With its takeover of F1 secure, Liberty now faces key issues
PARIS (AP) — When one of your biggest stars says your series sends him to sleep there are serious issues to be addressed, and this is the situation facing Formula One's new owner.
With the autocratic Bernie Ecclestone moving aside after nearly 40 years, the task falls to U.S. sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media to win back dissatisfied fans and make the series much more fairly governed, yet unpredictable and thrilling again.
Liberty Media completed its takeover of F1 on Monday, and Ecclestone was replaced by Chase Carey as chief executive.
Here is a look at the key issues as Liberty tries to give F1 its edge back.
BORING PRACTICE SESSIONS
F1's practice format is far from riveting.
Races have three practice sessions — usually split over two days — before Saturday afternoon qualifying. But sometimes there is little, or even nothing, for fans to see.
It is commonplace for drivers to wait in the team garage for long spells as they conserve tires for the race, thus picking and choosing when to practice. Even out on track there is little competitive driving during practice, such is the heavy emphasis on tire management.
This chronic lack of excitement prompted two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, one of F1's most popular drivers, to make the remarkable statement that F1 should be paying fans to watch.
"Fans want to see fast cars, something where you cannot close your mouth after you see the car passing. I was 30 minutes today outside the circuit and I was sleeping," he said after watching a practice session at the Brazilian Grand Prix. "We should pay the people who are in the grandstands to watch the cars passing."
A year earlier, the Spanish driver used wry humor to express his frustration, posting a picture online of him reclining lazily in a deckchair during qualifying.
Alonso's message was clear: F1 has become too predictable and sedate.
One avenue for Liberty to explore could be revamping preseason testing as well.
This is split into two four-day periods, where accumulating the maximum amount of laps is the priority as teams smooth out any reliability issues.
Last year, Mercedes logged a mind-boggling 1,294 laps in eight days of testing outside of Barcelona, equivalent to nearly 20 Grand Prix distances.
But fans deserve more than a slow merry-go-round of cars doing countless laps without any competition.
FAIRER WEALTH DISTBRUTION
In recent years particularly, issues were regularly raised about the top-heavy distribution of wealth benefiting big teams and squeezing out smaller ones.
This is highlighted by the Manor team, which was rescued from administration just in time for the 2015 season.
But at the end of last year's campaign it missed out on 10th place by one point, and a subsequent windfall of nearly $10 million, and is once again battling administration.
Smaller teams got less say because of the overly strong influence held by Ecclestone and big teams like Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari in the F1 strategy group meetings.
The iron-fisted decision-making, often with Ecclestone having the final word, has often proved erratic and unpopular.
Ecclestone stuck with Pirelli as the tire supplier against the wishes of many teams, particularly after a chaotic 2013 campaign in which tires blew up or disintegrated.
Two other of Ecclestone's inventions — the double points rule on the final day of the 2014 season and confusing changes to qualifying at the start of last season — were both quickly scrapped.
A greater democracy and a wider input from F1 will help soothe the bitter in-fighting that plagues the series.
PROTECTING F1'S IDENTITY
Some track owners must be breathing a sigh of relief.
Faced with rising track costs and a ruthless negotiator in Ecclestone, much-loved races like the Italian GP in Monza and the German GP have been under severe threat.
This year's German GP to be staged at the Hockenheimring was scrapped due to financial problems and dwindling attendances. The British race at Silverstone is also at risk.
Ecclestone has been heavily criticized for overlooking historic popular races to develop new financially attractive ones in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Russia, and Azerbaijan.
The growing uncertainty over which tracks would make the calendar turned into a season-long debate, sending out a negative message.
Storied venues are a valuable part of F1's identity.
MORE DRIVER SKILLS
Anyone watching an F1 race these days will regularly hear drivers being told — and sometimes firmly ordered — by their teams to save tires and not race too hard.
This only adds to the predictability as the better drivers are less vulnerable to the unexpected.
But fans want more uncertainty.
Dramatically limiting the amount of times engineers can directly communicate with drivers would add to the drama and the spectacle.
Liberty must also resolve the Pirelli issue, and decide whether it wants to move back to harder tires that last longer and limit dull pit-stop strategy.
Gimmicks such as DRS — designed to help drivers overtake at certain times during a race — would no longer be needed if drivers were allowed a purer form of racing without so much team intervention.
THE BRAWN EFFECT
Who better to help revitalize F1 than a widely admired strategist who helped Michael Schumacher win all seven of his F1 titles?
Liberty has appointed Brawn as managing director of motorsports in a highly popular move.
Brawn helped Ferrari win 11 world titles and seven with Williams and Benetton.
Brawn also won the 2009 F1 title against all odds with his own BrawnGP team, and helped Mercedes develop a car that easily won three straight titles from 2014-16.
SPICING UP RACE WEEK
The iconic Monaco GP has no problem attracting fans every day. That is due to its notoriety as a playground for the rich and its spectacular location, with the glitzy circuit designed around the crystal blue waters of Monaco's harbor.
Other races are not so geographically blessed and struggle to keep the appeal going from Thursday until Sunday.
Liberty has a chance to spice up race week with a more glamorous, fun-filled U.S.-style approach to buildup and fan interaction.
Digital media was an alien concept to Bernie Ecclestone, who viewed it as futile and flatly refused to engage in it.
For Liberty, improving the series' connection with social media is a top priority.
Liberty sees it as a key way to massively broaden the global audience. This would ideally help to enhance F1's presence in the U.S., where a new street race is planned, and boost flagging races elsewhere.
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