MARCH 23, 2017
Liberty to sell paddock passes to the public
F1's new owners Liberty Media have followed through on a promise to start opening up the paddock to the public.
In the Bernie Ecclestone era, the now ousted 86-year-old fiercely guarded the sanctity of the paddock and the elusive 'passes' that provided rare access.
This approach has been criticised by some, including German motor racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck.
"When the fans see how everything is sealed off, I can only say 'No wonder they leave F1 behind'," he told the German business magazine Sponsors.
However, as recently as last week, Ecclestone has been defending that philosophy.
"In F1, we have been running a five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint," he told the Mail on Sunday.
Ecclestone hinted at the new approach to be taken by Liberty, saying "They have an American culture and at an American race everyone is in the paddock and the pits".
Indeed, it appears that Liberty is already changing tack.
The company announced ahead of the Australian grand prix that a new initiative called 'F1 Experiences' will give fans the ability to buy paddock access.
"We want people to experience the thrill of this exhilarating sport and that is what the programme will deliver," said Liberty's F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches.
But there is already resistance to Liberty's new approach.
One source told us a team sponsor thinks it will "devalue the currency" of F1, as paddock passes "are at the heart of most deals".
"Although they will still get them (passes), they won't be anywhere near as valuable because anyone will be able to buy access," the source added.
But Liberty Media seems determined to push ahead, with new F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn telling Auto Bild: "It's a fact that people need to get more for their money."