Formula One's new owner, Liberty Media, is facing a big challenge: Modernize the world's most watched, most technically sophisticated motor sports series or watch a multi-billion-dollar investment vanish.
F1 gets little credit for achieving an engineering feat that makes automakers jealous. That breakthrough came three years ago when the series switched to downsized turbocharged engines with advanced hybrid systems that increased performance while slashing fuel consumption by about 30 percent. Despite this, F1 races are all but exciting. As a result, the global TV audience is decreasing, fans are staying away from the racetracks and many teams are struggling just to get a vehicle to the starting grid.
F1's decline comes at a bad time for Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, which has dominated the last three seasons, reducing the battle for the drivers' title to a family feud between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. With two cars regularly competing for the podium, Mercedes will easily earn the constructors' title.
Renault, after a five-year absence, returned to F1 this season mainly to increase its brand awareness in China. And then there is Ferrari, the only automaker that has participated in F1 since its inaugural season in 1950 but hasn't won a world title since 2007.
Those European automakers are closely watching Liberty Media's takeover of F1. The company has promised a long-term strategy for the cash-rich sport that includes a sharper focus on new media markets and another attempt to expand in North America.
The deal, valued at $8 billion including debt, gives a U.S. media and telecoms business effective control of the sport. This is a change from the more customary situation where such companies pay the sport for things such as broadcast rights.
F1 is a money machine, with estimated annual revenue expected to be near $2 billion this year from a record 21 Grand Prix races. Its success is driven by its CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, who transformed the sport's fortunes over the past four decades and turns 86 this month. F1's problem is that it successfully increased revenues for Mr. Ecclestone and for a bunch of F1 top teams, but it was -- and it is -- unable to change with the times.
Races that last between 90 minutes and two hours are too long for today's fast-moving world. Continued rule changes designed to increase competition have only added confusion.
To further boost revenue F1 got cash-rich nations such as Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Azerbaijan to pay the estimated $6 million to $10 million to host a Grand Prix. The series, however, holds just one of its 21 races in the crucial U.S. market, where F1 remains a little-known player.
The entire F1 business is based on TV rights -- roughly 30 percent to 35 percent of total revenues -- but young people are not watching TV, they are streaming the events they want to see on their computers or mobile devices.
Along with living in an analog world, F1 has no significant presence in social media. That is not the case for the Formula E electric race car series, which is so interactive that it allows fans using social media to give a power boost to their favorite driver.
Being an F1 fan for more than 40 years and one of the last people on the planet without a Facebook profile, the idea of giving my favorite driver some extra power using my smartphone is completely crazy to me. But just by looking at my family I can see why F1 is failing. My 88-year-old father watches the start and soon walks away because the race it too long and too boring (wise man).
My 22-year-old son often skips F1, but he never misses a MotoGP race. He loves that the motorbike races take 30 minutes and that there is constant action because of all the lead changes (smart guy). In addition, there have been eight different winners in 13 races so far this year.
That leaves me, the diehard fan, watching F1 alone. I have come to accept two sad truths: 1) If F1 continues to lose young viewers like my son it will die and 2) it probably would be better for me to exercise for the two hours that I give to the sport on my couch, although I do occasionally manage a power nap.