The news that Formula E will be broadcast live on the BBC is one of those things that people will read and say “Hmmmm, so what?” However, there’s a big fight here, which may already have been won… and lost.
Casual watchers may not know a Ferrari from a Mercedes, but imagine a grid full of cars on BBC TV, some silver and some red. Who knew? It’s racing cars!
Imagine a category that has grown exponentially in four years, from being a laughing stock to attracting the global manufacturers and sponsors. When Jaguar, BMW, Renault – and Mercedes – along with high-profile sponsors see a future in promoting electricity in their brands, then think where the money, focus, promotion and attention goes.
No matter how unique and self-important F1 has been, it needs big support. Tobacco has long gone, manufacturers now rule and need victories. Being live on terrestrial platforms is a huge win. Where does that leave F1? Haven’t we been here before? Yes, and one person always made the threat stop.
Every time there has been a threat to the dominance of F1 broadcasting, the series stamped its massive foot, courtesy of the not so massive Bernie Ecclestone. He was the one who saw other championships building profile, then either adopted them or made it unviable for the big players.
World Sporstcars in the late 1980s and early 90s was epic. Jaguar vs Mercedes vs Porsche. Le Mans was a “must visit”. There were legendary marques spending loads of money on their racing, promoting their heritage, but it was noted on high, pennies not spent in F1.
The FIA adopted new rules for Sportscars to use F1 engines (“To share costs”), and cars lapped fast enough to qualify for an F1 race at Monza. But costs spiralled with the new rules, the series died. It wasn’t F1.
When Nigel Mansell went to Indycar as F1 World Champion in 1992, that threat to F1 was most real. Indycar suddenly became big news worldwide. Only one person was able to find a way to slow its newfound growth. Mansell was ‘invited’ to return to F1 in 1994.
Meantime Mercedes had put all efforts into the DTM. And they did put everything in, along with Opel and Alfa Romeo.
The money spent there in 1995-1996 by those three in technology and making a huge show was very close to F1 proportions. When the FIA made it a designated international championship with races in Japan, Brazil, Helsinki and more outside of Germany, it was either do or die. Bernie re-christened the International Touring Car Championship (ITC) the “International Catering Championship.” It was doomed.
Formula E has played a huge card with the BBC and it’s great to see. Question is, who is now fighting the challenge now? Or has the momentum shifted to streaming platforms and F1 has missed the boat?
PS: Dear BBC, can you look at televising the Indy 500? Some guy called Fernando Alonso is doing it. You might want to take a look.