From Russia with Love for under-fire Liberty Media

Sergey Vorobyev f1

Russian Grand Prix promoter Sergey Vorobyev expressed support for Formula 1 owners Liberty Media on Tuesday after some other race organisers had publicly criticised the way the sport was being run, indicating a split of opinion among grand prix hosts.

The Formula One Promoters’ Association (FOPA) had issued a statement ahead of an annual meeting hosted in London by commercial rights holders Liberty.

In it, they expressed concern about a reduction in free-to-air broadcasting, a ‘lack of clarity on new initiatives’ and the risk of new races being introduced “to the detriment of existing events.”

Vorobyev, attending Tuesday’s meeting at the RAC Club, told Reuters on Twitter that he did not share FOPA´s point of view and approach.

FOPA said in the statement that it represented 16 grands prix. A source at the meeting confirmed that Russia was one of the non-members, along with Monaco, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Japan.

Mexico also appeared to distance itself from the statement, with marketing head Rodrigo Sanchez saying on Twitter that he agreed with Vorobyev.

The Russian told separately that he felt FOPA’s criticisms were ‘fairly toothless’ and he did not share the position of the association’s British chairman Stuart Pringle.

“All the issues indicated there, in this statement, they are being resolved one way or another in the current format of communication with Liberty,” he said.

“I don’t believe this approach to be constructive,” added Vorobyev, who expected some other promoters to distance themselves from FOPA in future.

Formula 1 management, represented at the meeting by chairman Chase Carey and motorsport managing director Ross Brawn, declined to comment on the FOPA statement.

The meeting set out the sport’s short and long-term plans, including digital and television production, sponsorship and marketing.

Formula One’s commercial agreement with the 10 teams expires at the end of 2020 and talks are ongoing about a potential transformation of the sport, with plans for budget caps and a more equal distribution of the revenues.

Race hosting fees make up a major part of Formula One’s revenues and the newer races, in locations such as the Middle East or Asia, are more lucrative than those in the European heartland.

“Like all the participants in the process, we do not have a clear understanding of what Formula One will look like from 2021,” said Vorobyev. “But personally, I really believe in Ross Brawn and his managerial and engineering skills.”

Pringle is managing director of Silverstone, which is out of contract after this year along with Germany’s Hockenheim, Italy’s Monza, Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya and Mexico City.

Silverstone invoked a break clause in 2017 to push for a better deal, arguing that the original contract agreed with former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was not financially viable. A new deal has yet to be agreed.

The television contract with broadcaster Sky, which means viewers do not have free-to-air coverage in Britain this season apart from their home race, is also a legacy of the Ecclestone era.

Five races have had their contracts renewed by Liberty since the U.S.-based company took over, while a new grand prix in Vietnam will be added to the calendar next year.

Formula 1 confirm 2020 Vietnamese Grand Prix