On Tuesday the 11th of July 2017, owners of the home of the British Grand Prix, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, or BRDC for short, announced that they have triggered their break clause. This means that the 2019 iteration of the race will be the last at Silverstone under the current deal with the F1 Group.
This decision comes after weeks of speculation during which the BRDC hinted that it was more likely than not that they would exercise their option to opt out of their contract, which runs through 2026. What it comes down to is that the British GP had become financially unsustainable, with the cost of hosting the annual event steadily increasing year by year and dwarfing the income gained, even though the race was the highest attended on the F1 calendar in 2016 with 350,000 attendees over the race weekend.
The existing contract which was agreed in 2009 included a 5% inflation to the fee that the race organizers had to pay in order to host the British GP, which meant that the cost went up from £11.5 million in the initial year of the contract to £16.2 million in 2016 – Which would have led to an escalation to £25 million in the final year. In the context of a loss of £2.8 million being sustained in 2015 and £4.8 million in 2016, one can understand why this decision was made. “We have reached the tipping point where we can no longer let our passion for the sport rule our heads. It would not only risk the very future of Silverstone and the BRDC, but also the British motorsport community that depends on us”, explained BRDC Chairman John Grant (Motorsport.com)
However, the fact that this announcement was made in the week leading up to the 2017 British GP left the F1 group less than impressed. “The week leading up to the British Grand Prix should be a week of great celebration for F1 and Silverstone. We deeply regret that Silverstone has chosen instead to use this week to posture and position themselves and invoke a break clause that will take effect in three years‘ time. We offered to extend the current deadlines in order to focus on everything that is great about Silverstone and Formula 1. Regretfully the Silverstone management has chosen to look for a short-term advantage to benefit their position”, said a statement released by the F1 Group in the aftermath of the decision. And, to be quite honest, it does seem like a bit of posturing from the BRDC – Make the announcement when all eyes in the motorsport world are focused on Silverstone to elicit a stronger emotional response and give the BRDC extra leverage in further negotiations.
When asked to respond, Silverstone Sporting Director Stuart Pringle assured Motorsport.com in an interview that the timing of the decision was enforced by legal restrictions. “It is actually a legal question,” said Pringle. “We only have one opportunity until our contract runs out to break the contract and stop losing money, and that is after the 2019 event. We have to give two years notice on that, and the last day we can give notice is the last day before this event starts. So today is last day for that. We had no choice for that”. That being said, both parties have made clear that they will be looking to negotiate a new deal from 2020 onward, with this willingness from both sides surely making it highly unlikely that such a traditional and historically significant track will be relegated to the past.
Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner made a few interesting comments when asked about the entire situation, which provides plenty of food for thought. “Silverstone signed a contract and they knew what they were entering at the time”. Horner stated (Motorsport.com). “They have now realised that they can’t afford it despite having a full house every year. They either should not have signed it in the first place or they got their maths wrong”. He was also highly critical of recent developments made at the track, indicating “They spent a fortune in the pits and they put them in the wrong place. They have created a paddock with zero atmosphere at one of the most historic race tracks in the UK, so there has been some serious misjudgement and mismanagement, one would say”.
“It is the British Grand Prix and Britain should have a Grand Prix but there have been some questionable calls. My preference would be to see the British Grand Prix stay at Silverstone and hopefully they can thrash out a deal to protect the longevity there. But it probably needs a fresh set of eyes to look at how it is run and operated”, Horner added. Interestingly, Horner also said that Liberty Media, F1’s current owners, may well look at a London street race if the planned Live London exhibition on Wednesday before the British GP goes well. Granted, a London street race is one of those things that have long been rumoured to happen, like Audi joining F1, but never even came close to fruition. However, an amendment to the UK’s Road Traffic Act was passed earlier this year, which simplifies the process that motorsport events in England have to follow in order to race on closed roads.
The decision on whether an event will be granted closed-road permits now lies with the Motor Sports Association, the governing body of motorsport in the UK, and local councils, rather than a proposal that has to go through the entire process of passing an act of parliament. That being said, there are a vast amount of obstacles that would still need to be addressed before such an event can even be considered, but it makes it more of a possibility and might give the ambitious Liberty Media just the glimmer of realisation they need to have a go at it. In the light of this, Horner offered a word of warning to the BRDC; “Silverstone needs to be a little bit careful how they handle themselves and negotiate, that they don’t find themselves losing out”.
Most probably the outcome of this entire situation will be a new contract for Silverstone to host the British GP from 2020 onward, but that does not guarantee we will not see something unexpected happen. So, for the time being, the British GP still faces a quite uncertain future.
Featured Image sent to In The Stand Sport by Liam Fassam