A huge storm is brewing in Formula One. New owners Liberty Media want to future-proof the sport, bringing much-needed stability and a more level playing field via an improved spectacle and fairer financial structure. But, that brings it into conflict with the top teams that enjoy significant advantages.
We’ve already had a taste of what’s to come, with Liberty Media presenting its vision for the sport's post-2020 power unit – and Ferrari threatening to quit, and Mercedes’ non-executive director Niki Lauda slamming the sport’s new direction.
"It was right that the American owners needed time to understand what F1 is,” said Lauda to Italian newspaper Gazzetto dello Sport. “But that is about to expire. And what they think about the future is worrying me.
"The FIA, Chase Carey and Ross Brawn repeat that we need to level off the performance, but the DNA of F1 is the opposite.
"You are a fool if you think that to make grands prix more attractive you need to have a different winner every weekend. F1 is about competition.”
But, it’s a blinkered view from the respected three-time World Champion, who is generally spot-on as the brutally honest voice of reason when it comes to F1, with a lot of work to be done before the sport’s resurgence is complete.
Make no mistake, F1 needs more teams fighting at the front and a much closer field.
At the moment, it’s Mercedes and Ferrari – which is a breath of fresh air after three years of Silver Arrows domination, but it could be so much better. And it needs to be for improved global interest, with the person in the street wanting to see exciting battles and wheel-to-wheel action throughout the field. Talk, or lack thereof, in the cafes and offices on a Monday morning speaks volumes.
That improved competition, though, can only come with a fairer financial structure – ensuring the health of all 10 teams. F1 should be a meritocracy, rewarding the best of the best, but a budget cap and fairer bonus system for results would hopefully ensure efficiency ruled over spending.
And in the end, you’ve just got to hope Liberty Media can sell the necessary changes especially against huge potential gains.
“Give us 24 well-matched, visually and aurally scary F1 cars with the fastest, bravest young drivers and we'll give you copious trackside fans and an audience,” said Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle. “All the tools are there, please deploy them.”
Regardless, Liberty Media’s influence has already been massive. The changes may not have been groundbreaking in sporting, technical or financial terms, but culturally it’s like night and day. F1 is awash with positive energy, while the sport’s long-term planning, and event operation, marketing and promotion is finally being taken care of. Facets of the business that benefit everyone, especially fans.
“I think essentially we are confident we have a place we can get to where everybody is better off than they are today,” said F1 Chairman and CEO Chase Carey in Singapore.
“Through those combination of things, you may still fight or argue about trade-offs, who can get what, but if everybody is better off, that's the place you could get to.
“We have to do it in a way that people feel they had a voice in it, they have had input, there has been transparency, it's not sort of, a game of trickery, in the past sort of the game you are playing, there is an understanding but we get to a place where everybody feels, we are better off and the sport is better off."
F1 may be preparing itself for a big political battle, but beyond that is blue skies and sunshine. And that is an exciting prospect.