In The Pit Lane: Liberty Media Spoiled for Choice

As the global pandemic continues to create havoc with the 2021 race calendar, Liberty Media continues to look forward. Liberty has an ambition to ultimately hold 25 races per season and to facilitate this, the introduction of more double and triple-headers will be necessary regardless of the human cost to the teams.

Where will the 25 be?

Liberty aims for a third of the races to be held in Europe with the remainder spread throughout the world including a wish list race in the continent of Africa.

Kyalami has been long mooted for a return to hosting the South African GP for the first time since 1993. Image: Autosport

As part of the strategy, Liberty is examining the prospect of alternating races with some circuits hosting every two or three years. This has happened before with for example the German GP, which was spilt between Hockenheim and the Nürburgring.

Liberty will endeavour to protect the ‘heritage’ races such as Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, and Monza, the rest will be decided on who has the deepest pockets.

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The top circuits

Currently, there are 33 FIA Grade 1 approved circuits, with more in the pipeline, so supply exceeds demand, hence, a bidding war is created. Pre the pandemic, Liberty had plans to increase hosting fees, which in 2019 generated an income of $602.1 million making it F1’s second-largest source of revenue.

Even tiny Kuwait has a Grade 1 circuit these days

Individual deals are not disclosed and an average of $28.7 million does not give a fair representation of the gap that exists between the European circuits, and, for example, the circuits based in the Middle East.

Liberty does consider the teams/sponsor’s commercial interests in a country as well as the TV audiences but in the final analysis, cash is king.

The elephants in the room

The argument for not racing in countries with poor human rights records which may have changed post-Ecclestone but didn’t is now finally redundant with the upcoming race in Saudi Arabia.

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Instead, F1 is now positioning itself as a force for change with Stefano Domenicali declaring,

“Formula 1 has zero embarrassment at competing in Saudi Arabia. F1 has a role to play in advancing our values in different places in the world. Sport can progress this in a faster way by shining a spotlight. We can be an enabler and are discussing these kind of things with the Saudi’s.”

Debate closed!

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What about the FIA?

Well, the calendar falls within Liberty’s remit, courtesy of the 113-year deal struck between Bernie Ecclestone and the late Max Mosley back in the day. As long as the circuit’s administrative and safety standards are met, then the FIA has no say in where F1 races.

So, it comes as no surprise Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting the chequebook out with the construction of the new Igora Drive venue in St Petersburg replacing Sochi in 2023.

Formula 1 is making a popular departure from Sochi after 2022. Image: F1Destination

It is believed the switch is due to Putin wanting to showcase and promote the region and no doubt the Haas team’s controversial Russian-themed livery helps especially as the doping ban on flags for the nation’s drivers begins.

In other developments, Domenicali continues to court the American market, telling The Business Breakdowns podcast, “The United States of America represents one big challenge for us that we need to make sure we take in a good way.”

Enter one Rodger Penske who confirmed at the Goodwood festival he would, “love to welcome F1 back to the brickyard.”

The only problem is he wants to pay $20m and Liberty is looking for $30m, so it will be a case of who blinks first. Domenicali has been a busy man of late, meeting with Sergio Perez’s father Antonio at the Hungarian GP.

According to Reforma, a Mexican newspaper, Antonio was heading up a consortium of Mexican businesspeople to discuss the possibility of a second grand prix in Mexico, most likely in Cancun.

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What about the Middle East?

Qatar, who has long held ambitions to host a race may also be exercising its influence behind the scenes. Liberty is in talks with the Volkswagen Group aiming to get the company back into F1 either as an engine supplier or team owner.

As a sweetener, Liberty may agree to a race in Qatar to satisfy Volkswagen’s second-largest shareholder QIA the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar!

We could see a one-off Qatar GP become a fixture in the near future

Liberty has made a lot of noise about the advantages of some of the new circuits, with Ross Brawn commenting of the Saudi circuit, “We no longer want mickey mouse circuits, we don’t want those old classic street circuits with 90 degree turns we want fast sweeping circuits, circuits which are going to challenge the drivers – and they are going to love this one – and we want circuits where we can have wheel to wheel racing.”

What about the most important but all too often overlooked stakeholder – the fans?

In a survey carried out in 2020 on Formula 1’s Fan Voice website, only 10 per cent agreed with the notion that there should be more races. Of those surveyed 51% think the current number of races is “about right” while 39 per cent feel there should be fewer races in a season.

The events fans are most looking forward to in 2021 were, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, and Monaco.

Time will tell where F1 ends up racing, but it may not be in countries or at circuits that have the fans blessing.

Garry Sloan is an author, columnist, and podcaster more details at garrysloan.com

Copyright ©2021 Garry Sloan

[Note: The opinions expressed on this website are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors and/or publishers.]

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