on the cars and at the tracks, and get more people worldwide watching the events. It’s been said that a 25 race schedule is not out of the realm of possibility, including up to 3 races in the US each year. They clearly need to keep moving on making the series financially viable for the teams. It has been my personal peeve to see F1 the series making a billion dollars a year while teams drop off the back of the grid from lack of funding, uneven distribution of revenues between the teams, and insanely high costs of often irrelevant technology.
Bernie Ecclestone did great things for Formula One. He took what was almost gentleman races and turned it into the greatest motorsports series around. Then he kept going and almost killed it. It was time for him to leave probably 5 or more years ago, the last 5 years have been very unkind to his legacy. With his departure, we can look forward to a new F1 season that will actually move forward quickly!
The 2017 Formula One Schedule:
February 27-March 2: Test one – Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona
March 7-10: Test 2 – Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona
2017 F1 RACE CALENDAR
March 26: Melbourne, Australia
April 9: Shanghai, China
April 16: Bahrain, Bahrain
April 30: Sochi, Russia
May 14: Barcelona, Spain
May 28: Monte Carlo, Monaco
June 11: Montreal, Canada
June 25: Baku, Azerbaijan
July 9: Spielberg, Austria
July 16: Silverstone, United Kingdom
July 30: Budapest, Hungary
August 27: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
September 3: Monza, Italy
September 17: Singapore, Singapore
October 1: Sepang, Malaysia
October 8: Suzuka, Japan
October 22: Austin, USA
October 29: Mexico City, Mexico
November 12: Sao Paolo, Brazil
November 26: Abu Dhabi, UAE