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Is F1 facing a crisis?

March 4, 2019

This week the organisers of the Mexican Grand Prix revealed they’ve missed the deadline to appear on the 2020 provisional F1 calendar following withdrawal of governmental financial support for the event.

Earlier in February the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, announced that the annual 400 million pesos (around £17m) of federal funding for the Grand Prix will instead go to funding the controversial hydrogen-powered ‘Mayan Railway’ – a tourist railway that will connect a number of tourist sites across the country.

As long as discussions are ongoing about the viability of the race without state funding it’s long-term future remains unsure and as such it is likely to appear on the 2020 F1 calendar as ‘subject to contract’.

While question marks around the future of this one Grand Prix in isolation aren’t necessarily a problem for F1 and its owners Liberty, it’s one of five Grand Prix (the others being Silverstone, Circuit de Catalunya, Hockenheim and Monza) who have yet to secure a deal for 2020 which could, in theory, leave Formula 1 with just 17 races, four fewer than there are now (with the inclusion of the Vietnam Grand Prix – the only Grand Prix to have been added by Liberty since their acquisition of F1 in 2017).

Love him or hate him, what Bernie Ecclestone excelled at was managing Grand Prix venues – creating an arms race by pitching them against one-another to get top dollar from each of them, lining up potential (or hypothetical) replacements should they fail to meet his demands.

But with Liberty trying and failing to court Miami as a potential Grand Prix host city, and with any thoughts of a street race in either Scandinavia or Holland now a distant memory (although with Zandvoort keen to capitalise on the current success of Max Verstappen), it would appear that there is a distinct shortage of venues Liberty can use to pressurise organisers of existing races into putting pen to paper, or to use as replacements if they choose not to.

So will Liberty face a significant rethink on the deals they currently have in place with organisers, whereby it’s the circuit that pays handsomely for the rights to host a Grand Prix and assumes all the risk for any profit or loss it might make from ticket sales but excluded from any profits from broadcasting, hospitality and on-site advertising?

Liberty demonstrated in its dealings with Miami that it is willing to take a less hard line with Grand Prix organisers to ensure the viability and profitability of events with a different approach to revenue-sharing.

This prompted FOPA (an organisation representing the promoters of the majority of the other GPs) to release a statement detailing their displeasure at the terms of Miami’s proposed deal compared with their own and that they’d now expect a similar offer themselves.

Whether or not such offers will be forthcoming, or whether the only option Liberty have to quash a full-scale mutiny is to risk the integrity and appeal of F1, sacrifice its heritage and jettison (or at least threaten to…) dissenting long-established Grand Prix venues in favour of emerging markets such as Vietnam where there is thought to be significant interest in coughing up whatever Liberty demands.

It’s thought that F1 and the FIA will discuss the 2020 F1 calendar ahead of schedule at next week’s World Motor Sport Council meeting, with a view to resolving all outstanding issues.

Then, perhaps, the protracted Silverstone saga will finally be put to bed and we in Britain will find out whether or not this year’s British Grand Prix will be our last.


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