Edited by: Flip Jacobsen
In the 1970s, English businessman and owner of the Brabham racing team Bernie Ecclestone became the CEO of Formula One. Ecclestone held that title for almost 50 years and led the sport through some of its toughest moments. Bernie ran the sport with a very traditionalist mindset when it came to the presentation of the sport. Not adapting with the rise of social media and the internet left the sport behind the times.
Come 2016 the series was due for a much needed change in ownership, that came when American media company, Liberty Media purchased the sport for $4.4 billion. The American company is well known for their media and sporting assets, most notably the Atlanta Braves and Sirius XM radio. Their purchase of the racing series understandably ruffled a few feathers but I believe their ownership of the sport will secure its popularity for decades to come and change the sport for the better.
Right off the bat Liberty made their intentions clear, while also being a global sport, Formula One is for entertainment. This focus on entertainment included removing divers restrictions on social media, revamping the official F1 YouTube channel and most importantly, starting production with Netflix on “Drive To Survive”.
These changes all work together to make the sport much more accessible and bring it to the eyes of people who it would not normally reach, myself included. Reaching fans not through the sport, but through the entertainment factor is the way of the future in motorsport and sport in general, and Formula One proves this time and time over.
By lessening the Bernie era restrictions on what drivers could post on social media, Liberty allowed the drivers to showcase their personality and day to day experiences more than ever. Drivers like Lando Norris, George Russel and others have used this new freedom to get into streaming and content creation outside of the car. When the pandemic hit, Formula One even held an official virtual Grand Prix series. Taking the place during lockdown on the games like iRacing and the official F1 game, this series kept eyes on F1 throughout the extended offseason. This, in turn, allowed fans to connect with their favorite drivers in a more intimate way than ever before and has opened things up for a younger generation to get into the sport.
Another Liberty Media change is their focus on content creation for digital platforms, that means YouTube, the official F1 website, as well as across all major social media platforms. Since the takeover, Liberty has created different shows such as the Paddock Pass on race weeks with Will Buxton, race breakdowns with Joylon Palmer, and many others. Liberty also launched the F1TV streaming service, featuring an archive of race highlights and replays all the way back to the 1970s as well as F1TV original documentaries and shows. F1TV also shows live coverage of each race from dozens of angles with many different features like live team radio to enhance the viewing experience. This content is providing an exclusive look into the inner workings of the paddock and the race week activities for the fans, further connecting them with their favorite teams and drivers
What may be the most effective Liberty Media addition is the production of “Drive To Survive”. The behind the scenes documentary series for Netflix opened up the sport to millions of new people and created lifelong fans of the sport. That is how I was personally introduced to the sport and it has quickly become my favorite sport and my dream career.
With its more personal and individual focused approach to the sport, the series showcases sides of drivers and team bosses we had never seen before, but have in time defined who they are. While some may see it as overdramatic and not to the spirit of the racing series, its impact on the sport cannot be denied.
Liberty’s influence isn’t limited to the entertainment side of the sport though. Under the leadership of CEO Chase Carey, the Formula One Group has appointed legendary team boss Ross Brawn to head up the sporting side of the group. Under Brawn, F1 has laid out their plans for the regulation overhaul and redesign coming in 2022, promising better racing and more competitive championship fights.
While some of the changes Liberty brought about were not too popular when they were first implemented, they have proven that F1 can be an entertainment spectacle without sacrificing race quality and keeping with the spirit of the sport. Their impact on the sport will be felt for decades to some, and they are just getting started.