What a difference an owner makes. Promoters of Formula One races in Europe for years have struggled make it pay, while the new ‘state sponsored’ races came to the calendar thick and fast under the stewardship of Bernie Ecclestone. At the turn of the millennium the F1 calendar had just 6 races of the 17 held outside Europe and Ecclestone’s business model was designed to expand F1’s reach into countries that could afford bigger hosting fees in return for greater exposure and an increase in tourism.
Back in the year 2000, the promoters of the 6 ‘flyaway’ races were not paying big bucks with the possible exception of the Malaysian GP. This was all set to change.
Ecclestone new F1 races paid a premium
With Ecclestone fronting for the F1 commercial rights owners Formula One began to plot its way around the globe looking for promoters who would pay ever bigger hosting fees for the privilege of being listed on the F1 calendar.
The European circuits were consistently threatened with being dropped as the big bucks Asian and Middle Eastern countries joined the parade paying ever larger hosting fees.
As the 2022 began the biggest hosting fees paid were:
Qatar – $55m
Saudi – $55m
Azerbaijan – $55m
Russia – $50m
China – $50m
Bahrain – $45m
Abu Dhabi -$40m
European F1 races were under threat
Yet many of the traditional European circuits were paying hosting fees less than half of the those at the top of the list.
Monaco paid the least at $15m with Imola $22m and Belgium next on $22m together with France paying $22m aswell.
All three of these European venues were set to be dropped from the F1 calendar for 2023 however Monaco have renegotiated their contribution and Belgium was saved because the South African GP promoters were not deemed ready to host a race this year.
Next there are four historic European venues who each pay $25m for there privilege to host their F1 events. These are Barcelona, Monza, The Red Bull Ring in Austrian and Silverstone and the British venue for years under Ecclestone was threatened with being kicked out of the calendar.
British GP struggled for years
The British GP was sponsored by the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) who persistently struggled to break even due to the “eye watering” fees demanded by F1’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
The event held at Silverstone was only one of two that received no local or state government support and so year in year out struggled to make their F1 weekend pay.
Friday’s practice session in Silverstone attracted little interest and the promoters event suggested it would be more cost effective for them if the F1 weekend was reduced to 2 days.
All change in F1 under Liberty Media
Yet as F1’s popularity has grown since the sale of the commercial rights by CVC to Liberty media, everything appears to be changing in particular at one of the circuits which hosted the inaugural season of F1 in 1950.
At the 2022 British GP there were a record 400,000 fans in attendance across the three days and this years event is already a sell out bar the most expensive of hospitality tickets.
Whilst at present the F1 weekend is a three day Fri-Sun on track action event with a media day on the Thursday, Silvertone’s managing director, Stuart Pringle, believes this should be increased to include support races on Thursday too.
4 day F1 weekend on the horizon
“We’re looking to extend the weekend,” Pringle revealed at the said Autosport International event in Birmingham on Thursday.
“I’m working hard on Formula 1. I believe they need to change the format of the weekend. They say: ‘Oh well it’s the FIA, they’ve got to do the systems test and stuff’ – well, do them a day earlier.
“Let’s do some stuff on Thursday. There are a lot of people who want to come and see things, and three days isn’t really enough.
“Let’s make it that big, best part of a week’s festival. People do turn up at Silverstone on a Tuesday and put the tent up, and that’s it, they’re in.”
Change in F1 never easy
Bringing about change in Formula One is never easy given agreement is regularly required by the three headed hydra of the FIA, F1 and the teams. However, Pringle believes given the high level of interest the opportunity to extend the weekend is now there.
“It’s a given you’re going to sell out Sunday,” said Pringle. “We got to selling out Saturday a few years ago, and now Friday is all but gone as well.
Pringle then aims a dig at the Ecclestone era when restricting access to F1 and exclusivity drove the business model.
“That’s where your profit is. And if you don’t make profit – Mr. Ecclestone – you cannot reinvest in the infrastructure.
“It is creaking and groaning, Silverstone, because the BRDC was unable to make a profit out of the grand prix for 40 years.
Silverstone to invest in F1 infrastructure
Due to logistics Silverstone is limited by the local authorities to the capacity crowds they can attract for each day of the GP weekend, yet it appears Pringle is suggesting now the circuit is making a profit the promoters are prepared to invest in the infrastructure around the track to facilitate even larger crowds in the future.
“Now, I’m pleased to say the owners of F1 take a sensible view that is it not in their interest to crush the promoter, and they recognise the BRDC invests all of its money back into the facilities.” Pringle adds.
“If we put in better facilities we get a better experience of the fans, and if it’s better for the fans, it’s better for the championship all round, and everyone is a winner.”
The current contract Silverstone holds with Formula One expires in 2024, so the cynics may argue Pringle is making a pitch to retain the level of the hosting fee in the upcoming negotiations for 2025 and beyond.
In reality the British GP is never in threat of being abandoned by Formula One given it is the home race for 7 of the 10 current Formula One teams. If the BRDC are prepared to contractually commit to spending a fixed amount on upgrading the circuit’s infrastructure it could well be the hosting fee is increased by just a moderate amount and a contract until 2030 is the most likely scenario.
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— Joe Saward (@joesaward) January 13, 2023