After Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes’ victory last season, Formula One returns promising a new chapter for a familiar product but with some different challenges.
It has been a whirlwind off-season for owners Liberty Media and several teams with disputes, re-brands, driver changes and new sponsorships all offering different narratives since Hamilton secured his fifth title back in October.
January saw the Formula One Promoters Association (Fopa) - which represents 16 of the 21 Grand Prix venues - hit out at Liberty as it sought ‘a more collaborative approach’ to running the series. The promoters highlighted Formula One’s migration from free-to-air TV, a lack of clarity on new initiatives and plans to add new races to the calendar as major areas of concern. Chief executive Chase Carey described the criticism as "strange" and vowed that Liberty would not change tack.
Last-placed Williams have a new main sponsor in the form of Rokit and unless you have been living in a cave you will have heard that Big Tobacco is back in racing. Ferrari have named long-term partner Philip Morris’ Mission Winnow campaign as their title sponsor and British American Tobacco (BAT) has secured a livery deal with McLaren.
Sebastian Vettel during pre-season testing in Barcelona sporting title sponsor Mission Winnow on his racesuit
On the media rights side, following what Carey called a “beta test” last year, the series’ F1 TV over-the-top (OTT) service will be fully operational for the 2019 season and will be rolled out in eight new markets. However, Liberty Media suffered a major blow as it lost a major TV contract just over a month before the new season when Qatar-based pay-TV broadcaster BeIN Sports decided not to renew its contract, stating the decision was a “natural consequence” of its battle with the illegal Saudi Arabia-backed BeoutQ pirate service.
The loss of a key media partner appears particularly damaging after Carey admitted the motorsport series' revenue growth remains in the hands of its broadcasters, with its 2018 instalment watched by close to half a billion unique viewers.
Year on year, engagement last season grew by ten per cent to a 490.2 million viewership. Though the championship’s revenue climbed a modest two per cent to US$1.8 billion compared to 2017, operating losses widened from US$37 million to US$68 million through 2018.
Liberty's takeover was supposed to usher in a new era but despite an increased focus on digital since its acquisition of the series back in 2017 just 14 per cent of Formula One’s viewers are under the age of 25, according to the motorsport series’ global research director Matt Roberts.
In an open Q&A on discussion forum Reddit, Roberts revealed that the average age of a Formula One viewer is 40. Under 25s are the most poorly represented age group, with 30 per cent of the series’ viewers between the age of 25 and 34; 20 per cent between 35 and 44; 20 per cent between 45 and 54; and 17 per cent over 55.
Roberts also said that the average age is higher in Formula One’s more established markets such as the UK and Italy, while viewers are younger in the series’ newer markets like the US and China.
Formula One is trying. It now has a well established esports series and run its first ever marketing campaign in an attempt to engage with the next generation.
On a more positive note, Formula One’s new Netflix behind-the-scenes documentary, chronicling the 2018 season, has scored rave reviews despite the absence of Ferrari and Mercedes.
Chief exectutive Chase Carey has had to deal with Fopa and Liberty issues during the off-season
Alfa Romeo Racing
Last season (as Sauber): Drivers’ Championship, 13th (Charles Leclerc); Constructors’ Championship, eighth
Owner: Longbow Finance
Managing director: Frédéric Vasseur
Base: Zürich, Switzerland
Main sponsor: Alfa Romeo, multi-year deal, signed 2018
Other key partners: Adler, Carrera, Claro, Richard Mille, Singha, EGV, Globeair, HP, Iveco, Mitsubishi, New Balance, Pirelli, Save the Children, Sparco, Walter Meier
Suppliers: 3D Systems, Brutsch-Ruegger, Carbon Connect, Interroll, Riedel, Singapore Airlines
2018 prize money: US$45.6 million
What they’ve been up to: After racing as Sauber last season, Alfa Romeo returns to Formula One for the first time since the 1980s. Whilst this new title sponsorship removes Sauber’s name, the team will still be run by the same ownership and management as last year.
Alfa Romeo also have access to Ferrari engines, which could give them an edge over the rest of the midfield pack. The championship is becoming very much ‘A’ teams and ‘B’ teams with the likes of Haas and Toro Rosso also leaning on their big brothers for parts. Alfa Romeo will hope that their partnership with Ferrari will see the come out on top.
Former world champion Kimi Räikkönen’s return to the team he left in 2001 is also a nice touch.
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, second (Sebastian Vettel); Constructors’ Championship, second
Managing director: Mattia Binotto
Base: Maranello, Italy
Main sponsor: Phillip Morris International, extended in 2018 until end of 2021 season
Other key partners: Shell, Ray-Ban, Kaspersky, UPS, Lenovo, Weichei, Hublot, Mahle, OMR, AMD
Suppliers: Pirelli, Puma, Eightcap, Laszmoe, Infor, Experis, SKF, Magneti-Marelli, NGK, Brembo, Riedel, Vistajet, Iveco
2018 prize money: US$193.3 million
What they’ve been up to: Unveiling and testing out their brand-new SF90 was a major point in Ferrari’s off-season. The reveal was live-streamed on Ferrari’s website to allow fans to get a first glimpse of the new car. Team drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc tested the vehicle out in Barcelona with the German looking to leapfrog Hamilton into pole position.
Also, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene left Ferrari in January after four years in the role. In a statement on their website, Ferrari said: ‘The decision was taken together with the company’s top management after lengthy discussions related to Maurizio’s long term personal interests as well as those of the team itself.’ He has been replaced at the helm by Mattia Binotto.
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, ninth (Kevin Magnussen); Constructors’ Championship, fifth
Owner: Gene Haas
Chief operating officer: Joe Custer
Base: Kannapolis, United States
Main sponsor: Rich Energy, multi-year deal starting in 2019
Other key partners: Jack & Jones, Peak, Blue Def, Branded London, Richard Mille
Suppliers: Alpinestars, Pirelli
2018 prize money: US$52.3 million
What they’ve been up to: Supported by their supply deal with Ferrari, Haas secured a solid fifth place last season. Driver Romain Grosjean thinks that his team will be challenging to finish fourth once again, and has the potential to be the ‘best of the rest.’
However, Haas’ off-season hasn’t been without controversy. New main sponsor, Rich Energy, a United Kingdom-based energy drink company, is heading to court over a claim that the company’s logo is similar to that of ATB Sales. A verdict is due on 1st May, by which time four races will be done and dusted. Rich Energy chief executive officer William Storey has played down the furore claiming that he has “no concerns whatsoever,” and the case is “without foundation”.
McLaren have signed a new multi-year deal with British American Tobacco
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, 11th place (Fernando Alonso); Constructors’ Championship, sixth
Owner: McLaren Group
Chief executive: Zak Brown
Base: Woking, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: McLaren have choosen not to find a main sponsor as, according to chief executive Zak Brown, it would “dilute the viability of the McLaren brand”.
Other key partners: Dell, Petrobas, Logitech, British American Tobacco, Vive, Estrella Galicia, Hitlon, FxPro, CNBC, SAP, Kaust, Huski Chocolate, Richard Mille
Suppliers: Sparco, Volvo, Sikkens, Enkei, Mazak, Calsonic Kansei, Technogym, Hookit, Kenwood, Stratasys, Pirelli
2018 prize money: US$80.9 million
What they’ve been up to: The retirement of racing legend Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne’s return to Formula E meant that McLaren were forced to bring in two new drivers for the 2019 season. Spaniard Carlos Sainz was signed from Renault and Lando Norris was promoted from his role as a test driver last year. Yet, with Alonso responsible for 80 per cent of McLaren’s total points last year, Sainz and Norris have a mammoth task to finish top of the midfield.
McLaren has also signed a multi-year sponsorship with British American Tobacco, the company’s first involvement in Formula One since 2006.
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, winners (Lewis Hamilton); Constructors’ Championship, winners
Owner: Daimler AG
Chief executive: Toto Wolff (also team principal)
Base: Brackley, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: Petronas, US$39.5 million a year, extended 2017, expiry unknown
Other key partners: UBS, Qualcomm, Epson, Bose, Tommy Hilfiger, IWC Schaffhausen, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Marriot Bonvoy, Monster Energy, Pure Storage, CrowdStrike, Tibco
Suppliers: Puma, Ebmpapst, Tata Communications, Konecranes, OMP, Axalta, Assos, Oz Racing, Endless, Pirelli, Seedlip
2018 prize money: US$168.4 million
What they've been up to: Preparing for Brexit, apparently. Toto Wolff, team principal and chief executive of the reigning Formula One champions, has described a no-deal Brexit as “a nightmare scenario” for the series’ British-based teams.
Eight of Formula One’s ten outfits have bases in the southeast of England, and Wolff says the UK leaving the European Union without a deal would provide a big advantage for the likes of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, who would not be affected by the move.
“If a no-deal Brexit happens like it is being discussed, it would have a major impact in terms of our operation going to the races and getting our car developed and ready,” said Wolff. “That is a nightmare scenario that I don’t want to envisage.”
Mercedes will be looking retain both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships this season
Racing Point F1 Team
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, eighth (Sergio Perez); Constructors’ Championship, seventh (the team fell into administration halfway through 2018 season resulting in all prior Constructors’ Championship points being stripped.)
Owner: Lawrence Stroll
Chief executive: Otmar Szafnauer
Base: Silverstone, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: SportsPesa, US$35 million for three years, signed 2019
Other key partners: BWT, Bombardier, Breast Cancer Care, Canada Life, Claro, Infinitum, JCB, NEC, SportPesa, Telcel, Acronis, Orangebus, Pirelli, Ravenol, Univa
Suppliers: 3D Systems, Condeco, Gtechniq, Hackett, ITEC, RNT, SAS, Schuberth, STL, UPS Direct, Voip Unlimited
2018 prize money: US$68.5 million
What they’ve been up to: It was a tumultuous year for the team, who (as Sahara Force India) succumbed to administration halfway through the 2018 championship and were stripped of their points as a result. Staring into oblivion, Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll stepped in as saviour, leading a consortium to complete the purchase from former owner Vijay Mallya.
This season will be their first full campaign Racing Point F1 Team banner and they would have been looking to put the past behind them. However, in October administrators demanded that the team repay their debts totalling around UK£28.5 million to over 450 companies.
Technical director Andrew Green has also confirmed that the car is basically the same as last year’s model saying: “There is a lot from the old car. We could not make all of the changes that we wanted to make."
It could be a long season for Stroll, who has also instilled his son Lance as one of Racing Point’s drivers.
Racing Point F1 Team will keep their striking pink colours in the wake of Lawrence Stroll's takeover
Red Bull Racing
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, fourth (Max Verstappen); Constructors’ Championship, third
Owner: Red Bull
Team principal: Christian Horner
Base: Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: Aston Martin, signed in 2018, expiry and value unknown
Other key partners: Rauch, Honda, Mobil1, Esso, Tag Heuer, Citrix, Siemens, HP, AT&T, IBM, W66.com
Suppliers: Puma, Dita Eyewear, Pirelli
2018 prize money: US$145.4 million
What they’ve been up to: After finishing third in the Constructors’ Championship last year, adrift from both the leading duo and chasing pack, Red Bull Racing will be looking to capitalise on their new Honda-provided engines. With young racing prodigy Max Verstappen taking up the lead driver role from the departing Daniel Ricciardo, he will be looking to break into the top three in terms of the Drivers’ Championship. The pair had a heated rivalry last season which led to team principal Christian Horner labelling them both as “donkeys.”
Red Bull fans also have the new RB15 car to look forward to, with Verstappen singing its praises, saying: “I’m really happy with the co-operation between Red Bull and Honda. They are really working hard and very focused and very calm.”
21-year-old Max Verstappen has been impressed with Red Bull's new car ahead of the 2019 season
Last season: Drivers’ Championship, seventh (Nico Hulkenberg); Constructors’ Championship, fourth
Group chief executive: Thierry Bolloré
Base: Enstone, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: Castrol, five-year extension signed 2018
Other key partners: Infiniti, RCI, Mapfre, BP Ultimate, Euro DataCar, Bell & Ross, Tmall, Genii, 3D Systems, Boeing, Breton, Elysium, +GF+, Siemens
Suppliers: Alpinestars, Pirelli, Le Coq Sportif, Oz Racing, Renault Pro+
2018 prize money: US$62.1 million
What they’ve been up to: Renault have perhaps completed the signing of the season by bringing in Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull on a two-year contract worth US$34 million. Renault’s team principal Cyril Abiteboul has claimed his driver line-up is: “perhaps the strongest on the grid”.
Speaking about the launch of the new RS19 car for the 2019 season Abiteboul said it was the: “right time to show you all that has been going on in the background of the last three years.” It feels like a pivotal moment in the re-birth of Renault and it will be seen whether performances can match the talk.
Daniel Ricciardo swapped Red Bull for Renault during the off-season and will look to improve on his sixth place finish last year
Last Season: Drivers’ Championship, fifteenth place (Pierre Gasly); Constructors’ Championship, ninth place
Owner: Red Bull
Team principal: Franz Tost
Base: Faenza, Italy
Main sponsor: Red Bull
Other key partners: Honda, MyWorld, Pirelli, Siemens, Randstad, Red Bull Mobile
Suppliers: Riedel, Edifice Casio
2018 prize money: US$55.4 million
What they’ve been up to: A significant change in personnel at Toro Rosso has dominated their off-season news. Technical director James Key left to join McLaren after months of speculation with Jody Egginton coming in to replace him. This is a significant blow for the Italian team, especially after Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko said Key would not leave the junior team “for a very long time.”
As Red Bull Racing’s junior team, Toro Rosso will continue to use Red Bull parts in their cars this season with team principal Franz Tost confirming that: “Most of the remaining parts we receive will be last year's specifications.
“We are getting the complete rear end from Red Bull Technology. We fully exploit the synergies within the framework of the regulations.”
Last Season: Drivers’ Championship, 18th (Lance Stroll); Constructors’ Championship, tenth
Owner: Sir Frank Williams
Chief executive: Mike O’Driscoll
Base: Grove, United Kingdom
Main sponsor: Rokit, signed 2019, expiry unknown
Other key partners: Rexona, Orlen, Acronis, Omnitude, Sofina, Netjets, Symantec, Tata Communications, Thales, Dtex, Michael Caines, Geospatial Insight
Suppliers: Alpinestars, Cybex, Pirelli
2018 prize money: US$75.1 million
What they’ve been up to: After a disappointing tally of a meagre seven points in the Constructors’ Championship last season, Williams’ off-season hasn’t been full of much hope. Chief technical officer Paddy Lowe has had to take a leave of absence for personal reasons with no schedule made for his return.
The team were also unable to complete a full pre-season of testing in Barcelona as their car wasn’t ready for the track and has left returning driver, Robert Kubica, feeling only “20 per cent” ready for the new campaign.
Away from the track, Williams signed a new principal sponsorship deal with telecommunications company Rokit. They also confirmed Indian firm Tata Communcations as their new digital transformation partner.
Major media rights holders
UK: Sky Sports and Channel 4
Ireland: Eir Sport
France: TF1 and Canal+
Germany, Austria and Switzerland: Sky Deutschland, RTL Germany and N-TV
Italy: Sky Italia and TV8
Netherlands: Ziggo and NOS
Portugal: Eleven Sports
Brazil: TV Globo and SporTV
China: CCTV, Tencent, Guangdong TV and Shanghai TV
Japan: Fuji Television Network and DAZN
India: Star Sports 4
Australia: Fox Sports and One (Network Ten)
Bahrain: Fox Sports
Azerbaijan: AZ TV and Idman Azerbaijan
Canada: RDS and TSN
Belgium: RTBF and Telenet
Singapore: Okto (Singapore GP only)
Russia: Match TV
Mexico: Channel 9
Poland: Eleven Sports
Denmark: TV3+, TV3 Sport and Viastat
Thailand: Fox Sports