Ross Brawn has praised Liberty Media's focus on improving Formula's racing spectacle as the key reason behind the sport's dramatic boost in popularity and appeal.
Brawn - who is set to depart his role as F1’s managing director of motorsport - said this was in marked contrast from previous owners of the sport such as CVC who have tended to focus on how to make the sport more profitable for the shareholders.
“I think Liberty have done a great job,” Brawn told Motorsport.com. “I mean we can’t be complacent, but we’ve got huge interest in Formula 1.
"[Liberty] wanted to improve the sport, 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 forwards, not by squeezing more juice out of the lemon.'
Brawn gave special credit to former Liberty CEO Chase Carey and to his successor in the role Greg Maffei for having the right approach to making F1 an even bigger success.
"Greg and Chase had that vision, and luckily I had the opportunity to be involved," he said, before quipping: "I would say this, they employed me!
"I think Liberty have taken a great approach. Certainly, if you look at the history of owners in F1 they’re the only ones that I’ve seen do it. And I’ve been here quite a long time!
"If you look back, I can’t think of many owners that put that sort of investment into the sport," he said, pointing out that Liberty had put their wallet where their mouth was to back up their words.
"I won’t tell you my budget, but it was a substantial budget to do that work we did. And that’s a commitment which is paying off now.”
Another key element of the sport's explosive growth since Liberty took over in 2017 is the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive behind-the-scenes documentary series which has brought the sport to a younger demographic.
“What’s pleasing is there is a new demographic coming through with a great balance of diversity, particularly gender diversity in that new demographic," he said.
"We’ve got this new group of fans that we need to continue to engage with, and I think we’ve taken the opportunity of giving our fans a much deeper insight into the sport than they had before.
“I can see why personalities are appealing. And as you know we’ve opened up social media, which has its downsides [but] we’re never gonna stop that
"[At the same time] we’ve got to make sure we retain our sort of core, long-term fans," he acknowledged. "We don’t want to alienate them, and that’s why I say I think the integrity of the racing is critical.”
One key area of dispute is over reverse grid races. Brawn can see the appeal, but worries that it might be a step too far for long-standing F1 fans.
“Reverse grids would be pretty entertaining. I think most of us would love to see what would happen," he said. “But there is an element of our fans who think that is getting too synthetic, too 'World Wrestling' sort of thing.
"I can see why a reverse grid could be divisive and could unsettle some of our fans and that’s something we’ve got to [consider]," he agreed.
"[They think] you should reward the best guys and so on. I get that as well and I think we’ve got to be very cautious on that side of things."
There was also initial resistance toward sprint races, but next year will see six of them on the calendar - and Brawn himself is solidly in favour of the format. "I think the sprint is great," he said unequivocally.
"A sprint race can only add because it’s a competition, it’s a contest, best guy wins, smartest guy wins. It’s a meritocracy, an additional demonstration of the drivers’ talents during a race weekend.
“I can’t see why anyone would really have a problem with that. That should, if they’ve got an open mind, appeal to all our fans."
Asked how he felt about the overall state of F1 as he prepares to step away, Brawn said “I think it’s pretty good." And while he's not the sort of person to boast, Brawn can take a large share of the credit for that positive outlook.
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