Last week, the Formula One Promoters’ Association (FOPA), which represents 16 of the sport’s existing venues, flagged concerns about pay TV deals, a lack of clarity over new initiatives and the introduction of new venues at the expense of races with a long tradition on the calendar. In an interview, F1 CEO Chase Carey called the statement “strange” and insisted it would have no impact on F1’s existing plans for the future.
The Red Bull team principal believes Liberty Media has tried to appease too many individual parties since taking control of the sport in 2017, which marked the end of Bernie Ecclestone’s 40 years in charge.
“Well, you would have never heard a promoter talk out about Bernie, because they wouldn’t have had a grand prix the following year,” Horner said about the FOPA statement. “He had a different way of doing business.
“The problem is, the way Liberty are trying to operate in a democratic way… the promoters are getting far more from Liberty than they ever got previously in terms of freedom and ability to do things there would be stronger restrictions on.
“The more you give, the more instinctively they want. Bernie ran a really tight and hard ship, it was a dictatorship in that if you didn’t like it, you wouldn’t have a race the following year. It’s just a different way of operating.
As a result of his observations, Horner feels that the American company is still trying to adapt to the culture of F1.
“I think one thing Liberty finds frustrating is a lot of this business is conducted through the media. That’s something they’re not used to with American sport. There’s that constant comparison of America sport and franchises verses Formula One — American sport works in America, it doesn’t work globally. Formula One, the learning curve they’ve had is that is has a different appeal in different markets. It’s still one of the biggest sports in the world and you can’t necessarily just apply U.S. sports approach to something that’s already 60, 70 years old as a global world championship.”
F1’s long-term plans remain uncertain, with the specifics of a major regulation change in 2021 and a proposed cost cap for teams still to be confirmed in any detail. Horner says F1 chiefs cannot expect to avoid criticism while such important factors need addressing.
When asked if he thought Liberty Media had underestimated what running F1 would entail, Horner said: “Absolutely, I think they thought there was some very low hanging fruit there and it’s turned out a lot harder than they perhaps thought. But I think they remain determined and convinced that the potential of the sport to take it to the next level is there.”
“We’re seeing initiatives like esports coming in that are all positives, but it’s the content of what the sport is that needs the focus at the moment. You can window-dress and promote a movie as much as you like but if the movie hasn’t got substance and isn’t an exciting movie, people won’t watch it. I think it’s the content of what is Formula One that needs addressing for 2021 onwards.
“The teams will have one opinion on that as they all want to protect their own positions and interests, but as the owner of the sport they need to take a position of ‘this is what we want Formula One to be, here’s the set of regulations and here’s the financials’, and go with it.
He added: “Certain things with Liberty, if you look at their last couple of years, they’ve done very well. Certain things are very different to how they were previously — the way the sport is promoted, the digital platforms, access, promoting the sport through fan festivals etc etc, all commendable initiatives, life in that area for providing value for shareholders and sponsors and partners is easier.
“The more concerning question is what is their blueprint, both financially and regulatory in line with the FIA, for what they want Formula One to be from 2021 onwards. It already looks like the engine will stay the same and that’s obviously been a fundamental issue over the last four or five years so we need to ensure that engines don’t become an enormous performance differentiator like we’ve had in the early periods of this hybrid era.”
When asked if he felt the current bosses were right for Formula One, the Red Bull chief replied: “Only time will tell. They’ll be judged on what Formula One becomes in 2021.”