The world is changing fast and the pace of that change is accelerating. It's leaving Formula 1 in an uncertain place, with challenges on every level. Currently, the bulk of F1 income is via TV companies, in turn funded by their advertisers.
What happens in future as online content and TV coverage overlap or even merge, and the advertising revenue drops? Is the era of big TV money coming to an end? In the music industry, downloading has effectively killed the big record companies and the business model is now for the music to be merely a magnet for the live performances, which is now where the money is made.
Is there a lesson there for F1? It's not difficult to see a future where the commercial rights are held by 'content providers' who charge the circuits (a much smaller fee than currently) to hold a grand prix, which they then film: no big money deals necessary between TV companies and commercial-rights holders, because they're one and the same thing. The content is used not primarily to sell to advertisers, but just to enhance the gate money for each event.
The circuits get a fairer deal but the content provider/commercial-rights holder gets a percentage of the gate money. Too radical? The future is going to be radical. Entities too wrapped up in the past - even the recent past - will die. Just as technology allowed music to seep out of the control of big business, so it may do with motor racing.
Where are F1's drivers coming from in future? Now that the category is no longer awash with car manufacturers, so the factory junior-driver programmes have dried up. Of the current grid, Alonso, Grosjean, Hamilton, Heidfeld, Kobayashi, Kovalainen, Rosberg, Vettel and Webber have all benefited to varying degrees from patronage and/or financial help from manufacturer junior-driver schemes.
Some of those guys might have made it through regardless; Hamilton was very much a Ron Dennis pet project, even if Mercedes did invest in him as a result, and it's difficult to imagine Rosberg's family connections not being able to have found him a way in. But without the manufacturers it's perfectly feasible that F1 might never have seen Alonso, Vettel, Webber or Kubica. Alonso's father was an explosives expert in the local quarries, Vettel's ran a family roofing business, Kubica's a small printing shop. Getting on the manufacturer rungs was vital in their career progression. They could so easily otherwise have been forced to accept lesser rides that never even hinted at how special they were, and been forced to leave the sport entirely or exist on its margins.
There will always be a crop of new young drivers ready to take their place in F1. But by effectively limiting access to those with consistent access to private budgets, you're massively restricting the quality of the intake. By definition, many of the best ones will have been weeded out long before they arrive on the verge of F1. This is how it was before the most recent manufacturer era; a whole lost generation of wonderfully talented drivers of the 1980s and early '90s were never able to bless F1 with their gifts. What we got in their place was good enough to keep the show rolling, so who cared? Certainly not the powers that be.
We currently have a great depth of talent in F1. It's not overstating the case to say there was a decisive gap from Schumacher and Hakkinen to the rest in the post-Senna era, but now we have a top half-dozen of exceptional calibre.
It isn't a coincidence this has come about in the wake of manufacturer junior-driver programmes.
But if the digital future means less money, then the sport itself will surely become less expensive - all the way down the categories? Maybe it could then continue to be accessible to a relatively wide band, even without the help of big business. You see, much as big business has been providing the sport with riches, so it has been escalating the cost. The future is bright, the future is small.