Perhaps inevitably, the direction Formula 1 is taking under new owners Liberty Media has come under scrutiny in recent months. From a new logo to the removal of grid girls, Liberty are certainly changing F1 in a number of ways, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Should fans be more optimistic about the future of this sport?
Liberty Media rode into Formula 1 on a wave of optimism in late 2016. Bernie Ecclestone had run the sport with fairly minimal consideration for fans. However, with a mindset to engage more with fans, and to grow the sport in new markets, Liberty has slowly but surely been pulling F1 into the 21st Century.
Change is, however, not always universally welcome.
The reveal of a new logo at the conclusion of last season proved controversial among fans, and even among some of the drivers. The new design, created to be more flexible and adaptable in the digital age, caused a storm on social media.
Changing something that had for so long been a relatively minor, but important, part of the sport was bound to court criticism. The old logo was certainly iconic, and the new logo may be quite simplistic, but it is sleeker, and will likely be better suited for the sport’s new direction.
Ask yourself, are you still annoyed about the change? If yes, then fair dues, you just don’t like the new design. But if you’ve warmed to it, then perhaps it was just the initial shock factor that concerned you. As reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton said, “maybe [the new logo] will grow on us.”
Controversy surrounding Liberty doesn’t quite stop there.
One of the most fundamental changes to Formula 1 in the history of the sport, the Halo, will be making its race debut in Australia. Yet many fans have been criticising Liberty for the introduction of the device.
To blame Liberty for the Halo is simply naïve. It was the FIA who made the device compulsory on safety grounds. Just think about it. Would Liberty have willingly invited this controversy on themselves just as they begin their tenure as the sports’ owners? Consider that your anger is misplaced.
Maybe, just maybe, we will get used to the Halo as the season goes on. No it isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing, but if it ends up saving even one life, it will have all been worth it.
In terms of what Liberty actually has done, the driver introductions at the U.S Grand Prix, for example, didn’t quite hit the right spot. But it was exactly the sort of experiment that needs to be conducted to determine how to better engage fans at the circuit and at home.
The F1 Live event in London showed the level of commitment Liberty have, not only to the dedicated fan base, but also to promoting the sport among the general public.
A combination of classic and modern F1 cars and live music makes it an event that could attract countless new people to the sport we all know and love.
It probably wouldn’t be feasible to host one for every Grand Prix, but what a brilliant way to help bring Formula 1 into the public eye. This season alone, Liberty is planning to stage at least four F1 Live events around the world.
Meanwhile, in the digital realm, Liberty have now fully embraced a number of social media platforms. The number of videos and other types of content have increased substantially in recent months. Indeed, posting the entire 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix for over two weeks on YouTube was a major step forward, and something unthinkable when Ecclestone was still at the helm.
Also unthinkable during Ecclestone’s rein is the launch of ‘F1TV’; a streaming service giving fans access to an incredible range of content. Sporting leagues around the world are increasingly turning to digital streaming to suit their audiences and F1 is, at last, joining them.
Indeed, making F1 accessible to new markets has been one of Liberty’s primary goals, and it would appear they are succeeding. Formula 1 has been rather Eurocentric for a long time, and it cannot consider just these fans anymore. The U.S, a market that has long eluded Formula 1, will certainly be pursued by Liberty in the coming years.
And make no mistake, the sport is growing in America.
With the return of the U.S to the calendar in 2012, Haas joining the sport in 2016 (both admittedly can be mostly credited to the former F1 Supremo), and the much-anticipated launch of F1’s new streaming service, American fans now have the best opportunity to connect with Grand Prix racing they’ve had in years.
All things considered, you must admit that Liberty Media have done some great things for Formula 1, and the sport is at last being handed back to the fans. Change is not easy, especially when many things in F1 have been stagnant for years, but some leeway needs to be provided, just as Liberty should respect the DNA of the sport.
As we make our way towards the opening round of the 2018 season in Australia, try and remain positive about the season ahead and the sport as a whole. We may be in for a few shocks and surprises along the way but do not dismiss change out of hand.
Formula 1 will be here for years to come. Let’s all try to be a little more optimistic about it.