Dec.19 (GMM) Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has warned that his native Italy faces a battle to keep both of its grands prix on the calendar.
Currently, both Monza and Imola are on the schedule – and Domenicali admits the latter helped the sport he leads negotiate the pandemic era.
“Covid-19 could have been deadly for Formula 1,” he told the Rai radio program La Politica nel Pallone.
“We have managed to build growth step by step which has led us, to date, to be one of the most followed sports platforms in the world.”
But there are widespread fears that F1’s booming popularity could begin to wane if Red Bull and Max Verstappen continue to dominate.
“The season just concluded was extremely positive for Formula 1 as a whole,” Domenicali insists, “despite the dominance of Max Verstappen.
“We have grown in attention, we have conquered new markets and we have developed new products.”
One such ‘new product’ is Saturday sprint racing, with the format to be tweaked for 2024.
“The data shows that there is this interest, because the concept of days dedicated only to free practice does not give the right inspiration.
“All sports are changing. Everyone has to pay attention to what is happening in the world.”
Some long-time ‘purist’ fans, however, worry that it’s not necessarily Verstappen’s dominance that threatens F1, but the increasingly show-business aspects to the sport.
“We must have respect for those who grew up on bread and Formula 1,” Domenicali smiled, “because they have always followed us. We must accept the criticism, if it is done in a constructive way, whilst also exciting new fans.
“Through the most expert, we must educate these new fans in the values of tradition so they can understand what is behind Formula 1. But tradition is something that has value if it is updated to the future.
“Otherwise it remains something seen only in black and white. This is a central theme of our attention.”
On Verstappen’s dominance, Domenicali explained: “Our sport is always characterised by cycles – a combination of a very strong car and an extraordinary driver.
“With Max we have a mature driver in race and qualifying management. In that way he reminds me of Michael Schumacher in not leaving anything for anyone else.”
Domenicali worked closely with Schumacher at Ferrari, so he was asked about the ten-year anniversary of the seven time world champion’s ski accident.
“It seems like yesterday,” said the Italian. “These are episodes that change your life.
“Out of respect for him and his family we must stay close to him as this difficult situation continues. What is between myself and the family remains private, but living like this for ten years is something you would never wish even on your worst enemy.”
Domenicali’s interview also waded into the thorny issue of relations between Formula One Management and the governing FIA, currently led by the controversial Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
“The more F1 grows,” he said, “the more the differentiation between the FIA and F1 disappears.
“We need a sports platform that has a diversification of expertise, while everyone examines their conscience.”
Finally, the 58-year-old was asked about the sustainability of keeping two grands prix in Italy – on a calendar that is now bursting at the seams.
“We are negotiating,” Domenicali said, “but we need elements to carry this negotiation forward.
“I often hear from Angelo Sticchi Damiani,” he added, “but it is December. The work in Monza was supposed to start immediately after the grand prix – now it should start shortly.
“My push is a constructive push. We must keep pace with the times. In 2020, Imola had an extraordinary opportunity and were ready for the unexpected call.
“The flood tragedy then didn’t allow us to race so we can’t wait to race there again, but it’s all about understanding the desire to invest in F1 as a racing platform.
“Entertainment and business can no longer be on a private level. It is our country that must make a precise choice,” Domenicali concluded.