F1 Business Diary 2016: the Canadian Grand Prix

Reigning Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton dedicated his second victory of the season to the late Muhammad Ali, as the action continued.

Reigning Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton dedicated his second victory of the season to the late Muhammad Ali. The Briton was, once again, involved in a first corner clash with his team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg. The German, who still leads the driver’s standings by nine points, was forced to steer his Mercedes on to the grass in order to avoid a repeat of the Spanish Grand Prix, which saw both men’s races ended by the first turn.

Hamilton became embroiled in a tense tactical battle with another German, Sebastian Vettel, in order to win the race in Montreal. The four-time world champion, who had led from the start, was undone by his two-stop strategy that Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene admitted was the “wrong” policy. After his victory, Hamilton leapt from his car where the Mercedes driver shadow boxed and did an ‘Ali shuffle’ in homage to his hero.

Ecclestone drinks a beer and embraces social media 

Last week, global beer brand Heineken signed a multi-year agreement to become an official partner of Formula One. The deal, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph, will last for seven years and be worth UK£150 million (US$216.32 million), with a break clause at the end of 2020.

Evidence of the new partnership could be seen over the weekend, with Heineken’s green branding extremely conspicuous on trackside advertising. The beer’s livery was emblazoned over the start/finish structure, on the board behind the winner’s podium, and even Bernie Ecclestone was seen with a bottle of Heineken to boot.

“I've started to get a bit more interested anyway generally, before Heineken, but they are going to wake me up a bit,” Ecclestone said of Heineken’s expected increase in social media interaction with Formula One. “I've never taken a lot of notice and never believed it is going to do the things that people say it is going to do. So we wait and see, but I am happy to be working with them.”

The sea of Heineken green will continue to be a visible presence at races – in September, the brand will title sponsor the Italian Grand Prix, the first of three races it will back over the course of the season. Many believe the generated funds could help secure the Monza race’s uncertain future.

Improvements are believed to be on track

Ecclestone began the race week by warning local authorities in Canada that they would be in breach of contract if required track improvements are not completed, as agreed in 2014, by the start of the 2017 race.

In order to keep the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve until 2024, the Montreal government will have to pledge CAD$32 million (US$24.9 million) to improve the timeworn track. However, work at the historic venue has yet to begin.

Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre stated that there is no issue between Formula One and the local authorities. And it was reported by the Montreal Gazette that a handshake agreement has been reached between Ecclestone and the head of the city’s executive committee, Pierre Desrochers, on enlarging the paddock area and other upgrades at the track.

“There will be another deadline, but there’s a handshake and we will finalise everything by the end of July,” said Coderre. “We needed some clarification regarding the paddocks and all that because when you’re talking about millions of dollars, it’s taxpayers’ money, and if someone said ‘this is what I want’ and the other says ‘no’ and it takes a few months, of course you won’t be able to fulfil the deadline.

“So we agreed we had to clear the air and check it out. We agreed on what we need to do and we will do it.”

A low-key reception in a busy weekend of sport

Is Formula one in danger of being marginalised, especially by viewers in the UK market?

There was a packed schedule of sport on over the weekend: Euro 2016 began, the Home Nations' rugby teams kicked off their tours of the southern hemisphere, Test match cricket, the Women’s PGA Championship, and the Copa America Centenario, to name but a few events.

In the UK, Formula One’s live coverage is exclusively on the pay-TV channel Sky Sports with highlights shown late-night on the free-to-air Channel 4. A brilliant race won by a resurgent British world champion should have been much more prominent but the whole event seemed to be overshadowed by the other sports.

Alongside the live sport, Ali’s funeral went ahead on Friday and the political ramifications of English and Russian hooligans at the European Championships have also dominated a saturated sporting press.

In March, Sky agreed a new exclusive partnership with Formula One Management (FOM) to show live coverage of every Grand Prix until 2024 from 2019. Sky Sports F1 will – as its slogan proclaims – be the home of Formula One in the UK and Ireland.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Formula One, with its rapidly decreasing presence free-to-air coverage, can stay relevant.

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