We’ve been here before.
Another year brings yet new questions regarding the security of the British Grand Prix. Marred with financial difficulties, the home of British motorsport has struggled to remain financially afloat, and fears persist that the circuit may exercise its ‘get out’ clause and disappear from the calendar after 2019.
Back in 2008, the FIA announced that the British GP would move to Donington Park from 2010 onward. Circuit preparations were made but Silverstone managed to retain the British GP by rolling out plans for the state-of-the-art ‘Wing’ complex, yet now it seems not even world class facilities can guarantee the event’s future.
Silverstone has been the home of the British Grand Prix (baring several seasons when the race was staged at Donington and Brands Hatch) since Formula 1’s inaugural season in 1950. Nino Farina dominated the event in his Alfa Romeo, claiming pole, fastest lap and race victory.
King George VI and family were present along with 100,000 spectators to witness history, but not even his majesty could have predicted how huge the brand new sporting event taking place on a former World War II airfield would become.
Adding context illustrates just how long the British Grand Prix – and indeed Silverstone – has been part of British heritage and culture – motorsport simply wouldn’t be the same without it.
“Our objective is to preserve the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes economic sense,” British Racing Drivers’ Club Chairman John Grant told Sky Sports.
So yet again Silverstone finds itself in trouble. As hosting fees set by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone continue to rise, making any sort of profit from hosting a Grand Prix has become incredibly difficult to procure.
Silverstone now finds itself in a state of uncertainty. Do they drop F1 all together, or pursue other championship events that present a better business model?
The latter option, at this stage at least, seems unlikely. The FIA fully realise the value Britain brings to F1. Silverstone consistently welcomes sell-out crowds even whilst ticket prices remain high.
Furthermore, Silverstone could lose MotoGP if plans are approved for the Circuit of Wales, so the additional loss of F1 would have monumental consequences.
BRDC president Derek Warwick was recently quoted at Autosport International that he wants to keep MotoGP at Silverstone beyond the current agreement.
“MotoGP is very important for Silverstone,” he said. “We think we have got it for the next two years, which is really good.
“I’ll talk very quickly about a certain Welsh circuit, the Circuit of Wales – I hope it doesn’t happen, I don’t think it will happen so I’m looking forward to MotoGP in the future.”
Warwick has the right to remain bullish about the future, but the prospect of losing both F1 and MotoGP remains deeply troubling.
F1’s new owners Liberty Media might be Silverstone’s saving grace long term. Since brokering the acquisition of F1 for around £6bn, it has pledged to invest in the sport, contrary to former share holder CVC’s approach of happily taking dividend. This being exemplified by their share disposal pay-out of roughly £286m after spending 10 years at F1’s corporate helm with little to show for it.
“We can’t do without the British GP,” Warwick said. “We can’t do without Silverstone, some compromise will be made, either with Bernie or the new people who are taking over F1 [Liberty].”
Liberty’s involvement genuinely looks promising for circuits that deserve protection, and whilst the acquisition negotiations remain ongoing, many paddock insiders feel Liberty has F1’s interests at heart. Dividends are likely to be reinvested, and Liberty’s plan to be renamed ‘Formula One Group’ when final purchase has taken place is telling.
One avenue that the new owners must tackle is the waning viewing figures and interest. Steps must be taken to make F1 accessible once more. Simply put, that is the only way to reach new audiences like the US and lure the public to part with hard-earned cash to attend races.
If the British GP were to fall off the calendar, TV audiences in the UK would inevitably decline. Hardcore fans would still follow the action, but there’s no substitute for creating life-long interest and appreciation of F1 – only a tangibly live Grand Prix can do that.
Yet holding a Grand Prix will never come with protected status in the current climate. Germany fell off the calendar in 2015 for the first time in 66 years and the same fate looks to be bestowed upon the organisers this year.
But unlike Hockenheim and Nürburgring in Germany, Britain hasn’t become disenchanted by F1’s magic, and the lengths Silverstone has gone to remain relevant and compete with the rest of the world is deserving of a place on the grid.
It would be a very dark day if Silverstone were to be lost.
Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr.