The current global situation has prompted Liberty Media to sell off Formula 1 - and Disney has decided to take on the challenge
As with many other businesses around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on Formula 1. With several races this season either cancelled or postponed, and global lockdowns and travel restrictions now expected to last months, not weeks, Liberty Media has sold off its ownership of the sport after just three years at the helm. Predictions are that this season will have to be cancelled entirely and so, before the sport’s value plummets too much, Chase Carey got together with other board members shortly after the Australian GP weekend and made the executive decision to sell.
Practically, it makes sense. Rather than having to wait months for the various legal issues to be sorted in such a big sale, the Walt Disney Company (which reportedly made offers to buy the sport from Bernie Ecclestone and CVC in 2016 as a promotional stunt for the launch of Cars 3) jumped on the opportunity, paying just over $4 billion for ownership of the Formula 1 Group.
Realistically, it’s hoped that the deal will be finalised by the middle of this year, which should theoretically mean that Disney will have full ownership by the time of the next grand prix - whatever that may be. Chase Carey will be stepping away from his role as F1 CEO and replaced by current Disney president Clark Spencer. It’s believed that Ross Brawn will remain in his role as F1 sporting chief (a wise choice), although it’s rumoured that former Disney and Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter will be brought onboard to work alongside him and help to make the sport more entertaining.
It’s also been highlighted that we won’t have to worry about this having any major impacts on the sport as Disney has already stated the new regulations in 2022 will still happen as planned. However, Spencer has revealed that there are some adjustments that will start to come into play sooner.
Lasseter, meanwhile, has already said that he wants to rebuild the Walt Disney World Speedway near the Disney World Resort in Florida which once hosted IndyCar and Nascar events, but this time with a revamped road course layout that will be suitable for F1. He said:
“Firstly, we absolutely need to have a track at Disney World on the calendar by 2022 at the latest. We’re going to make it a great event, somewhere that families can come and enjoy an incredible time. We’re going to offer weekend package deals that grant fans access to the hotels and rides around the resort - we really think we can change the way people think about attending a grand prix. We’ve already got some designs drawn up for the circuit - we want plenty of slow, tight, technical corners. It needs to have a real Mickey Mouse layout.”
On top of the new circuit, Disney also has some ideas for how to ease the financial strain on the teams. As well as Liberty’s budget cap plan (which is still going ahead), Disney will also offer teams a $25 million grant per year if they become a ‘Disney Franchise’. The idea is that each team will be allocated a Disney film to represent throughout the season which the teams will promote and embrace each year. For instance, Ferrari’s red would be well suited to The Incredibles, Mercedes could be backed by Robin Hood (Silver Arrows, obviously), while the Williams cars could be decked out in images of Elsa and Anna, because their progress over the last few years has clearly been Frozen.
Over-the-top streaming services will also be revamped. F1 TV is being dropped and races will instead be broadcast on the Disney+ platform at no extra cost. Each race will also have a sing-along version available a few days after the race, whereby the commentary of David Croft and Martin Brundle will be autotuned into an overly-catchy earworm designed to get children interested and involved with the sport.
Lasseter is also keen to incorporate more Disney merchandising into the races. A team of Disney ‘imagineers’ is already working on a way to build a real-life Lightning McQueen - complete with its own AI personality and intuition - which complies with the 2022 regulations and can compete for the world championship. You’d think that teams would be against such radical changes, but apparently not - Ferrari has already agreed for its pit crew to wear Guido costumes during the pit stops.
Startling though all of these changes may sound, having a company that understands entertainment as much as Disney does running F1 can only be a good thing for the sport. The only proposal we’re not a fan of is the mooted plan for Ralf Schumacher to compete in every future Chinese and Vietnamese Grand Prix with the sole goal of smashing into other cars, therefore testing the avoidance skills of other drivers. Having Wreck-it Ralph in all of the April races seems… I dunno, kinda foolish.