Some people give me a hard time about banging on about the way in which journalism in F1 (and in general) is disappearing beneath the throngs of amateurs, who pretend that they are in the F1 paddock, undermining the professionals in the business. The latest development in this disastrous trend is the news that Haymarket Media Group has agreed to sell its motorsport brands to the Motorsport Network. This includes my alma mater Autosport, in addition to Autosport.com, F1 Racing (the UK edition plus 14 international licensed editions), Motorsport News, the motorsport photographic agency LAT and the Autosport International Show and the Autosport Awards. It is not clear how much was paid for the acquisition, but the Motorsport Network has tried to buy lots of things in recent years, but never seems keen to spend much money.
The Miami-based company, which owns Motorsport.com, is trying to consolidate as many motorsport readers as possible and then sell advertising on the basis that it has x million people wanting to look at online ads. The margins in this game are tight and funding all these operations means that the number of journalists involved will inevitably reduce, in order to save money and be more cost-effective.
Motor racing has been part of the Haymarket empire since slightly before the dawn of time, when Michael Heseltine bought Autosport, back in 1967 when it was owned by the British Printing Corporation. This had acquired the title in lieu of unpaid print bills. The magazine was housed in “a seedy room over a dirty bookshop in Paddington” until one day a man with a mane of blond hair walked in and started noting down the number of chairs and typewriters. It was Michael Heseltine and he had just acquired the title. In its heyday, Autosport was a solid earner, producing £1 million a year in profits. It was the place where many of the best-known motorsport writers began their careers, learning the trade from old hands and working hard but getting experience thanks to Haymarket paying the travel bills. In later years, Haymarket increased its motor racing portfolio, but a drift towards sensationalism in Autosport, in a misguided effort to attract new readers, led to the erosion of the old hardcore fans. The switch to online activities have clearly not arrested that decline because if they had, Haymarket would not now be offloading the magazines. Probably, a lot of the staff will be “rationalised”. It remains to be seen how many of the titles will survive, but if motorsport.com can sell advertising across all the brands then the major names will survive.
The competition authorities need not be involved because GrandPrix+ still exists and intends to continue to record the history of motorsport without resorting to sensationalism…