In 2017 the US company Liberty Media took over the business that is Formula 1 from Bernie Ecclestone and CVC, and as such the current CEO Stefano Domenicali reflects on what F1 has become compared to the old management style – Domenicalli claims that Ecclestone’s style was ‘egotistical’, whilst Liberty’s is ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’ in comparison.
There has always been tension between Ecclestone and the new owners in Liberty. The former ‘ringmaster’ of Formula 1 was sidelined early on after the takeover, which saw Ecclestone go to the press with disapproving comments and opinions on what the American owners were doing to the sport.
In a recent interview, the current CEO appointed by Liberty to head up FOM (Formula One Management) compares Bernie Ecclestone’s approach to Liberty’s.
“The characteristics are more or less the same,” says Domenicali,
“But there is more awareness today that the business must be built on a vision, with a less specific and less egotistical approach,” a clear finger point to Ecclestone,
“Formula 1 is not just about R&D. There has to be more than just a business. There has to be racing and fun. There must be racing, there must be fun. It’s our duty to try new things.”
Apart from the occasional and obviously delusional suggestions made as off-the-cuff comments to the press (trackside sprinklers for instance), Ecclestone was famous for his unwillingness to change some aspects of the sport, something Domenicalli is quick to point out.
“Sprint races on historic race weekends [at Silverstone, with a new trophy, a new challenge. These are the kinds of things we have to think about as the commercial rights holder.
“Bernie has made Formula One what it is. For someone to take over this business who was also an F1 lover would have been a disaster, so Chase Carey has been really great at changing the language and taking the business into another dimension.”
“At the end of the day, we are a broadcasting rights company. How will the media world change in the next few years? I don’t have a crystal ball, and if you ask ten people in this business, they give you ten different answers. So it’s a big challenge.”
“Different approaches in different countries, with different technologies, and where there are avid fans with high F1 awareness versus people with zero awareness. We need to reach both. It’s essential to connect with people and stay relevant, but the audience figures are fantastic; the sport is growing everywhere. People say F1 is old-fashioned and when I hear that I laugh.”
When describing the USA popular Netflix show, Drive to Survive, Domenicali is keen to praise the TV show’s effect on bringing in new audiences.
“There are different points of view and of course some things are pushed in a way that is more like a movie than a sport. But if we keep talking in a language that some people don’t understand, they don’t watch.
“F1 is not just technology. It’s also about personalities. The effect that Max Verstappen has, for example. The Dutch GP in Zandvoort is sold out for the next three years. Lando Norris… And I don’t even need to mention the power of Lewis Hamilton.”
“Netflix has attracted a whole new audience, attracted by a different kind of storytelling. You can ask them how many cylinders there are in the engine and they might say, “What’s a cylinder?” But this is a great opportunity to show that we are opening it up.”
“But if you only think about the sporting aspect of it, you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture. Some of the team managers understand that. Some of them have other priorities. Our role is to make sure that, if it’s about being fast on the track, off the track we need people to understand the bigger picture of the sport. And that includes the drivers, some of whom are more open than others.”