Speculation hit fever pitch that the rights to commercially exploit Formula One were changing hands on Sept 4 at the Italian Grand Prix, and the rumour was confirmed three days later by soon-to-be-owner Liberty Media Corporation.
Liberty, which itself is owned by billionaire American businessman John Malone, bought an 18.7 per cent share of the commercial rights on the spot with a view of taking 100% control by March next year.
“I greatly admire Formula One as a unique global sports entertainment franchise attracting hundreds of millions of fans each season from all around the world,” said incoming chairman Chase Carey. “I see great opportunity to help Formula One continue to develop and prosper for the benefit of the sport, fans, teams and investors alike.”
Carey has recently stepped down as vice-chairman at 21st Century Fox, where he was tipped to replace Rupert Murdoch by the media mogul himself.
The high-flying American’s presence in the paddock has led to uncomfortable questions about long-time F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s ongoing role leading the sport.
Ecclestone has been a pivotal figure in Formula One’s growth from enthusiast sport into global phenomenon, and he has only gone so far as to say the owners want him for three years – but commentators have suggested he may last only as long as it takes for new management to settle in.
Liberty has flagged its intention to define its F1 stewardship by boosting its availability to the digital market and expanding its portfolio of sponsors, and teams will be offered a stake in the new-look business.
The thrashing out of a handover deal will be of mere academic interest to the sport’s on-track protagonists, however, when they commence battle in the Formula One’s original night race.
Nico Rosberg has had things all his own way since the midseason break with victories in Belgium and Italy, reducing championship leader Lewis Hamilton’s advantage to just two points with seven rounds remaining.
Hamilton, however, will point to his back-of-grid start at Spa and clutch problems off the line in Monza as extenuating circumstances for his third and second-place finishes.
The Briton could also rely on his superior record at Marina Bay – two wins compared to Rosberg’s best result of second place in the inaugural 2008 event – to aid him this weekend, but Mercedes’s woeful performance at the street circuit last year will make him less confident.
The Mercedes cars, otherwise the stand-outs of the 2015 field, could qualify just fifth and sixth here last year, and Rosberg, the team’s sole finisher, came home fourth behind both Ferraris and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Mercedes put its 2015 problems down to failing to master the Pirelli tyres around the hot and twisty track, but it would take a brave man to bet against the Silver Arrows ameliorating its shortcomings in the preceding 12 months.
But now in 2016, even the prospect of a circuit that might neutralise Mercedes advantage sufficient to bring Ferrari and especially Red Bull Racing into victory contention is enough to have Formula One fans licking their lips with anticipation.
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