F1 Business Diary 2018: The Bahrain Grand Prix

With Sebastian Vettel's second victory of the season overshadowed by a horrific injury to a Ferrari mechanic, in the paddock talks continue to heat up about Liberty's plans for the sport.

Sebastien Vettel stormed to victory with a masterful drive in Bahrain to make it two from two for the German in 2018. Racing in his 200th Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver held off the challenge of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to claim his second win of the season and lay down another early marker to his nearest rivals.

Celebrations were somewhat soured in the Ferrari garage, however, as one of the team’s mechanics, Francesco Cigarini, sustained a broken leg when he was hit by Kimi Raikkonen's car during a pit stop. The error cost Raikkonen his spot in the race and earned Ferrari a fine of €50,000 for an unsafe release, the Italian outfit having received the same penalty just days earlier in practice.

Talking Liberty

As speculation continues to swirl over the future direction of Formula One under Liberty Media, series bosses engaged teams in their first round of official talks on Friday, with F1 chairman and chief executive Chase Carey and managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn presenting their vision for the future of the championship beyond the end of 2020, when the current Concorde Agreement expires.

During a 90-minute meeting, Carey and Brawn outlined their plans in five key areas – cars, revenues, costs, engines and governance – as part of their overriding strategy ‘to create great action and bring the cars closer together, make the drivers the heroes and make the business more sustainable’, according to an explanatory post-meeting report on Formula1.com.

With regards costs, Liberty hopes to introduce a team spending cap – possibly around the US$150 million mark, according to industry speculation. A final figure has yet to be determined – Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, for one, has said US$150 million “is much too low for the big teams” and would like to see something closer to US$250 million – but Brawn has pointed that certain expenditures would not be included in any imposed budget, such as driver salaries and marketing spend.

“We think there is a need to readdress our references as to what is correct to spend in F1,” he told Sky Sports. “Out of that, we’ll have closer competition, teams with better business models and we’ll have a better sport.”

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, pictured here in conversation with Ferrari counterpart Maurizio Arrivabene, is unsure on Liberty's spending cap plans

Mooted plans on the revenue-sharing front also centre on finding ways of bringing about a more equitable system, amid longstanding grievances among many teams that F1 has become too predictable and the current Concorde Agreement heavily favours the ‘big five’ of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Williams, who each receive additional payments for a range of reasons.

Under Liberty’s plans, teams would continue to receive payments based on performance while there would also be a financial provision for engine suppliers who commit to the series. It is hoped that incentive would lure more engine manufacturers into the sport, a move that has already been welcomed by Aston Martin president Andy Palmer, who described it as “a very positive step in the right direction”.

As for the additional payments, only Ferrari – who have publicly threatened to quit F1 if drastic changes are made to the series – would retain them under Liberty’s proposal, though the amount they would receive remains up for discussion.  

Liberty’s plans for the new engines, meanwhile, include making them ‘simpler, cheaper and noisier’, but don’t expect a radical overhaul of the current power units. While the FIA will ultimately rule on the new design, Liberty proposes the use of a hybrid turbocharged unit, the only significant changes being some fuel limits and other cost-saving measures such as standardised batteries.

With the first meeting in the books, F1 chiefs will now meet teams individually to take further notes before convening as a group once again early next month. Though a final decision is unlikely to be made then, it is believed the majority of teams are generally in favour of Liberty’s plans, with Williams boss Claire Williams calling Friday “an extremely good day for us”.

Screen tests

Part of Formula One’s ongoing evolution under Liberty has involved opening up to new audiences, and the lead-up to last week’s events in Sakhir saw the series double down on its efforts to make inroads in the gaming space by renewing its agreement with video game developer and esports specialist Gfinity.

Having first partnered to launch F1’s first-ever esports series in August, the two parties will continue to collaborate for the competition’s second season, which is due to get underway later this week with every team bar Ferrari involved. Under the terms of the arrangement, Gfinity will continue to manage tournament operations and broadcast all events live as amateur gamers compete for a share of the US$200,000-plus prize fund.

Sparks flew on the track in Bahrain but glitches are delaying Formula One's planned OTT service

Another area in which Liberty has big ambitions of expanding is OTT, yet the company’s much-vaunted plan to launch Formula One's new live streaming service, F1 TV, have stalled once again after a push to roll out the product in certain countries before the season-opener in Australia were put on hold.

Autoweek.com reports that the latest round of beta testing revealed ‘a slew of glitches’, prompting further delays and leading a Formula One spokesperson to tell Germany’s Bild newspaper that the service would be “operational as soon as possible”. According to reports in Switzerland, series officials are now hoping to be in a position to finally launch during this weekend’s race in Shanghai, China.

Girls allowed?

The organisers of the Russian Grand Prix have joined their counterparts at several other races to call for the return of ‘grid girls’ following Formula One’s decision to replace them with the more politically correct, family-friendly ‘grid kids’ this year. Russian Grand Prix organising committee head Dmitry Kozak said he wanted to see the tradition reinstated because “it should be adults”, not children, on the grid before races, adding that, in any case, “our girls are the most beautiful”.

Autosport reports that a handful of promoters are demanding a U-turn from Liberty due to pressure from race sponsors, particularly those with airline partners who typically send uniformed members of their cabin crew to act as promo girls on race day. Singapore, for example, is said to want to retain staff from its national flag carrier for its pre-race ceremonies.

In Monaco, however, sponsor concerns appear not to be the motivating factor. Automobile Club de Monaco boss Michel Boeri has insisted the girls would feature in Monte Carlo this year despite the new rules simply because “they’re pretty” and “the cameras will be on them”. While laughably outdated, Boeri’s stance is seemingly supported by Lewis Hamilton, who posted an image of Monaco’s models on Instagram with the message ‘Thank you Jesus’ before swiftly deleting it.

Not all race promoters are happy with Liberty's decision to ditch 'grid girls' –  Automobile Club de Monaco boss Michel Boeri has insisted the girls would feature in Monte Carlo this year


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