Race Organizers Attack Formula 1 Owner Liberty Media… Then Two Defend It
Formula 1 owner Liberty Media has come under fire in a group statement from race organizers over its running of the championship, although two races quickly distanced themselves from the criticism. The statement, calling for “a more collaborative approach from F1”, followed a meeting of the Formula One Promoters’ Association [FOPA] which represents 16 of the current 21 races. It is understood that the five not part of FOPA are Russia, Japan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and China.
Five popular existing rounds–Britain, Italy, Germany, Mexico and Spain–do not have deals for 2020, something particularly troublesome for Liberty as it has said it wants to protect “prestige” races. The management of British Grand Prix host Silverstone has been vocal that the escalating hosting fees in its current deal are unsustainable. Another source of concern is that Liberty offered advantageous terms to its proposed new Miami street race–some insiders claim it was in effect offered the race for free. This is thought a major factor in current hosts standing firm to demand better deals. It is not clear how much financial room to maneuver Liberty has though, as F1’s staff overheads have greatly increased plus it is also unclear how successful Liberty has been in growing F1’s income.
FOPA’s statement also expressed concern about F1’s shrinking free-to-air TV coverage, with its potential negative impact on ticket sales. This year in the UK only the British Grand Prix will be broadcast free and Italian coverage similarly has moved predominantly to pay-per-view. In Germany by contrast pay TV has been dropped in preference for free-to-air, while F1 earlier this month announced that its TV viewers globally increased by 10% in 2018. “If this continues, Formula 1 will be racing on second-rate circuits, if any at all,” FOPA chairman and Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle told The Daily Mail. “Everyone is disgruntled. Liberty’s ideas are disjointed. We have all been compliant and quiet hitherto, but we have great concerns about the future health of the sport under the people who run it now.”
However later the same day the matter was thrown into confusion as the Mexican race publicly distanced itself from FOPA’s criticism. “F1 Gran Premio de Mexico did not participate in [the] said meeting and appreciate the work that the new owners of F1 are doing to understand the promoters’ requirements and concerns, as well as those from the fans,” its statement read. “As a result, they [the Mexican race’s promoters] do not agree with what was released by the Formula One Promoters’ Association on their behalf.” By this point the Russian round’s promoter had also defended Liberty. Its deputy general director Sergey Vorobyev told Autosport: “the [FOPA] statement is fairly toothless, because all the issues indicated there, in this statement, they are being resolved one way or another in the current format of communication with Liberty. I do not see the need for a separate assembly of some promoters. I do not share the position of the current chairman of the FOPA Association, Stuart Pringle.”