Formula One has never been very popular in the United States, but a U.S.-based investor group may soon hold the race series’ future in its hands.
Over the weekend, several European news outlets reported the sale of a majority stake in F1 by current owner CVC, which has been looking to unload it for some time, to Liberty Media for $8.5 billion. The sale will center on control of the commercial rights to F1, the source of the vast majority of revenue generated by the series, and the key to promoting it.
The purchase is expected to take place in two stages, and could lead to the ouster of 85-year-old Bernie Ecclestone, who has controlled F1 for decades, according to The Sunday Times (subscription required). Ecclestone would reportedly keep his position as CEO of the Formula One Group through the first phase, but could eventually be replaced by current Formula E boss Alejandro Agag when Liberty completes its takeover. Ecclestone reportedly said he would leave rather than be dictated to by the new management.
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Given his current domination of the series, Ecclestone’s departure alone would mark a major shift for F1. But a takeover by a U.S.-based outfit could also be significant in promoting F1 in the states. While it is arguably the most prestigious form of motor sport globally, F1 has never really clicked with U.S. audiences. So it will be interesting to see if Liberty Media makes promoting F1 in its home country a priority.
The United States Grand Prix is currently held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. This year’s race appears set for October 23, although there was some doubt about whether it would happen at all after the Texas state government pulled some financial aid. F1 venues across the world are struggling to come up with the millions of dollars needed to put on a race, which includes payments to the F1 organizers.
This season also saw the debut of a new American team, Haas F1, although that doesn’t seem to have moved the needled much as far as U.S. interest is concerned. Admittedly, Haas isn’t all American: its drivers hail from France and Mexico, and its car was largely developed in Italy with help from Ferrari and race car manufacturer Dallara.