There Formula 1 is it really worth twenty billion? In 2014, according to Forbes, it was worth twelve, making the investment of the CVC group profitable, which had bought it for just a couple (in times of devaluation: there was fear of yet another team coup, always threatened and never put in progress). Three years later CVC was succeeded by the Liberty Media by John Malone, of which Stefano Domenicali is the operational arm for F1. Given the investments made and the global expansion of the racing calendar, it could be that the value has increased. But sooner or later it could and should happen that differences of views with the FIA of Bin Sulayem, or the ‘political’ face of sport, burst into public trouble on today’s battlefield: social networks.
I lived – alas – the era of the pompous and choleric Jean-Marie crossbowswhen the FIA was still FIA, ideally (and not only) opposed to the small and agile (in every sense) Bernie Ecclestone. The man who at the end of the 70s, using TV, transformed a sport into a business. The definitions of the time always made me laugh, the ‘legalists’ close to the Federation against the ‘rebels’ of the then FOCA, distant ancestor of the FOM and then of the F1 Group. A bit like certain wars which for some have only religious or ideological reasons. Bernie, in fact, held up the commercial game until the arrival of the Americans in 2017. However, few know that two years earlier, a plan for the “after-Bernie” already existed between the teams – Ferrari in harmony with Mercedes.
Ecclestone had successfully survived Balestre; with his successor, Mosleyit had been a walk. They pretended to argue at times, but they were the same side of the same coin, sorry medal. When Mosley was engulfed in the well-orchestrated Nazi-prostitute scandal, I believe the “commercial rights holder” struggled more against a tough nut like Jean Todt, even if deep down they resembled each other not only in size and understood each other well. In fact, Ecclestone’s management had already become anachronistic for several years. Bernie ran it all with a few loyalists from his London office. He had resisted the wave of new digital platforms by threatening lawsuits, with the force of someone trying to stop a tide with a rake. The new owners of Liberty immediately understood that the claim to lock down image rights in the old-fashioned way was absurd. Liberty changed F1 and I think it was a necessary change. But it was certainly not enough to pass a Steve Nielsen – good guy, around for a lifetime – from one trench to another to calm a situation that, in fact, has been dragging on for a while.
It’s the old war of power which reappears, once the strength of Todt has been defeated, who in 2021 failed to get his candidate Graham Stoker nominated for the FIA presidency. The fact that Bin Sulayem (who perhaps does not resemble Todt in his workaholic attachment to work) immediately appointed Natalie Robyn to the role of managing director was an important signal: not because she is a woman, but because that position, in Federation, did not exist. A move to transform an ideally only administrative power into a commercial reality. On the other hand, however, Liberty pursues his interests and sometimes invades the federal field, because it is clear that Americans are not satisfied with financially managing a league where others write the rules. Thus, in the end, we are witnessing a revival of the eighties. Having lived through the era of Balestre (a guy who, I’m told, when he saw a magazine he didn’t like, threw it on the ground and trampled it to death…) I wonder if it’s not the case to seriously review the whole situation. More than an agreement between the parties, perhaps a new business model. Which on the one hand eliminates the ambiguity of a sporting power without economic interests, and on the other that of a commercial power that also wants to decide on the rules. Just a humble prayer: enough with the threats of secession, of alternative league that periodically crop up. We no longer believe it.