Television ratings and major car manufacturers would appear to be ingredients Bernie Ecclestone cannot do without.
F1, however, shed no fewer than 25 million viewers last year, but the sport’s supremo insists he is not worried because it “reflects the move FOM has made towards pay TV in several markets over the last three seasons”.
A prime example is the situation in Britain, where only a select number of grands prix are now shown free-to-air on the BBC, with only pay-channel Sky having the exclusive live rights.
That model has now been adopted in other key markets, and it has “boosted F1’s bottom line as pay TV networks are prepared to pay a premium for rights to sports events since they drive subscriber numbers”, Forbes’ F1 business journalist Christian Sylt explained.
Another fundamental shift could also be occurring in Ecclestone’s mind with regards to the very structure of the grid, which is currently dominated by the German giant Mercedes.
Ralf Bach, a correspondent for Sport Bild and TZ Munchen, claims that the 84-year-old Briton’s vision of the future is F1 potentially with ‘customer cars’.
It emerged this week that, to boost dwindling grid numbers, Ecclestone – reportedly backed by Colin Kolles and Flavio Briatore – could be hatching a deal with Red Bull to package its 2013 car with a Mecachrome V8 engine and offer it at low cost to struggling small teams.
Writing on his f1-insider.com blog, Bach claims: “In January, Ecclestone met Dietrich Mateschitz in Salzburg to discuss, inter alia, the topic of customer cars.”
Bach said that while some of the sport’s biggest players like Mercedes might not agree, Ecclestone will not necessary mind even if the German marque pulls out.
Similarly, Ecclestone might also be happy that Volkswagen is staying out of F1 for now, as its patriarch Ferdinand Piech is said to be no fan of the Ecclestone reign.
Leo Turrini, a well-known Italian F1 insider, this week quoted Briatore as apparently sharing his friend and ally Ecclestone’s vision of the sport’s future.
“The tragic mistake was with the choice of this type (turbo V6) of engine,” the former Renault boss said.
“With the noise, they killed the excitement and replaced it with technology that the public does not care about. Add that these power units are expensive and the circle is closed,” added Briatore.
“I remain of the opinion that F1 should be a championship for drivers, not for constructors.
“It’s not that I support the idea of a one-make championship, but if you introduce a technology where someone like Mercedes has a huge advantage, the basic interest in formula one declines.” (GMM)