Dark clouds are gathering over the British Grand Prix after Silverstone Circuit owners, BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club), announced they have strong doubts concerning the financial cost of staging the event.
Silverstone has a contract to host the British Grand Prix until 2026, but it holds a clause that enables Silverstone to get out of the contract. This clause must must activated before this year’s Grand Prix. If activated, this means the UK could go without a Grand Prix after 2016.
BRDC chairman John Grant commented to this situation:
“What might be termed ‘the Elephant in the room’, of course, continues to be the future of the British GP,” he said. “It is widely recognized that no European circuit makes money from running a Grand Prix. We believe Silverstone does better than most, regularly attracting a large and enthusiastic crowd and putting on as good a show as we are allowed to do. Although, even in a good year, the BAP does not generate enough cash to cover its share of the site overheads, our major concern has always been the risk of a bad year.”
To give reader some insight, we would like to mention that the 2016 Grand Prix received 139,000 fans, who witnessed Lewis Hamilton take victory in his home race. Still the event “fell short of budget,” with the 2015 running coming in at a £2m loss. Adding 2016 and 2015 revenue, Silverstone made a loss. Since years they have been struggling to turn a profit.
This news is coming at a time that other venues have started rationalising their F1 investments. An example is the Malaysian Grand Prix. Their contract is under threat once its current contract expires in 2018 due to rising hosting fees and declining ticket sales. The Italian Grand Prix signed a 3 year deal after much difficulty and pressure of organising the Grand Prix at Imola. Although it appears that we’ll see it’s return at Paul Ricard Circuit, the French Grand Prix had ceased to exist already in 2008. The German Grand Prix has been stricken of the 2017 calender, with Hockenheim reluctant to host the race in successive years, also for financial reasons!
Silverstone hosted most of the Formula 1 World Championship race from the 1950 on. Other circuits include Aintree and Brands Hatch. However, Silverstone has always been considered the spiritual home of Formula 1.
The UK government has not intervened in 2003 and 2009 when the circuit faced similar problems. It is highly unlikely them will do so this time.
Meanwhile F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has reported to have said: “I don’t see why they [Silverstone] can’t make it work. They get bigger crowds than anywhere else in Europe, and nobody else is complaining.”
Most current teams, including champions Mercedes, are UK based. Force India’s HQ can actually see Silverstone tarmac. The only exceptions are Ferrari, Torro Rosso (Italian based) and Sauber (Swiss based).
Will UK teams go without a home race?
Just to give you a feel of UK alternatives, let’s make a round of possible replacement circuits.
On the 4 of July 2008, Donington Park actually announced they had been awarded the contract to host the British Grand Prix for 10 years from 2010. However, Donington failed to secure the necessary funding (£135 million development costs. Investments nearly killed off the track completely) to host the race, and its contract was terminated in November 2009.
Donington Park’s board has been quick to refute any notion of stepping in to replace Silverstone as the host of the F1 British Grand Prix.
“The board has consistently made it clear that we have no intention of bidding for the British Grand Prix,” a Donington Park spokesperson said to The Guardian.
Brands Hatch organised the 1986 Grand Prix, and it’s lap record (albeit in GP form) still stands at 1:09.593 and was set by Nigel Mansell in his Williams-Honda at this event. Attempts to host subsequent races have been made, but races never materialised.
A major problem for the circuit are the noise restrictions which have been put in place to appease nearby residents. These restrictions include:
- No racing before 10am on Sundays (no engines can be started before 9.15am)
- A single international motorcycle event each year.
- Limitation to six days of noisy cars, each year.
In addition the circuit would need substantial work to meet the latest F1 safety regulations, and would probably need track changes to increase chances of overtaking (currently the Druids hairpin is the only spot where overtaking is realistically possible).
Also the pits area would need to be redesigned as the paddock is too small.
And even then the problem of accessibility would need to be resolved. Currently a British Touring Car event with 40,000 fans cause major traffic problems. (Imagine 130.000+ F1 fans!).
Rockingham Motor Speedway
Would F1 accept an oval? Many F1 fans would consider it too “American”. Rockingham offers some of the best viewing for fans thanks to nearly all of the circuit being visible from the stands and the concrete wall would leave zero to none margin for error. (Yes, ovals do have some small perks!).
The infield does have a road course that incorporates part of the banking – used almost exclusively by all racing events of recent times. This course is just over 2 miles but could easily be extended to an Interlagos / Indy GP course length of 2.5 miles with a redesign. A potential British Indianapolis perhaps?
Rockingham has only been used by F1 teams for filming so far, but F1 race director Charlie Whiting has been reported to have said it would take little to bring it up to standard.
Traffic to and from the circuit would still be a problem, as a single road leads to the circuit.
It can still be considered a new track, but it is not up to F1 standard. The pits area would need enlarging, and the track itself would need work.
As the track was built for oval racing, it also has an American-style circuit design of a concrete wall separating the garages from the pitlane. This would need a complete redesign before hosting a race.
Circuit of Wales
What about the proposed Circuit of Wales?
The biggest problem is that building work is yet to commence at the £425m facility near Ebbw Vale, with the Welsh government refusing to underwrite the project in the summer of 2016. Will it come into existence?
The Circuit of Wales currently has the rights to stage Britain’s round of the MotoGP championship until 2024, but the absence of an actual circuit means it is forced to host the race at Silverstone (!!!)
Circuit director Michael Carrick has been quoted to have an interest in F1. In 2015 he said “It is an interesting question, but it is not in our business plan, it is not our objective and it is not a decision a circuit can do on its own. Protecting the British GP in Britain is our priority. Will it happen in the future? I don’t know, the question isn’t one for the circuit operator to answer.”
We can start wishful thinking, but without a track built, any chance of moving F1 to Wales will continue to be daydreaming.
In short, we at TheJudge13 continue to think Silverstone is the only realistic option. Have we missed a viewpoint? Just let us know.
Note from the ED: If the Jury could make it be known to us their ‘money and changes no object’ alternate circuit should Silverstone be struck off the calendar – where would you like to see the British GP be held?