F1 motor racing pivots to a new 'entertainment brand' following US takeover

Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia on April 29, 2017 in Sochi, Russia.
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In January 2017, Liberty Media completed its $8 billion takeover of Formula One (including debt), marking the start of a new era after Bernie Ecclestone oversaw the motor sport for 40 years.

This year marks the first full season in the post-Ecclestone era. New CEO and Chair Chase Carey has high hopes for the sport, saying at the time of the acquisition that he wanted to take motor racing all over the world and make the races feel like Super Bowl events, with all the pomp and ceremony that goes with them.

He hired two motor racing veterans as managing directors: Former Ferrari technical director and ex-Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn to be in charge of motor sports and former ESPN executive Sean Bratches for commercial operations.

A year or so on, and what did the new management find when they started work? Would they be off to the races or still in the pit lane?

This $7.5 million Formula 1 Ferrari comes with its own pit crew
This $7.5 million Formula 1 Ferrari comes with its own pit crew

"It was a little bit like opening a time capsule," Bratches told CNBC's Geoff Cutmore for "Marketing Media Money." "I think … this business from a commercial standpoint had a fantastic legacy but a real latency as relates to the business side, so there was a massive opportunity."

"There was there was really no commercial business when I arrived, there was no head of marketing, no head of digital, no research, no communications, nothing. So (it) gave me the opportunity to hire an executive team ... We had an opportunity to create our own culture and we're off to the races, pun intended."

F1 as a media brand

While Ecclestone took F1 to destinations such as Azerbaijan and Bahrain, he controlled every aspect of the paddock and teams and fans were frustrated at the lack of a digital strategy or much development of the sport.

"What we acquired was a hard, true motor sport company. And what we're trying to do is to pivot this to a media and entertainment brand with the heart and soul of a race car driver at the middle of it," he told Cutmore.

Bratches claims that motor sport has 500 million supporters around the world, which represents a huge audience. The business asked fans how they saw F1 and created a "mission statement" from their responses: To unleash the greatest racing spectacle on the planet.

"When people go to a Formula One Grand Prix, they're there for three or four days, six, seven, eight hours a day, (and that's) unique (compared) to other sports. We have a great story to tell and it's been laying fallow, so we're really encouraged about that opportunity."

Fans should expect better distribution of the masses of video content produced from each race, plus games and virtual reality experiences. In March, F1 and Netflix announced a 10-episode documentary series covering the 2018 season will be released early next year, while fan festivals will be held in cities near the races, including Shanghai, Marseille, Berlin and Miami. F1 also has plans for more city-center street circuits and will launch a subscription streaming service, called F1 TV, next month.

A marketing race

The sport is already using new technology for marketing, monitoring people's location via their smartphones to see how they move around the Grand Prix during races, according to Ellie Norman, F1's first ever marketing director.

"(It's about) understanding actually what fans want from a Grand Prix weekend, building out that sort of festival and then using those data inputs and saying: should we have a concession stand here? Should we have our new fanatic's retail experience here? Where should we have our sort of food and drinks?" she told Cutmore.

Formula 1's electrified cousin and the changing face of high-speed racing
Formula 1's electrified cousin and the changing face of high-speed racing

The racing event is also expected to clean up its act when it comes to team payments. In 2017, F1 was estimated to have underlying revenues of about $1.4 billion that came from hosting, media rights, hospitality and sponsorship. Around two-thirds of that goes to teams, but Ferrari was controversially getting around $70 million just for turning up. And according to Brawn, F1 is working on it.

"The revenue and revenue distribution for the teams is going to be a very difficult discussion. We have a proposal which we can justify, we can show why we think it's fair, why we think it's good for the sustainability of F1. We'll defend our corner," he told "Marketing Media Money."

"Everyone has a different opinion about what the solutions are, but we're presenting evidence that will enable the teams, ourselves and the (governing body) FIA to make the best decisions about the future of F1," he added.

— CNBC's Elizabeth Gurdus contributed to this report.

"Marketing Media Money" airs on April 19 2018 at 10pm BST.