Nicholas Todt plays the long game.

The ‘who is going where’ silly season starts early with all sorts of speculation on F1’s game of musical chairs.

Heavily involved are the driver’s management teams and when it comes to driver management the power brokers that come to mind are the usual suspects of Toto Wolff and Helmet Marko. 

In fact, one of the most powerful individuals behind the scenes is the ambitious and well-connected Nicolas Todt.

Nicolas of course must live with being the son of former Ferrari team principal and current FIA president Jean Todt and all the resulting accusations of nepotism.

Nicolas Todt is a serious player managing the careers of the likes of Daniil Kvyat and Charles Leclerc through his All Road Management company which he founded in 2003.

His journey started when Felipe Massa asked him to become his manager and so began Todt’s rise to power.

Todt’s strategy was clear, find the drivers young before they are signed up and to this end, he bought into Birel ART a big player in the karting world.

Todt explains, “I look for the best talents and need to sign them young because it’s a competitive landscape, to say the least. If they’re already in F2 and winning races they’ll already be in discussions with F1 teams and it won’t make sense to sign with someone like me. So, I try to follow karting very closely because that’s the grassroots, where 99% of the best drivers start.”

Todt first met Charles Leclerc when he was a 13-year-old kart racer and told Corriere della Sera, “I talk to the best people in the industry and form an opinion. In karts they told me that Charles was special.”

Hoping history will repeat itself in 2018 he signed another 13-year-old, Italian driver, Gabriele Mini.

The signs are looking good with Mini now competing in the lower formulae and last year he took the first three pole positions and a race win in the Italian F4 Championship.

Todt like with Leclerc beforehand will have had to finance the youngster something that does not come cheap.

Toto Wolff has recently questioned the whole system saying, “What I think we can do is make sure that grassroots racing becomes more affordable, so kids that haven’t got any financial background can actually be successful in the junior formulas.

“All the big Formula 1 teams [need to be] able to identify those kids, rather than making it so expensive that a good go-karting season costs €250,000, an F4 season €500,000, and an F3 season €1 million.

“That is totally absurd, [and] needs to stop, because we want to have access. I think we need to give access to kids that are interested in go-karting, the opportunity to race for much more affordable budgets.”

For the numbers to add up for Todt he needs a backed driver to make it into F1 as Leclerc did and on an estimated 2021 salary of €10m Todt will pocket €2m.

You can imagine Todt disagreeing with Leclerc when he told il Giornale last week, “I wouldn’t leave Ferrari even if he was offered double the salary.”

Until the end of 2018 Todt was the co-owner of the motorsport team ART Grand Prix which he founded with current Sauber team principal Frederic Vasseur in 2004. 

Todt confirmed in 2019 that he would have a role in Mick Schumacher’s career telling Sky Sports, “My job for Mick is to advise the family to guide them and give them some advice what I think they could do.” Adding it was his job to protect him.

Todt acknowledged his father’s influence in an interview with Forbes Monaco back in 2019 he said, “Having a Dad like this for sure helped me to enter this industry because I was able to follow motorsport closely from a young age and develop a very good network.”

An understatement to say the least!

When it comes to Todt Snr it would be fair to say he is not without his critics, but it says a lot about him as a human being that he still regularly visits Michael Schumacher.

Last week Todt told Corriere della Sera, “I see Michael at least twice a month. I never leave him alone. Corinna, the family: we’ve had so many experiences together. The beauty of what we have experienced is part of us and it goes on.”

A true friend can be measured in not only the good times but more importantly the bad times.

The last word goes to Nicholas who once said, “You can be a great manager but if you aren’t working with the right driver you will never make it. You can’t turn a donkey into a racehorse!”

F1 cars on the grid

In the Pit Lane – Amazon, Apple, and Disney have competition.

The recently published Nielsen Sports’ report found interest in F1 was driven by younger audiences galvanised by F1’s social media, Netflix’s drive to survive, and esports.

The research found 77% of the growth came from the 16 to 35 age group, which is equivalent to 46% of F1’s fandom in 2021.

Nielson Sports predict a billion people will be interested in F1 by April 2022.

Stefano Domenicali told investors back in February that, “We saw only a marginal reduction in TV audiences, caused by multiple reasons but clearly driven by a shortened and limited geographical calendar compared to 2019, but something every major sport has experienced in 2020. We are proud of what we delivered in 2020 and know we have an incredibly strong fan base and audience platform to grow in the coming years.”

So as Liberty Media continues to pursue the promised land of digital streaming the giants of Amazon, Apple, and Disney may have a serious competitor in DAZN the global sports subscription service and media company.

DAZN has just launched a 24/7 dedicated Spanish language channel DAZN F1 in Spain after reaching an agreement with Telefonica’s Moviestar+ to broadcast races until the start of 2024.

The channel will have veteran Spanish F1 commentator Antonio Lobato and ex-F1 driver, Pedro de la Rosa, heading up the coverage.

DAZN is already covering most sports and is involved in motorsport covering Indy car, FormulaE, ExtremeE, the Dakar Rally, the World Endurance, and the World Touring car series.

DAZN it is believed have their sights on 20 Spanish speaking countries and the next step will include a Portuguese F1 channel to cover 11 Portuguese speaking countries.

In February DAZN announced its sponsorship of the Scuderia AlphaTauri team for the 2021 season and signed Yuki Tsunoda as a brand ambassador in Japan

DAZN means business and in March 2020 they announced the expansion into 200 countries worldwide with its boxing coverage spearheading the growth.

When Covid-19 struck DAZN suffered the loss of content and an exodus of subscribers from its service which had ironically marketed its cancel anytime policy as a selling point to fans.

The service did launch in December 2020 with an aggressive starting price point of £1.99 for its boxing which will have had the likes of Sky Sports worried.

In April, The Athletic website reported boxing promoter Eddie Hearn had struck a record-breaking nine-figure deal with DAZN, ending an exclusive Sky Sports partnership.

DAZN is ambitious and is not hanging around with the company securing the rights to show seven exclusive Italian Serie A football matches per week in a deal worth $987m per season.

Even with these sums of money involved DAZN co-chief executive James Rushton told SportBusiness that DAZN would make money on the deal stating, “DAZN is a high-growth tech business but the most important thing for me is doing deals on solid and sensible unit economics. I’m not interested in vanity projects or making big splashes in the market that don’t make sense.

“We will make money on Serie A in Italy. No doubt about it.”

Rushton claims the service will be a ‘fans-first model’ by remaining ‘accessible’’ and ‘value priced’.

Not words the F1 fan who watches their sport on free-to-air TV with neither the inclination nor money to watch behind a paywall will want to hear.

Rushton believes the move away from TV is inevitable telling Forbes, “There is a seminal change happening in the balance of power between linear TV and [Over the Top (OTT) providers] where rightsholders recognize the future of their sport is with platforms like DAZN,” he says. “The tipping point has happened.”

DAZN is looking to that new younger audience Liberty is cultivating hoping to attract them with flexible contracts, cheaper subscriptions, and the ability to watch on the device of their choice.

DAZN like the other players in the market need to invest upfront often incurring losses witnessed by a 76% increase in subscribers pre the pandemic but a resulting $1.4 billion loss.

DAZN may not have the financial firepower of the likes of Amazon, Disney, and Apple but it does have deep pockets as it is owned by the multinational industrial group Access Industries best known for its ownership of the Warner Music Group.

As is often the case in F1 a billionaire is involved, step forward Ukraine born but London based Sir Leonard Blavatnik worth $32bn making him Britain richest man ahead of INEOS boss and Mercedes team shareholder Sir James Ratcliffe at $17bn.

Blavatnick gained control of the DAZN group back in 2014 when Access Industries increased its stake in the company from 42.5% to 77%.

Blavatnick like fellow billionaire Dmitry Mazepin made his first fortune during the ‘privatisation’ of Russian state assets selling his stake in Russian oil company TNK-BP for $7 billion back in 2013.

Blavatnick as the 46th richest man on the planet has all the billionaire playthings owning the obligatory $80m 242 ft superyacht Odessa 11 and no less than 4 private jets including a $150m Boeing 767.

He is also a philanthropist having pledged over $700m mostly to universities, including Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard.

Time will tell who will win the battle for F1’s coverage but no doubt as always the case in F1, cash will be king.