Why London is not fit for an F1 Grand Prix

A quick Google search will reveal to anyone interested, that London has repeatedly been mooted by the media and certain F1 bosses as a potential venue for Formula One for over two decades and the recent Grand Prix in Las Vegas should bring hope that most cities in the world could in fact be transformed into a temporary Formula One circuit for the weekend.

Vegas took the city street circuit concept and took it to a while new level. This is no backwater close the the eastern European urea mountains, not is it a docklands like Marina Bay outside the beating of Singapore. 



Vegas proves the case for F1 in big cities

With its 1.9km back straight along the famous Las Vegas Boulevard, F1 proved it can turn what is a regular six lane arterial route through a significant city into a pulsating race track where the most expensive prototype racing cars in the world can compete.

Of course the F1 Vegas project was not without its problems. There was the almost four month long construction project as the fixtures to hold the light gantries were fixed along the planned route. But this was a one off programme which means the fencing, barriers and lights can be installed for the future events in a handful of weeks.

It could be argued that by racing late at night, Formula One had bowed to the demands for the city to function as normal for most of the time the sport was in town. Yet in fact walk the Vegas strip in the mornings and it is then the traffic is at its lightest when compared to the gridlock in the evenings as people party well into the early hours of the next day.

So could London realise the dream many have had for the city for decades and see a Formula One race hurtle through its ancient streets?

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A yesteryear visit by F1 to London

Back in 2004 when Michael Schumacher was dominating the sport, the F1 elite decided to revive some interest by putting on a demonstration through the heart of the 2000 year old city.

Nigel Mansell of course was one of the eight drivers who piloted the Grand Prix machines around the streets of the West End and tens of thousands of bemused workers and tourists took to the streets to marvel at the epic noise and speed of the cars as they hurtled by.

Most people were forced to place their fingers in their ears such as the engines capable of turning at 18,000 revs a minute produced an array of screams and loud spitting noises – a barbaric cacophony or the music of the cylinders, according to taste.

Jenson Button, David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya and the rest guided their cars past the great shopping landmarks of Hamleys and Liberty up to Oxford Circus, all pretty glad they could not see the back of Michael Schumachers winning Ferrari ahead of them.

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Formula E – nice and quiet

Just once preciously in the 55 history of Formula One had the cars taken to the streets of London and this was back in 1965 where Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren drove their Lotus, BRM and Cooper machines in a more sedentary fashion through the City as part of the Lord Mayor’s show.

However this was just a promotional event designed to peak the interest of those unaware of what Formula One was about. There was no serious intention back then for an F1 London Grand Prix.

Since then, the idea has come around on several occasions, but the mooted route eve suggested earlier this year in the Docklands or East End of London has never really captivated the imagination. Its the kind of path the much slower Formula E cars might take when visiting a major city – worried they may upset everyone if they make too much of a disruption.

But now given the example of Las Vegas the brave, is there anywhere that could not host a Formula One Grand Prix? Is New York back in the running?

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Docklands F1 track just not exciting

A race was planned for the Big Apple under Bernie Ecclestone’s guardianship of the sport but being unable to secure a prime location along 5th Avenue and through Central Park left the promoters underwhelmed as the proposed location in Brooklyn didn’t quite have the feel of ‘the city that never sleeps.’

London was again in the running to host a Grand Prix earlier this year, but as Motor Sport Magazine reported:

“The latest attempt to bring F1 to the capital sees consultants working on the redevelopment of East London’s Royal Docks have included a 3.6 mile Montreal-style circuit into their plans. The 22-corner track is dominated by long straights and chicanes, with cars predicted to run alongside historic docks and City Airport at an average speed of 127mph.”

But the Montreal style idea of a temporary race circuit near a major global city has now surely passed. Plus, the Quebec circuit called the Circuit Île Notre Dame was constructed on a man-made island in the middle of the St. Lawrence seaway that had been the site of the globally famous Expo ’67. It had cache.

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The Sphere: A modern wonder of the world

London City airport is hardly a sight people usually wish to embrace but rather leave as quickly as possible.

One of the huge hits for F1 in Vegas, was the new entertainment megadome built by MGM which sits astride the city’s iconic skyline and even participated in the Grand Prix as it became a huge 366 foot high yellow flag whenever the on track action was under caution.

The Vegas circuit was designed to travel around the 18 acre footprint of this spherical wonder which cost around $2.3bn to complete. Even the traffic system around the entertainment venue was designed by F1 and is not part of the permanent Vegas road system. 

All who visit Vegas today now wonder at this technological marvel and even Global Mega Band U2 appear reluctant to leave its portals given they have extended their opening run of concerts several times and at least now into February 2024.

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Mayor dismisses London style Sphere venue

During the construction of the Sphere, it was mooted other global cities were interested in building their own version of this modern wonder of the world and London was amongst the runners.

However, yesterday the Mayor of London decided rather than to enhance London’s ever changing and dynamic skyline, that his town would not becoming a “city of blinding lights” (even though light pollution is already one of the worst in Europe).

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “London is open to investment from around the world and Sadiq wants to see more world-class, ambitious, innovative entertainment venues in our city.

“But as part of looking at the planning application for the MSG Sphere, the Mayor has seen independent evidence that shows the current proposals would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents.”

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‘Light pollution’ cited

This was the inevitable result of a London Assembly Environment Committee commissioned by Khan which recently warned the venue would produce unacceptable light levels.

Of course there were thousands of local residents who had petitioned the Mayor’s office to prevent the disruption required to develop the 10 acre site, but then again in a city of 9 million people, there’s always one (or a few thousand) naysayers.

So London has been denied a new and highly innovative addition to its skyline and a state of the art venue for the planned 21,500 spectators to view sporting and entertainment wonders.

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London’s allure set in history

And it is for this reason that London will never host an Formula One race. The sacrifice made by the Las Vegas locals was significant – and yes they complained… often and loudly. 

But the annual $1.2bn economic benefit they should receive from F1 coming to town will provide some succour no doubt and when all is said and done, its just another party weekend for what is now descried as ‘the entertainment capital of the world.’

Las Vegas is a growth city looking to the future, whereas London is part of the old world order struggling to find its new identity. On the other hand if you want pomp and circumstance – there is no place better.

The again Formula One is not looking to partner with the Royal Artillery Band, which traces its origins back to 1557 at the Battle of St. Quentin.

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