Pictured: Liberty Media chairman John Malone.
Liberty Media has made a mistake in trying to apply an American sports approach to Formula 1 over the past two years, according to Christian Horner.
The start of 2017 saw Liberty become F1’s commercial rights holder, instigating a number of changes to the sport’s approach to digital media and fan engagement. The latest owners also publicly stated a desire to make radical changes to the sporting regulations in 2021 as well as to the distribution of revenues, but so far has yet to agree on either front.
With some race promoters voicing criticism of the way F1 is being run last week, Horner believes the promoters are getting more value out of Liberty than Bernie Ecclestone but sees other areas where a new approach isn’t working.
“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. “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.
“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 American sport and franchises versus Formula 1 — American sport works in America, it doesn’t work globally.
“Formula 1, the learning curve they’ve had is that it 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 a US sports approach to something that’s already 60, 70 years old as a global world championship.”
While Horner believes there are areas for which Liberty deserves credit for making positive changes, he says the ones that have a direct impact on racing are still unknown.
“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, 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 1 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.”