HERITAGE ON THE LINE
Will 2019 be the last Grand Prix at Silverstone? Don’t bank on it
LIBERTY Media’s inherited-problems-to-solve list will have been full to over owing since the American company took ownership of F1 last September. One of the most potentially troublesome items yet to have received a strike-through is the question of what to do about ensuring the future of F1’s so-called “classic” Grands Prix.
The races in Britain, Germany, Monaco, Belgium and Italy have been on the schedule since the start of the world championship 67 years ago. And that brings both its bene ts and problems. The plus points are bound in the tradition and affection generated by these races and woven into the sport’s history. The downside is their perpetual struggle to make ends meet, a dif culty exacerbated by the demands of Bernie Ecclestone’s punitive fees on behalf of the sport’s previous owners (plus a handy percentage for himself, of course).
Monaco, as you’d expect, is a special case, but the swingeing levy for the right to hold a GP has hurt some; particularly Silverstone, home of the British GP and the very rst round of the championship in May 1950.
Silverstone signed its current 17year contract at the end of 2009. It knew the going would be tough due to an annual 5% escalator that pushed the fee to £12 million for 2010 and £16,9 million this year. But it was either that or no British Grand Prix, Ecclestone putting the deal before any charitable thought about Silverstone’s place in history and in the minds of more than 100 000 fans dutifully paying exceptionally high admission prices each year.
Silverstone is owned by the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) and, accepting that the business model would be tenuous to say the least, it did not foresee the worldwide recession tightening the nancial screw even further. The British Grand Prix lost £2,8 million in 2015 and £4,8 million last year.
The arrival of Liberty Media presented an opportunity for the BRDC to signal the need for renegotiation. A break clause of two years’ notice had been written into the original contract on the understanding that, if necessary, it had to be exercised before the 2017 British Grand Prix. With a fee of £25 million looming in 2025, it was no surprise when the BRDC activated the clause. As things stand, 2019 will be the last Grand Prix at Silverstone.
This has presented Liberty Media with a problem. It is aware of Silverstone’s importance but, if it reduces the scandalous 5% annual increase for this event, the Italian, Belgian and German organisers will also be kicking down Liberty’s door in no time at all.
There are other complications insofar as Silverstone actually pays less than Bahrain (£31 million), Russia (£38,7 million) and Azerbaijan (£58 million). That argument won’t wash with the BRDC because it is a private members’ club, receiving zero assistance from the British Government … and unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future given the parlous state of the country’s economy and government ministers’ preoccupation with negotiating the long and bumpy road towards some sort of exit from the European Union. In any case, the more recent arrivals on the F1 calendar are government-backed as an expedient means of using the Grand Prix to make everything look ne and dandy in their respective countries.
Liberty Media will be aware that Silverstone remains at the heart of the British motorsport industry, which is worth £10,5 billion, and employs 45 000 people with 75% of their output being exported. The majority of the F1 teams is also based in the UK, with an accompanying fan base. Being responsible for getting rid of the British Grand Prix would not be ideal for Liberty Media’s PR and the company’s avowed intent to reach out and connect with F1’s supporters.
However, all may not be lost from Liberty’s point of view, given that it favours staging races in so-called “destination cities”, citing New York, Berlin and Las Vegas as examples of where it wishes to use a city’s streets to bring F1 to the people. Prior to the British GP, Liberty staged a highly successful promotional event in the heart of London as F1 cars strutted their noisy stuff.
This, of course, triggered rumours of a London GP, but staging a demonstration and running an actual race are two different scenarios; think disruption, pollution and noise. Given that it takes months to set up a proper racetrack, the centre of London would seem out of the question. Then again, that does not rule out using a currently undeveloped part of London’s docklands. Which, in turn, raises the question of who would foot the bill.
I’m not a gambling man, but I’d say it’s a safe bet to book your room for the 2020 British GP ... at Silverstone.