It’s Not All Doom And Gloom.
Now unless you have been living under a rock then you will know that the decision has been made by the BRDC (British Racing Driver’s Club) to effectively end their F1 race deal after 2019. Now this, whilst having been rumoured for ages, is of course huge news for the world of F1. Silverstone and England is arguably the heart-land of the sport: Britian has had more World Driver’s Champions than any other nation, almost all of the teams in the Paddock operate within a relative stone throw to the circuit; with Force India literally on the doorstep. But fundamentally England boasts a huge fan following which is integral to the continuation of F1. So the question remains, why will this race be axed?
The answer has nothing to do with desire or lack there-of and it has all to do with Finances; the BRDC have recorded a net-loss of 7.6 million pounds over the last two years of hosting the race. Now, the way that Bernie Ecclestone, the previous chief of F1 and the BRDC structured the deal was that the cost was set to even further increase up to the year of 2027 where it would have cost the circuit more than double the 12 million it costs today. This is hardly surprising and is a hall-mark of the Ecclestone reign; generating profit above all for the sport. Many have called it greed, many have called it sharp business; many have blamed the UK government for failing to give subsidies to the circuit and motorsport business in general which generates huge amounts of tourism and jobs in the UK. But whatever the reason or wherever the blame lies, Silverstone want to pull out in 2019. I am here to explore what this might mean and what options are presented to us. Maybe it is not all doom and gloom, if we think about it.
1. The London Grand Prix
Probably F1’s worst kept secret is that it would like to explore the option of a race on the streets of London. Indeed, perhaps there has been anticipation for this for a while; recently the UK government opened up legislation to allow racing on the streets of Britain. If you look at areas such as The Isle Of Man and the huge influx of tourism due to the famous TT motorcycle race, then perhaps this is something the main-land is hoping to capture? But what it certainly would allow a London Grand Prix to take place; even the Mayor Sadiq Khan agrees that it ‘could’ happen sooner rather than later. Possible areas touted for the race are Hyde Park, which could see a similar kind of circuit to be developed as Albert Park in Australia, or the Docklands area which provides a stunning view of the high-rise financial district and perhaps we would end up with a race similar to Baku or Singapore. I would prefer to see the former in all honesty, but either would be a very interesting development.
2. Donington Park
Donington Park is another serious option for replacing Silverstone. After all the circuit was the scene of the greatest lap in F1 history during a legendary race by the single greatest driver to grace the sport. The 1993 European Grand Prix was Ayrton Senna’s finest hour and as such the winding circuit in the West Midlands holds a big place in the hearts of the fan-base. The logistical possibility is not as left-field as some might think: only as far back as 2008 did Bernie Ecclestone announce that Donington Park would hold the British Grand Prix from 2010 onwards in a 17-year deal. Obviously this did not come to pass, as a proposed Herman Tilke re-design to get the circuit up to the new F1 specifications was ditched in light of the world financial crash. Now might the organisers be in a better position to give that re-design another go? Could Donington return?
3. Brands Hatch
Another circuit which could make a return with the help of a re-design is the historic Brands Hatch circuit. However, this one might have a few more problems than Donington given that it has been around 30 years since Nigel Mansell roared to victory in 1986. But it hasn’t been for a lack of trying that Brands has gone missing. In 2002 the owners, Octagon, obtained preliminary rights from the FIA to run the British Grand Prix from that year onwards and subsequently announced the intention of rebuilding the Grand Prix Circuit. However in a U-turn by the FIA, Silverstone instead won the contract and the race continued to be held away from Brands Hatch til this very day. But it does mean if the funding was possible that the circuit could make a return to the calendar and many fans would be very happy.
Now, I could have gone on to describe the many other challenging and exciting circuits that could feasibly hold an F1 race in Britain. But I would rather pay closer attention to what I think the most likely scenarios could be. Three of those are highlighted above and the last option that is in the realms of real possibility is simply: Silverstone extend their deal or re-negotiate for another deal on different terms. This is highly possible; after all the sport has changed hands since the last deal was signed by Bernie Ecclestone. The new owners Liberty Media have been very forth-coming in their desire to secure famous races; the Canadian GP only this season signed a new long term deal and the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard has been prompted to return next year for the first time since 2008. Liberty have also said that they want to make each event ‘like a festival’ with many different activities and concerts surrounding the race as possible over the entire week. This would give Silverstone further belief that they could run to a profit as the additional crowd-pulling happenings would boost the fan turnout. Fundamentally the biggest reason that Silverstone might negotiate is that no-one really wants to lose the race: the BRDC don’t and just wish it ran profitably, Liberty probably don’t due to the huge fan-base and the fans themselves definitely don’t to see the race go. There is another will to find a way on this one. But, if we didn’t see the race held here, it wouldn’t be half the disaster that many are saying it is. Let me explain below.
A Regeneration Of British Motorsport?
There is one area of common ground in all of my ramblings above. There are options everywhere for the British Grand Prix to continue and let’s be honest it will definitely continue; whether in it’s current guise at Silverstone or in a re-imagined historic circuit or even London. So in many ways, whilst it would be sad to lose Silverstone; would it not be amazing to see the other circuits we have or could build enter into the standards that are expected by the F1 governing body? Might we not see a situation in ten years time where different circuits are fighting for the right to hold this Grand Prix? Perhaps we might even have tracks alternating the event like they used to back in the 80’s? And lastly, imagine this: when Silverstone returns, and make no mistake it will eventually return if it leaves at all, we could be in a position where the London Grand Prix is firmly established or Donington or Brands re-built. Then we might even see two or more races happening in the UK each year! They wouldn’t all be called the British Grand Prix, but what a sight that would be. It’s not all doom and gloom, so chin up drink down your tea and get your brolly out for the British Grand Prix. I doubt it’s going anywhere soon.