At some point we’re going to have to get used to referring to Formula One’s new owners Liberty Media simply as ‘F1’.
But 100 days on from the news that Bernie Ecclestone had finally relinquished his grasp on the sport, the sense of optimism which greeted this seismic change in the sport has barely dissipated.
The installation of Ross Brawn in charge of sporting matters gave immediate credibility to Liberty’s plans. His comments about weeding out gimmicks like DRS and promoting competition between a greater number of teams stand in sharp contrast to Ecclestone’s practices.
Brawn’s opposite number on the commercial side, Sean Bratches, was an unfamiliar name to many. But he’s made the right noises about taking F1 into significant markets while respecting the sport’s heritage giving the calendar a more coherent and cost-effective structure.
Already the sport has felt some changes for the better. Refreshingly, the start of the new season was not overshadowed by the most powerful person in the sport slagging it off in public.
The loosening of social media restrictions on the teams and drivers is long overdue. Teams are being allowed to bring more people into the paddock and paying spectators will soon get the chance to enter the ‘inner sanctum’ as well. Circuit promoters have also welcome the relaxing of Ecclestone-era restrictions on how they could promote their races.
Subtler changes are evident, too. Lower camera angles are being used to enhance the sensation of speed from the cars in place of some of the high, wide shots which served only to frame sponsors’ logos.
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But surely the most positive change in Formula One this season can’t be attributed to Liberty. On the strength of the first four races it seems that, for the first time in five years, we have more than one team capable of fighting for the championship.
The excitement around a genuine struggle for supremacy has done F1 a lot of good. Even Mercedes have welcomed the fact they have serious competition from outside their team, something which wasn’t the case in the previous three seasons.
This may be a consequence of the changes to the technical rules introduced for 2017. But it’s only good fortune that is has worked out that way.
For evidence of that, look at the gap between the top two teams and the rest of the field. Over a 90-second lap Red Bull are on average 1.3 seconds off the pace and the rest are more than half a second behind them. If Ferrari hadn’t made a huge leap forward over the winter we could very easily be watching a repeat of the last three years.
Of course Ferrari deserve credit for the progress they’ve made. But the goal of their development was to win races.
The fact they’ve ended up almost level with Mercedes is a fortunate coincidence for Formula One in general, and its new owners in particular. It’s even served as a distraction from another side-effect of F1’s new rules, that passing has become much more difficult.
It’s been an encouraging first 100 days for Liberty Media. They’ve made some good moves, and luck has been on their side. Whether they continue on this upward trend will come down to whether their medium and long-term plans will prove as popular as their initial short-term fixes.
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