All that glitters…

Formula One’s new investor Liberty Media admits that it has a lot to learn about the sport. This, in itself, is a good thing because all too often people arrive in F1, thinking that they know all the answers and, inevitably this doesn’t end well. The problem about learning in the University of F1 is that one’s success will likely be related to the ability of the teachers. But how does one know which course to take and which lecturers to listen to? One can see that Dr X has a good rate of success, but this does not mean that X is a great teacher. It might just be an easy subject and X is doing only a so-so job, picking the low-hanging fruit. In addition to this, in a commercial environment such as Formula One, it is fair to say that everyone has an agenda, even if it is just relating to earning consulting fees, and one must also bear in mind that when big money is involved, more often than not, the pursuit of money walks hand-in-hand with the pursuit of power. So it is complicated and the best way to do it is to talk to a lot of people to get a broad view and then one can figure out who are the best people to listen to. Generally, if one taps into trustworthy people one is introduced to other similar folk, and when that happens life becomes easier.

I was interested to see stories about Liberty Media thinking that expanding the F1 calendar is a good idea. It is in financial terms, but in order to achieve it, there must be some rethinking because burnout is becoming a serious problem and it is nonsensical to try double the size of the crews because some people just aren’t replaceable.

If one looks at the way the military works, the answer may not lie in beefing up an armoured division, but rather in developing fast intervention units to get the job done in a more efficient way. Right now, for example, huge sums of money and large amounts of effort are wasted to move tons of equipment around the world when teams could either “live off the land” or arrive in facilities that have been specifically-designed for their needs and to their standards, if there was better central planning. Having standard facilities, for example, would make increasing the calendar much more doable. But things change too. As an example, the sport is currently tied to Boeing 747s by the design of its travel boxes, but it could be more flexible if these were redesigned for the 777 because the older planes are now harder to find. It’s a little thing, but significant.

Some things do not change, however, and the dream of racing in Las Vegas remains a dream. The city and the casinos are opposed to the idea, and every time they have gone against their instincts, it has not worked out well. Casinos want free movement of people and anything that blocks roads or causes disruptions is bad. It’s just mathematics. Would F1 bring sufficient gamblers to town to offset the disruption caused to regular business? They believe the answer is no. In any case, does this flashy Tinseltown need F1’s global exposure? Not really, everyone knows Vegas. It’s far cheaper to make another caper movie to spread that message. And is the Vegas image really what F1 wants?  Vegas is many things but it has never been called classy and it would undermine the Monaco-esque chic and sophistication that F1 trades on. Long Beach is a much better bet. So too was New Jersey. A night race in the U.S. would be a great spectacle, although it doesn’t really work with time zones and key audiences.

Half the problem at the moment with scheduling is that there is little logic in the calendar. Races are not twinned sensibly within similar time zones because finding promoters where you want them is not easy, at the price being asked. Yet, there are other business models that might work better, with more cooperation and less exploitation.

Vegas held some F1 races back in the days when Sinatra was playing at Caesars but that event – prehistoric by Vegas standards – soon died out and since then – 35 years – F1 in Vegas has been all talk and no action. So maybe some starry-eyed new promoter has come along, thinking they can do what generations of others have failed to achieve, but I fear that the dream will end as all their others have. F1 doesn’t need Vegas any more than Vegas needs F1. There are smarter ways to do this.