Why Formula One's new owners Liberty Media must step on the gas to reclaim lost ground from rivals

Simon Chadwick
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F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi
F1's chairman and new chief executive Chase Carey (right) has replaced Bernie Ecclestone (left) as the sport's figurehead (Source: Getty)

The ousting of long-time Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone marks a coup and leaves a series of unanswered questions facing the sport.

For decades critics have questioned how F1 is governed and how it generates revenues, and have therefore cast doubts on its long-term future.

Although some commentators – notably former broadcaster Murray Walker – have observed how instrumental Ecclestone has been in helping F1 develop, others see him as a more damaging, divisive figure.

Read more: Bernie Ecclestone's reign is over as Liberty Media completes F1 takeover

In particular, concerns have been expressed about the sport’s opaque governance standards and its inadequately developed business model.

As a result, major manufacturers have long threatened a breakaway competition, smaller constructors have bemoaned the cost of competing, and now fans are switching off from a sport they consider boring.

Yesterday's development gives rise to speculation about how F1 will change, and how it may look in five to 10 years time.

More open, transparent and democratic

Being more open, transparent and democratic will be a crucial challenge for F1’s new owners. They will also need to make it more relevant, to fans and teams.

As such, one of the immediate tasks for Liberty will be to keep the major manufacturers on board, to keep breakaway threats at bay.

At the same time, F1's business model will come under close scrutiny, with a view to building revenue streams beyond the television and hosting income that has sustained the sport in recent times.

Read more: Brawn returns to F1 in new-look Liberty management team

In spite of the increasingly dynamic technological and media environments in which F1 operates, Ecclestone seemingly struggled to get to grips with their impact.

Indeed, F1’s former boss once famously referred to its fans as being Rolex wearers, emphasising that young people were not the sport’s core customers.

Not only has this created fan engagement issues, it has also meant that F1 has been poor at taking advantage of its potential digital and social presence.

New products, more teams and new rules

We should therefore expect to see new products that capitalise upon the sport's obvious strengths, such as drama and excitement.

F1’s social media presence will surely develop and become stronger, while there could be links to online gaming and e-sports. Some observers are already predicting a racing series where F1 drivers compete against gamers.

Otherwise, we can look towards possibly more teams being admitted to F1, with bigger fields bringing more action-packed races and new rules designed to make the racing more exciting.

Asia will no doubt continue to be an important destination for F1 races, although the United States will presumably be an important target market for F1’s new American owners.

Even so, we can expect races to be staged in new countries, at new venues and in new formats to build fan engagement.

Follow Formula E's lead

One suspects too that Liberty will be taking a close look at Formula E and the way in which the series has responded to growing concerns about the environmental damage caused by motorsport.

Perhaps we will see a greener, more progressive F1 by 2027? Formula E has been more innovative in several ways, including its Fan Boost initiative that links social media likes with improved car performance – definite lessons for F1.

So, these are potentially exciting times for F1, providing that Liberty is bold, creative and decisive in changing the way in which Ecclestone ran F1.

Strategically and competitively, the sport has clearly lost ground to rival sports and other entertainment products.

F1 is playing catch-up, and Liberty will need to step on the gas if the sport is to start reclaiming territory from its rivals.

The next 10 years will be an interesting ride.

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