Pirelli chief floats proposal for major F1 overhaul

Formula One tyre supplier Pirelli has put forward a fresh blueprint for Formula One that would revamp the motor racing series’ calendar into three distinct continental blocks.

The Italian company’s motorsport director, Paul Hembery, enjoys a close relationship with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and told UK newspaper the Guardian that the sport must reform in the face of its current problems.

Ecclestone and International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt were last week handed a new mandate to address “pressing issues” affecting Formula One following the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris. Todt and Ecclestone have been asked to make recommendations and decisions on issues such as governance, power units and cost reduction by January 31.

The new format proposed by Hembery would see three seasons within a season, with a separate series of races in Europe, the Americas and Australasia, along with two meaningful breaks. Hembery’s plan would help ease some of the current complicated travel arrangements between continents, but its main aim is to strengthen support for F1 in the US.

Hembery told the Guardian: “I will be talking to Bernie shortly about this. I haven’t worked out the logistical problems. It’s up to the teams to do that. But this is all about getting more interest in Formula One, and particularly in the Americas. The market people all say the same thing, which is that the biggest problem in F1 is with the timings. They are all for Europe, which means in America they have to get up ridiculously early to watch the racing.”

Pirelli holds a powerful position in F1 and in October agreed a three-year extension to its commercial partnership with the series for the 2017 to 2019 seasons. Along with its status as Formula One’s exclusive tyre supplier, Pirelli enjoys comprehensive branding rights as part of its partnership. The company has also served as title sponsor of this season’s Spanish and Hungarian grand prix races in Barcelona and Budapest, respectively.

Hembery said: “There are so many barbed comments about F1 being boring. And if we’re not careful we’re going to talk ourselves into a sport which nobody wants to watch. We are in danger of creating our own downfall. There is too much negativity about the sport. And if we do nothing we will have what we have now, which is unacceptable. The most recent changes we made, with technical regulations, haven’t worked. They worked for Mercedes, who have done an outstanding job. But it hasn’t worked for others.

“We’ve lost (engine) noise, which has always been a big element of Formula One. And we’ve created a complexity, because some engine manufactures have found it a really big challenge. And all the time the costs have gone up. What we have to do is create a more compelling product for the public, who want to see more overtaking and epic battles.”

Under Hembery’s proposal each continent, or series, would produce its own champion, leading towards an overall champion at the end of the year. Australasia would serve as the natural stating point before F1 moves to Europe and concludes in the Americas. Ecclestone told UK broadcaster Sky Sports yesterday (Wednesday) that he expects next year's US Grand Prix in Austin to go ahead, despite ongoing concern about state funding for the event.

Hembery added: “To lose Austin so soon after getting there – and it’s a good circuit and a well organised show which the fans enjoy – would be phenomenally negative for the sport. I also think it’s important to have a race in California. With this regional idea we could create a concentrated interest in the sport and help build a real fan base. If we carry on making Formula One for European television we will end up with a Europe-only audience.”

Meanwhile, Ecclestone has dampened talk over a takeover for F1, rumours of which have rumbled on for months. The F1 chief was quoted recently by German newspaper Handelsblatt as saying controlling shareholder, private equity group CVC Capital Partners, was likely to decide by March.

However, Ecclestone told Sky that CVC, whose co-chairman Donald Mackenzie has been a regular race attendee, would take some persuading. Ecclestone said: “The bottom line is simple: in the end, the major shareholder really doesn't want to sell. That's really the truth of things. People keep tempting him. And one day maybe…at the moment, there's people that may be doing a little more than in the past. But I think it will be difficult to get him to say yes.”