FOTA held a press briefing this afternoon in the top floor of the McLaren motorhome to look back on what has been achieved so far and to look forward to what lies ahead.
It was an interesting hour, with recently re-elected chairman Martin Whitmarsh doing most of the talking, backed up by his newly elected vice chairman Eric Boullier of Renault.
Inevitably seventy five percent of the content was about the News Corp/Exor takeover story. In their press release this week the two companies said that “Over the coming weeks and months, EXOR and News Corporation will approach potential minority partners and key stakeholders in the sport.”
This led to the story that the four leading teams are to meet in Stuttgart next week to hear overtures from the consortium. Although Ferrari is in the driving seat on this, sources suggest that the consortium feels that buy in from the teams is essential and clearly the impression that they are starting with the most important teams is a divisive one for teams like Renault and Williams.
Whitmarsh appeared to deny that this meeting was taking place, but picked his words very carefully, saying that neither he nor Ron Dennis were going to any meetings and he knew that Stefano Domenicali, Christian Horner and Norbert Haug weren’t either
“But we are all part of entities where our shareholders talk and they may well be having discussions, but it’s not for me to confirm what they are doing and where they are going.”
Nevertheless, both men agreed that at some point, it would be desirable for the teams to have a share of the ownership of the sport,
“Ultimately it is desirable to have team ownership of the commercial rights,” said Whitmarsh. “CVC have claimed that they are not looking to sell but there aren’t many venture capitalists who want to keep businesses on their books ad infinitum. The teams want to ensure that we have stability and we want the sport to be sustainable. To be sustainable you need the appropriate level of investment to promote the sport and the appropriate distribution of the revenue to the teams to make it sustainable, Who owns it, isn’t the biggest concern. We’ve all got to look at whether each of us want to be involved in the ownership in the future if the current owners want to sell.”
Boullier added, “It’s a new era for F1. Manufacturers were here for 10 years and their core business was to build road cars, not F1. Now most of the teams on the grid are private companies and our core business is F1. So yes I think we should be involved in some way in the ownership of the show.”
Many fans have been concerned about the notion of F1 going to a Pay TV model, with a number saying that they would not watch it any more if that happened. Whitmarsh went out of his way to say that preserving the mass reach of F1 was fundamentally important to FOTA,
“The business model of the teams here is currently structured on having a mass exposure of moving pictures that we generate that it s free to air,” he said. “What ever happens going forward, the teams must insist that there is free to air in the major markets. We need a model where F1 remains the 3rd largest sporting spectacle in the world and I’m sure we can achieve that.”
One thing FOTA have been quite vocal about in recent days and which was restated this afternoon was that a percentage of F1’s commercial revenues should go to centrally promoting the sport, something which hasn’t been done in the past.
The direction of travel since FOTA was created, has been to find consensus and stop fighting each other and then to work together to increase the revenues and the team’s share of the revenues and to decrease the costs. That work continues, with the new Concorde Agreement clearly central to that.
It came out in a discussion on the cost savings in F1 that teams are now spending one third of what they were spending before the Resource Restriction Agreement was introduced, following Honda’s withdrawal in December 2008. Whitmarsh noted that the fact that the consortium is interested in investing in the sport is a positive sign along with indicators that sponsorship is again starting to flow into the sport after a couple of tough years.
Photo: Darren Heath