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17 July 2017 | Analysis

F1 Business Diary 2017: The British Grand Prix

If the past week has confirmed anything about Formula One it is that Lewis Hamilton is its most polarising competitor. This was never as evident as at Formula One’s pre-British Grand Prix F1 Live London.

The early evening show in the centre of the UK capital featured Formula One teams, celebrities, live music acts and cars parading up Whitehall to the iconic Trafalgar Square. Although they did not run a three-line whip, the organisers did expect that the entire grid would be present to promote Liberty Media’s new, more accessible product. 

Hamilton felt otherwise. The Briton was the only driver absent, instead choosing to holiday on the notorious party island of Mykonos. The Mercedes driver - a prolific user of social media - ruffled further feathers when he tweeted an image himself partying in a bar with fellow revellers dancing on tables. 

By missing the UK£4.5million London parade to promote the sport he angered many stakeholders, from his adoring fans to Liberty Media, which paid for the spectacle. That said the 32-year old’s boss, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolf, was less concerned. Addressing fans at the event, he said: “Lewis feels that it is such a tough championship battle that he needed the days off after Austria but you can see him at Silverstone.”

And see him at Silverstone they did. The Briton was nothing short of brilliant on the track and in his interaction with his home support. A flawless qualifying lap, which was over half a second quicker than nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen, saw him storm to his fifth pole position in his home race - a record number of British Grand Prix pole positions he now shares with the late Jim Clark.

Hamilton was no less peerless on Sunday. His faultless lights-to-flag victory saw the British star join Clark and France’s Alain Prost with a record-equalling fifth Silverstone success and, perhaps more importantly for now, reduce his arrears to Sebastien Vettel to just one point in the drivers’ championship.   

While Ferrari were left perplexed about the in-race tyre problems that afflicted both their drivers, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen bemoaned Vettel’s “bumper cars” style of driving, Hamilton basked in his glory and the rare British sun. Questions of his popularity in the UK were put to bed as he high-fived and crowd-surfed his fans.

"The support has been incredible this weekend,” said a gushing Hamilton. “I own it [Silverstone]."

The diminutive Hamilton concluded his celebrations as only he knows best: a late night at London club Libertines with close friends and family, who of course included a supermodel and a world boxing champion. 

British Grand Prix confusion 

Last week the Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) - owner of the Silverstone racing circuit - confirmed that it had activated the break clause in its contract with Formula One Management (FOM) to host the race.        

The reneged-upon 17-year deal, which was drawn up in 2009 by Formula One’s former owner Bernie Ecclestone, included a five per cent annual fee escalator meaning that the initial UK£12 million to host the race has now risen to UK£17 million. It would have been set to exceed UK£27 million by 2026.

The BRDC is adamant that it can no longer afford to stage the event. Although Liberty Media has been vocal in its desire to retain the historic Northamptonshire venue on its calendar past 2019, it will be reluctant to grant more favourable terms to Silverstone’s owners as that may encourage other promoters to demand similar treatment.

Nevertheless, there will be a British Grand Prix, whether it be at Brands Hatch, Donington Park, or even on the streets of London. Speaking at  capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, saying at F1 Live London: “If negotiations have broken down with Silverstone, I’m really happy to talk and listen to F1.”

Meanwhile Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, suggested that BRDC’s readiness to remove Silverstone from the calendar would not result in an absence of a British Grand Prix.

“There could be two and not include Silverstone,” said Bratches. “There could be three, theoretically. There is no governance that says you can only have one Grand Prix in each country. We want a deal for a British Grand Prix. 

“We have a luxury of time. We have luxury of interest from many parts of this great country in which Formula One was founded and where we reside, and where we have just signed a 15-year lease and where is our home.”

Real news for Petronas and Mercedes 

It doesn’t take much to raise Toto Wolff’s hackles. 

There have long been lingering rumours that Mercedes’ title sponsor Petronas would be leaving the team. The instigator-in-chief of those rumours was apparently former Jordan Grand Prix team manager turned UK TV pundit Eddie Jordan, who made a claim in the German media that Mercedes would withdraw from Formula One at the end of 2018, citing the impending end of partnerships with the Malaysian oil and gas company and UBS. 

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff dismissed the suggestion then as “fake news”, saying: “I am ready for any banter with Eddie but for me I stop laughing when it is about making jokes on the back of 1,500 employees that care about their future.”

During the British Grand Prix it was announced that Petronas and Mercedes have agreed a multi-year extension of their partnership.

Petronas has been Mercedes’ main sponsor since the German manufacturer returned to Formula One in 2010. The collaboration has coincided with the international open-wheel series’ hybrid power-train era that has seen Mercedes win three constructors’ championships and three drivers’ championships.

According to continental outlet the Asian Correspondent, the deal was signed at the end of 2016 but has been kept under wraps by both parties. The financial terms of the new agreement have not been released but the previous deal is understood to have been worth an annual US$42 million. 

Bratches to modernise Formula One 

Taking advantage of the platform created by the British Grand Prix, Sean Bratches took the opportunity to talk to London-based business newspaper City AM about his plans - and those of chief executive Chase Carey and managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn -  to revolutionise and modernise the sport.     
 
“Formula One to date has been a motorsports company,” said Bratches. “And I’m trying to pivot too much more of an entertainment company and brand, with Formula One at the centre of everything we do.

“Right now we have one of the most antiquated digital platforms on the planet. We are going to burn it down and build a digital platform that represents technological excellence.” 

Snapchat joins the paddock

As if to underline Bratches’ ambitions, Formula One confirmed a new global partnership with Snap Inc ahead of the British Grand Prix.

The agreement saw social media platform Snapchat cover the race on its curated editorial platform Discover. It will also be activated at race weekends in Singapore, Japan, USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

The deal is part of Formula One’s ongoing strategy to develop the sport across several digital platforms, and represents the series’ first commercial collaboration with a major digital and mobile-first service.

“This is the first step towards expanding our social media strategy,” said Frank Arthofer, head of digital and new business for Formula One. “Right from the start, we have said we want to work with partners to bring fans closer to the amazing show that is Formula One, an incredible mix of technology and individual talent - and Snap fits that bill.

“We need to continue to bring new fans to the sport - by reaching out to them on social media platforms with behind the scenes, fun and engaging content.  Snap’s platform is one of the most popular among ‘millennials’.”

This stance on social media sits differently to that of the previous regime. At the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton offered his legions of fans behind the scenes videos over the race weekend. The Snapchat video summary posted by Hamilton showed him arriving at the track, walking in the paddock, and inside the team garage - and caused an irate Bernie Ecclestone to contact Mercedes and demand that the Briton stop access to the free footage immediately.  

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