Formula 1’s new supremo Chase Carey is head of the triumvirate that now rules over Formula 1’s commercial aspects, and it is clear that he is a man who respects the traditions and history of the sport while eager to embrace the latest media tools that have been neglected by the cabal he deposed.
Carey has made clear his disdain for the methods used by Formula 1’s former emperor Bernie Ecclestone and was quick to appoint vastly experience F1 veteran Ross Brawn Managing Director of motorsports and sports TV guru Sean Bratches as Managing Director of the commercial arm of the organisation.
Although he has little experience in Formula 1, Carey has made a successful and distinguished career in senior management at 21st Century Fox, including a stint as President and Chief Operating Officer of NewsCorp. He fronted the Liberty Media takeover of F1 along with Liberty CEO Greg Maffei.
Speaking to the FIA official magazine Auto, Carey said, “When I was at Fox and we first got in business with the NFL we had a slogan: Same game, new attitude, and I think it applies here. We want to respect the traditions that made this sport great and build on those.”
“We’re not looking to gimmick it up, we want to take what is a great sport and bring some fresh energy and innovation but with complete respect and admiration for the history that is an incredibly important part of F1.”
“We have great events around the world, but the foundation of this sport is Western Europe, which is largely where the tracks you’re talking about exist. That’s tremendously important and what we want to do is to build, but very much recognise that the foundation is critically important.”
“So not grow at the expense of the foundation, but I think your foundation needs to be strong and continue to make it stronger and then we can add the dimension of further growth. But those historic events are an incredibly important part.”
The spectre of Americanisation of Formula 1 has made some in the paddock uneasy, Carey explained, “There are aspects of what American sports do reasonably well that can benefit us and I think one of those is taking events and making them a larger event with the sport at the heart of it.”
“That’s the rallying factor and the reason, but it is the event that engages peoples’ imagination and attracts new and different fans because they want to be part of the experience. So I think it helps attract young fans, female fans; it’s not just going to a race.”
“I don’t want to minimise the importance of the race – that is the defining element – but if we create other interesting things in the level of excitement and energy around it: food, music, information, exhibitions, things like that, engage the whole city, I think America has done that well.”
“And Formula One really lends itself to that because it is such an event, there’s only one in each country. So it should come to town and take over the city it’s in for the week and we want to bring that type of energy and excitement to it.”
The Ecclestone era neglected new and social media as a tool to spread Formula 1 to a new generation of fans, as the target market was the Rolex brigade who could afford the exorbitant Paddock Club fees. Younger fans were not considered or important by the octogenarian.
In contrast Carey believes this is a crucial market which needs to be developed, “I think in many ways just looking at what was not being done to really maximise the value and opportunity in the sport over recent years.”
“When you don’t have a marketing organisation, you don’t have a research organisation, when you don’t have a digital organisation, meaningfully you have a one-man sponsorship crew. I think it speaks to the resources that are not being deployed to maximising growth in the sport.”
“In today’s age you need to be able to use all the tools you have available to grow; like digital platforms and social media, they could probably become the strongest driving force in growing a sport and to some degree it’s improving now.’
“If you look at the growth in video platforms, video digital platforms just in the last few months, it’s a three- to four-fold growth in one year by just giving it some energy and opening it up. So I think there’s a real pent-up appetite to engage with Formula One in a much deeper way.”
“One of the encouraging things in the US is you can track the followers we’re gaining digitally. When we start to get the research we can track it. The sport is not going to be the NFL, so we’re not deluding ourselves, but I think there’s a much bigger fan base that is untapped.”
“And to some degree because we’ve done nothing to try and connect and engage those fans, I think there is a much bigger base than people realise.”
Formula 1 already enjoyed an impressive profile prior to the Liberty Media acquisition, a fact that Carey admits attracted the investment they made, “Those are some of the characteristics that made it uniquely attractive for Liberty, for us to come into the business. We think events, particularly global events, are disproportionately going to grow in value and importance and F1 is unique.”
“Probably with the Olympics and World Cup which are once every four years it’s a sport that connects with hundreds of millions of fans around the world and it does it with a sport that captures their imagination.”
“One of the things that makes sport so interesting to fans and everybody else is it’s tremendously emotional. People get really connected to it so when you have that passion and that sort of defining competition I think it begs to have a structure that helps make it a business which can be managed, while respecting what it should be as a competition.”
Asked how important the rich history and traditions of Formula 1 are for the future of the sport, Carey replied, “Tremendously important; I think the history is one of the most important assets to have. You want fathers and grandfathers and sons to grow up through it and remember experiences, and I think the drivers, the teams, the races, the tracks are an incredible part of what makes this sport special and really distinguishes it from other sports out there today.”
Carey also acknowledges, “The drivers are our stars. Talent will ultimately win out. Obviously the teams, the brands and the other things are important, but the drivers are our stars and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can to find the drivers of tomorrow. I want to work with the FIA to make sure we’re doing what we can to provide the right development paths.”
Ecclestone’s never ending goal was to obliterate any form of motorsport that he deemed a threat to Formula 1. As much as he built Formula 1 to what it is, he also destroyed most other motorsport series that had potential to be an alternative. They were simply not considered, and thus obliterated lest they became too popular.
Carey has a very different view, “One of the things I’ve found as I’ve gone around some of the tracks is that there was [with the previous management] a bit of trying to exclude other forms of racing from our events. To some degree I want to invite them. We want [F1] to be the pinnacle, but if there are things we can put on that interest fans, that’s why we’re doing this.”
“We’re doing this not for our purposes and not for the teams but for the fans and to create a great experience for them. If the fans enjoy other forms of motor sport, if in Australia they want the V8 Supercars, I don’t want to preclude that. I should take advantage of that and get the Supercar fan there who hopefully becomes a more passionate F1 fan, and that’s good for everybody.”
Invariably the question of the future of Formula 1 is high on everyone’s mind, 2020 marks the end of the current hybrid turbo era which many acknowledge as being wonders of modern engineering, but at the same time hugely unpopular on many levels: Too complex, not noisy enough and mostly far too expensive.
The way forward is up for debate right now, and Carey opined, “I think the answer goes back to: it’s a sport. And it’s a sport with great contests that captivates with the combination of power, athletics, skill and technology to keep maximising the sport and puts it on a different path.”
There is a fear in the paddock that changing back to normally aspirated engines will make F1 less relevant in the future, but Carey sees it differently, “I think it’s the world we live in and we’ve got to figure out how we define our place in the world. But it’s certainly going to be with great drivers driving incredible machines with hopefully great competition.”
Carey believes that state-of-the-art technology and superstar driver appeal are key elements of F1, “I think they’re both part of what makes the sport special. It’s a competition on one hand, but the technology and engineering are obviously a part of what creates the mystique and interest in F1 and there are certain people who are passionate about that.”
“But between the two I think clearly the sporting aspect needs to be the driving force. Our drivers are our biggest stars, we want to put on events that are great with exciting competition and great action. We want the drivers to ultimately be the shining lights, not to be a sport driven by engineers, but a sport where the engineers are adding value,” he added.
Final question: How loud will the engines need to be in future?
“We’d like them to be a little louder. We’re working on it,” he replied with a smile.