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F1 teams say new owners need time to develop strategy

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SINGAPORE (AP) Formula One teams have welcomed the commercial takeover of the sport by American company Liberty Media and the prospects of improving the product on and off the track, while cautioning that such changes won’t come any time soon.

This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix is the first since Liberty struck an agreement for an $8 billion staged takeover of the sport, with controlling shareholder CVC Capital selling out and minority shareholders to follow.

The new Liberty-installed chairman of Formula One is Chase Carey, an American who formerly ran 21st Century Fox. Accompanied by long-term F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone – who will stay on for the short term under the new owners – Carey visited the race paddock at Marina Bay on the weekend and had an opportunity to meet team bosses.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner welcomed a return to hands-on ownership and said Liberty’s media expertise should boost F1’s presence in new media, an area where it is viewed as being slow to capitalize.

“Rather than having a venture capitalist or a financial institution buying into the sport, it’s far better that a company like Liberty has bought in and hopefully that will address some of the areas we have been weak in previously,” Horner said. “Hopefully for the US market it could be a great thing and some of the other platforms like the digital and social platforms could also be very interesting.”

Liberty does have the capacity to make some changes in the near term – such as to the season calendar, promotion and media coverage – but the fundamental changes to the sport that many are urging will need more patient negotiation. Changes to the program of race weekends, rules governing car design and fairer distribution of revenue to teams are governed by the secretive Concorde Agreement – between the owners, the teams and the FIA, the sport’s governing body. The latest iteration of that agreement runs through the end of 2020 so big changes to the sport are some way off.

“It’s not so much what’s going to happen in 2017 or 18, it’s what does the future beyond 2020 hold in store,” Horner said.

“It’s great they’ve come to agreement with Bernie for him to be around for a few years to come, because that intervening period is going to be crucial. He (Carey) is going to have to get himself up to speed with the business and then decide what actions they want to take for the future.”

Maurizio Arrivabene, the team principal of the sport’s perennial power Ferrari, said Liberty clearly sees potential to grow the sport, given the amount of money invested, but also said it will take time for them to develop and enact a strategy.

“Normally what you do when you buy something, you are listening, learning, sharing and acting,” Arrivabene said. “All these phases are going to happen, and they request good time to make sure that the sport is growing.”

Cyril Abiteboul, team principal of Renault, hopes the new owners can forge agreement on a better balance between no-holds-barred technological development on the one hand, and close and entertaining racing on the other.

“A number of partners want to showcase technology, which sometimes goes against the interests of entertainment and the show,” Abiteboul said. “So it will be interesting to see, with the arrival of a pure player on entertainment and show, how it can impact the product.”

Guenther Steiner, operational chief of the U.S.-owned Haas team, believes the arrival of a U.S. company should not only boost the sport’s presence in that key market, but might bring about some blue-sky thinking.

“There is big potential in the States, so we being an American team, we hope they bring that to fruition,” Steiner said. “We are more than happy to help them to do anything they need to do in the United States.

“We are waiting for their plan because maybe they have got some ideas we haven’t thought of. We are quite stubborn in this business, we just keep on asking for the same. Maybe they’ve got some great ideas as we can support them and help them along.”

Red Bull driver Verstappen wins Formula One’s Brazilian GP

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won Formula One’s Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday for his eighth career victory in a race which ended disastrously for both Ferrari drivers.

Verstappen controlled nearly all the race at Interlagos, which saw a dramatic late collision between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc when they fought for the fourth position. Both failed to finish.

Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly got his first F1 podium after finishing second ahead of six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver was third but faces an investigation after an incident that caused Red Bull’s Alexander Albon to spin.

Hamilton, who won at Interlagos in 2018, said Verstappen was “just quicker than us on the straights” and “there was nothing more we could do.”

Dutch driver Verstappen said “Lewis was very quick so I had to keep pushing… we had two good moves with him, and from there onward I could control the race.”

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was fourth, and could be promoted to third if Hamilton is punished.

The Brazilian GP on Sunday was the penultimate race of the season, with only Abu Dhabi left on Dec.1.

Hamilton had already secured the season title in the previous race in the United States. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who did not finish the race, had also secured the runner-up spot.