While some familiar gnome-like faces are sticking around for now, Formula One is about to have some new owners in the form of Liberty Media. While the sport is no doubt lucrative and poised for expansion, it needs more than just a small tune-up.
Here’s the short list of things Liberty should look into—if they aren’t looking already.
Make Things More Equal
F1 has a huge problem of haves and have-nots. Series revenue goes disproportionately to teams who are already at the front of the grid, making it tougher for smaller teams to keep up. Worse yet, those smaller teams don’t even have a voice in the series’ decision-making Strategy Group, which is only open to F1's five biggest teams plus the most successful also-ran from the prior year.
In short, if you are big or if you win, you get to make the rules. If you don’t, you’re screwed.
One promising sign is Liberty Media’s announcement it they will allow teams to invest in Formula One after the sale. That’s a start, so long as no one team ends up with disproportionate influence over the others.
One way to get more competitive teams is to open up the revenue and the decision-making process to all involved. Anything else is just shooting yourself in the foot.
Cut Down Aerodynamic Grip
F1 is all about pushing the boundaries of both man and machine, but there’s only so much you can do with aerodynamics before the cars become too difficult to pass. The drag reduction system that enables F1 passes is a clever cheat around this, but DRS-enabled passes can feel artificial.
I want to see cars battling hard in each others’ space, but F1's downforce-heavy cars have removed the ability to do that. Ultra-high downforce belongs more in a time trial, not in a wheel-to-wheel series.
NASCAR went with less downforce this year to tremendous results: more close passing action and often unpredictable wins. Do that, F1. It’s not like there aren’t infinite other places on the car that you can take to the absolute bleeding edge of technology.
Let Drivers Be Themselves
Fans see fleeting glimpses of humanity whenever Kimi Räikkönen swears at a slow car, or Lewis Hamilton Snapchats a party or whatever. Unfortunately, we usually see more of drivers’ super-polished side where they tend to use a lot of words to say very little.
It’s time to let drivers be a bit more human. Let them get frustrated on TV, race in other series, or be lovable goofballs in the paddock. Better yet, let drivers go hang out among the fans—and leave their PR handlers in the paddock.
Stop Going After Your Own Fans And Embrace The Internet
With the F1 sale has come frequent, seemingly Captain-Obvious-penned acknowledgements that F1 sucks at social media. Formula One’s attitude towards its own fans online has been “you can’t have this” and “this is not yours to enjoy.” That’s not how fans consume their racing in 2016.
Clips of races get blocked almost immediately after they’re uploaded by fans, despite the fact that F1 rarely hosts their own copies of moments fans want to discuss until some time after races are already over. Hamilton famously got in trouble this year for Snapchatting to his followers from the paddock. F1 has even gone after fans who’ve made in-game racing liveries more realistic, according to Polygon.
The internet is where people discover cool, new things. F1 needs to let it work for them, first by posting more video online. Fans have less incentive to post their own copies of race clips when a series makes clips available in a timely manner.
Yes, this probably means having an in-house GIF/clip squad to tweet moments of mayhem during races. Hire some #teens.
Better yet, put whole races up on the Internet for fans to watch as they please, because television as we know it is dying fast. Inking exclusive broadcast deals with TV broadcasters in each country isn’t a strategy that will work anymore. Worse yet, disruptive ad breaks make watching races on American television frustrating at best.
When even the aging ex-Top Gear trio believes that moving to an Amazon show is the answer, the age of a la carte online programming has arrived.
Don’t Be Stupid
Cars! Technology! Driving! But when verbal diarrhea pours forth out of the still-CEO’s mouth like the world’s wealthiest volcano of excrement, you’re inherently shutting people out. F1 is inherently a rich fancy person’s sport. If you’re going to change that image, that’s one easy place to start.
Knowing when to cut Bernie Ecclestone’s mic is just one piece of the puzzle, though. F1 doesn’t exist in a bubble. The same internet that should become F1's biggest advocate in the digital age is also its biggest critic when F1 screws up.
The series needs to stop cozying up to oppressive regimes and ignoring human rights violations when dictators want to gloss over unpleasantness by hosting a nice F1 weekend. Work with, not against other series to maximize eyes on F1—and don’t vindictively schedule a dictator’s vanity race over the last bit of Le Mans. Encourage more young women to get involved in motorsports, too.
Maybe even lower event fees and ticket prices to combat the stigma that F1 is elitist and behind the times. Make the paddock less walled-off to average fans.
Color me cautiously optimistic that there’s a change in guard, then. Liberty Media has to embrace changing times for its other companies to succeed. Please bring F1 along with it.