Mercedes AMG Petronas boss Toto Wolff has urged F1's new owners Liberty Media not use the sport as a 'beta test' in its quest to take it into a new direction and to respect the factors that have made it such a success under the guidance of Bernie Ecclestone.
Five months after Liberty Media first began initiating its purchase of F1 from CVC, the media giant this week confirmed the exit of Bernie Ecclestone as CEO after 40 years at the helm of the sport, with Chase Carey heading up a new management structure that also includes Ross Brawn (sporting) and Sean Bratches (commercial).
Despite Ecclestone's abrupt exit, Liberty Media's arrival has been largely welcomed by influential figures in the sport, with the company's expertise in media, distribution and promotion expected forge a path towards a modernisation of its business model.
It is a shift Wolff agrees F1 must adopt in order to evolve commercially, with the three-time title winning team principal describing the move to hire an expert in former Mercedes counterpart Brawn as the 'right thing'.
Nevertheless, Wolff has warned Liberty Media not to apply sweeping changes to the sport without serious consideration in case it devalues the sport and turns away its core audience in a pursuit for a different one.
“With the change of ownership, it will now take a new direction,” he said. “It's going to be different than it was in the past. Now, we have to make the most out of it and grasp the opportunity.
“If you look at the track record of Chase and his colleagues it says everything. They are experts in US sports and they have hired experts in F1 to cover that blank spot. They have done just the right thing, hiring experts in their respective fields.
“Ross Brawn has been in F1 forever and has seen the sport from the team side. He is going to give them the right guidance, together with the teams and the FIA, to develop the sport in the right direction – staying true to its values but, equally, assessing the area that function well and the areas which we should be developing together in order to grow the sport even bigger.
“I think we need to acknowledge that F1 is a technical sport, so it will always polarise. There are people who will say that they hate it and others will say that they love it. This is OK. But one thing is for sure – we shouldn't make it a beta test.
“We shouldn't mess with our loyal fans and our audiences by implementing rules and regulations that we haven't assessed properly. We should use data in a scientific approach and see what works in other sports and other entertainment platforms, then combine that with the great strengths and assets of F1.”
Wolff goes on to play down the assertion that F1 is 'broken', pointing out that it has grown significantly in certain markets under Ecclestone, before suggesting the move towards distribution away from TV into a social and on-demand model is not the 'silver bullet.
“Considering that we as a team have been doing pretty well during the last seasons, audiences have developed in a very positive way. The last couple of races we had record-breaking audiences in some markets in terms of TV spectators.
“There has been a lot of talk about F1 not doing. Actually, we have been doing pretty well considering that the market has changed tremendously. I doubt the younger generations switch on a traditional TV at two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon. They expect to watch it on a mobile device or via social media. Nevertheless, our audiences are pretty strong.
“We mustn't talk the sport down, as it is not broken There are ways to optimise it and there are areas which are blind spots in which we haven't done a lot of work – for example the digital environment and social media. But we need to understand them.”
“Social media is very important as a marketing tool to involve our audiences – both current fans and future fans. But we have loyal partners in the TV stations that we have been broadcasting our sport for a long time and have been broadcasting our sport for a long time and have helped contribute to the team's revenues. You can't offer it for free in the digital world. You can see it as a marketing tool but not as the silver bullet that will solve all the problems.
“This sport has a huge opportunity for growing bigger and bigger and we could all benefit from this. We need to push in that direction.”
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