It was on the Silverstone track in England, exactly 73 years ago, that Giuseppe Farina crossed the finish line in an Alfa Romeo to become the first winner of a race valid for the Formula 1 world championship.
A lot has changed and a lot has remained the same since then: the category continues with the seal of the French International Automobile Federation, with a lot of influence from England, the stage of its first race; and Italy, the country of Farina and Alfa. Over these 73 years, resistance to change has been enormous in many areas, from driver safety to the race format. And it still is.
Today’s “young lady” F1 on the one hand celebrates its numbers. On the other hand, she receives a barrage of criticism for focusing too much on the show (and being behind on promoting the show).
The numbers point to the successful management of Liberty Media, which has owned the commercial rights since 2017. In Bernie Ecclestone’s last year at the helm of the category, revenue stood at 1.8 billion dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that’s equivalent to 2.25 billion today. Last year, F1 raised 2.573 billion dollars. The growth trend continues this year. In the first quarter of 2023, revenue increased by 6% compared to the same period last year.
It is true that Liberty also spends more. Profit for the first quarter of 2023 is 3%, largely due to spending on Las Vegas, proof that the US company itself is promoting, something that Ecclestone has tried in the past without much success. However, teams have been receiving more money from Liberty (in the comparison between the first three months of 2022 and 2023, the growth was 12% in payment to teams) and the sport is growing in several metrics.
Without a competitive championship, F1 attacks from ?perfumery?
Why so much criticism then? Liberty’s own numbers point out that a third of F1 fans started to follow the sport in the last four years. The fact that the category was the first world championship to return during the pandemic, still in July 2020, is a factor. And the big championship of 2021 is another. In the midst of all this, the Netflix series Dirir Para Viver won over a younger audience.
Turns out, the Netflix series isn’t exactly a documentary. It didn’t take long for those who came to the sport through her to realize the dramatization of various events. And they are now realizing that a championship disputed until the last lap like 2021 is an exception in a category in which each team has to make its own car and there are often large differences in performance between them. Over the 73 years, F1 has awarded excellence more often than competitiveness precisely because of this.
Liberty’s reading is that this new audience needs more stimuli. Not coincidentally, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali pointed last weekend to an increase in the number of sprints in the season. This is a format that debuted in 2021 and aims to increase the number of competitive sessions during the GP. And, at the next stage, in Imola, another novelty debuts, with the obligation to use certain tire compounds in each of the three parts of the classification (hard tires in Q1, medium in Q2 and soft in Q3).
However, since then, F1 has radically changed the technical regulations to promote more disputes on the track. When that happens, as the 73 years of history show, there is always the risk of a team jumping ahead. No sooner said than done. History, however, also shows that by keeping the same regulations for a while, teams tend to balance out. And today there are mechanisms (the budget cap and the aerodynamic development limit according to the position in the championship) to speed up this process.
The question is whether these new fans will have the patience to wait. And whether the old fans will accept the changes that Liberty has been promoting to entertain the public in other ways.
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