In recent years, the ownership of F1 has changed hands as Bernie Ecclestone’s long reign over the sport came to an end. Who now owns the Formula 1 World Championship?
With Formula 1 now one of the most popular sports series in the world, it’s proving to be a massive return on investment for the owners. A simple look at FWONK (Liberty Media’s Formula 1 Group stock price) for April 2023 shows a near-all-time high of $73.93, up from $18.26 back in 2016 when first floated on the NASDAQ.
The Formula One Group is a group of companies which is responsible for the overall organisation, promotion, and use of the sport’s commercial rights. This is different to the FIA’s ownership of the sport.
Who owns F1?
Formula 1 is one of the world’s most popular sports with a long history dating back to the 1950s. Ownership of the championship outright belongs to the governing body, the FIA, with the France-based organisation owning the rights to the name of the series and its rulebooks, as well as creating the standards for circuit grading, drivers licencing as well as the provision of personnel to enforce said rulebooks.
While the FIA own the series from a sporting perspective, the Formula One Group, under parent company Liberty Media, own the rights to the commercial side of the sport.
Who are Liberty Media?
The owner of the Formula One Group is an American mass media company called Liberty Media Corporation owned by billionaire John Carl Malone.
Up until 2016, F1’s commercial rights were owned by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners – CVC having owned 63.4% of the Formula One Group’s shares by March 2006. In late 2016, CVC sold its F1 stake, including the Formula One Group’s holding company Delta Topco, to Liberty for a deal worth $4.4 billion.
While Ecclestone briefly stayed on in a position of power following the transfer to Liberty Media, the American media corporation appointed Chase Carey as CEO and, after Liberty had bought out Ecclestone’s remaining shares, Ecclestone was quietly removed from the sport he had commandingly led for some 40 years.
Nowadays, following the retirement of Chase Carey, former Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali acts as the public face of Liberty Media’s F1 operation as their CEO, while Greg Maffei is Liberty Media’s president and CEO.
How has F1 changed since the takeover?
The sale of F1 to Liberty Media brought with it some huge changes. The company decided to rebrand to modernise the sport and make it more attractive to a younger audience. This included a refresh of the F1 logo, as well as the now beloved F1 theme tune.
The firm worked to increase and improve F1’s presence on social media and video streaming platforms, while F1 TV was launched which enabled fans to stream live races from any device (in select territories and countries). A huge deal was made with Netflix, introducing the series ‘Drive to Survive’, which as a result saw the fanbase expand dramatically as more viewers became hooked on the sport.
Liberty Media have been commended for increasing the sport’s popularity, with then Formula One managing director, Ross Brawn, praising the company for remaining focused on improving the sport as opposed to increasing profit margins. Brawn said: “They didn’t just come in and say, ‘how can we improve the margins?’ Their mindset was: There’s this great sport, how can we take the sport forwards? Because the rewards will come when we take the sport forward, not by squeezing more juice out of the lemon.”
What’s next for Liberty Media and F1?
Liberty Media has big plans for the future of F1. The firm’s initial focus continues to be on its US presence. With the addition of the Miami Grand Prix in May 2022, and the new Las Vegas Grand Prix debuting in November 2023, there are now three races in the United States included in the schedule, with more US venues being discussed.
Domenicali said: “It’s the major market where we saw an incredible change of appetite for Formula 1. And above all, a change of the average age of the people involved, thanks to the new way of communicating with them, thanks to Netflix and to social media.
“What is surprising is the magnitude of the change. I was expecting to have growth but not with such speed.”
Domenicali has hinted that growing interest from would-be promoters could see F1 get more than 30 races in the future, although there is currently a 25-race limit in the F1 Concorde Agreement which he says must be respected.
At present, the F1 is a 23-race schedule, but other countries such as Vietnam, Colombia, and South Africa are also keen to be involved.
Despite the success of Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive, Liberty Media are keen to avoid falling into an artificial entertainment trap. Liberty Media maintains that its drivers are F1’s biggest asset and attraction to the sport, and as such, the firm remains focused on ensuring the grid remains populated with the very best talent.
2026 F1 regulation changes are mapped out
Looking even further ahead to 2026, F1 and its teams are working on a new power unit regulation set, although specific details have yet to be revealed to the public. What we know so far is that the 1.6-litre engines will remain, but without the complex MGU-H component from the hybrid system.
The new engine will form part of the plan to achieve four key objectives outlined by the FIA – reducing cost, making it possible for newcomers to join “at a competitive level”, improving the environmental stamp with cars switching to “100% sustainable fuel”, and a desire to produce a “powerful and high-revving power unit, which avoids “excessive differentiation”.
The changes to the regulations have resulted in Liberty Media’s F1 finally convincing the Volkswagen Audi Group to commit to entering Formula 1, with Audi teaming up with Sauber for a factory entry from 2026.
F1 has also attracted Ford, who have teamed up with Red Bull Powertrains to build engines together, while General Motors have agreed a commercial partnership with Andretti Global, the eponymous team being put together by Michael Andretti as he attempts to find a way to enter Formula 1.