Monday 20 May 2019 11:28 am

Formula One taking cues from the Premier League on increasing competition and wants to add African race to calendar

Since Liberty Media took over Formula One in 2017, the company has been insistent on the sport’s potential for commercial growth.

How to achieve that has posed challenges, though, highlighting a need to improve the product on the track as well as expanding its reach.

The first of those hurdles has proved difficult to jump, with current regulations locked in until 2021 when a new Concorde Agreement will take effect.

Read more: Susie Wolff on Formula E, increasing women's involvement and facing Toto

Mercedes’ dominance this season, with an unprecedented five one-twos from five races, has only further underlined the need to level the playing field.

It can feel like the sport is engaged in a never-ending battle to increase overtaking, while trying to prevent the recurring dominance of one team that the series has tended to endure.

Liberty studies other sports for inspiration, whether that be the NBA for its widely commended digital and social strategies, or the Premier League for its historically high levels of competition.

“We did a little bit of analysis of the Premier League,” said F1 managing director, Sean Bratches, at a Sport Industry Breakfast Club last week. “Since the 2014-15 season, the bottom three teams have either beaten or drawn with the top six teams 29 per cent of the time.

“Leicester City aside, I don’t think there is a lot of hope from those team’s fanbases to win the Premier League, but they know when they play Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham that they have the opportunity to win or get a point. That’s not the case in Formula One, so I think there is an opportunity to address that.”

Sport Industry Breakfast Club
F1 managing director Sean Bratches says that making the sport more competitive is high on Liberty's agenda (Source: Getty)

Trying to make the field closer by changing the sport’s regulations is one option, but another is ensuring that tracks facilitate overtaking.

“Ross Brawn [F1 technical director] has hired a team that consults with incumbent circuits and also ensures circuits that we on-board either have, or commit to developing, overtaking areas that make them really world class,” Bratches said.

One such track is Holland’s Zandvoort, which will rejoin the race calendar next year for the first time since 1985 — on one condition. “There is a significant amount of investment that they are obligated to make candidly to create overtaking and excitement on the circuit,” the American says.

With Vietnam also set to join in 2020, and Liberty “very optimistic” of another 21-race season, two of the current four unsigned races – Britain, Germany, Spain and Mexico – will likely be cut.

It remains to be seen which will disappear, but Bratches did allude to a loss of interest in Spain due to Fernando Alonso’s absence from the sport and highlighted the historical importance of the British Grand Prix.

“Silverstone has been a seminal and central part of our race calendar since 1950,” he said. “Those discussions are ongoing.”

F1 are in talks to return to Kyalami in South Africa in the near future (Source: Getty)

Liberty also wants more races further afield to expand the sport’s reach, particularly in China and the United States, while talks are ongoing with South Africa and Morocco.

“We have more interest than chairs around the table, which means we can be selective,” he said. “We have been having very productive conversations in South Africa, and to a lesser extent, in Morocco.”

F1 chiefs believe that of the two, South Africa would be easier to convert into an FIA Grade One standard than the street circuit in Marrakech, Morocco, which has held Formula E races.

Read more: Business of F1: Series needs a successful 2019 to stay on track

They are also still looking to add street races in the United States, although it is proving difficult to get a deal done.

“In an ideal circumstance we would be racing downtown Miami and downtown Las Vegas,” Bratches said.

“They would be the two cities in the US that best align with our brand and aspirations.”