Yesterday marked a potentially huge moment in the future of the F1 calendar. The British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) activated the break clause in the current contract for British Grand Prix’s to be held at the Silverstone Race Circuit. This means, as it stands, from 2020 there may well be no place for the Silverstone Grand Prix on the F1 Calendar.
Why has the break clause been activated?
Whilst initially the news is ultimately one of concern and disappointment, the decision has long been expected. During the previous tenure by Bernie Ecclestone, a contract was agreed in 2009 for Silverstone to host the Grand Prix for the following 17 years, after Donnington Park failed to meet the obligatory requirements needed to takeover the British race. At the time, the deal saved the Silverstone race and guaranteed its spot on the calendar to 2026.
The problem for the BRDC was the Bernie Ecclestone included an ‘annual escalator’ into the deal, meaning the cost of hosting the race would increase year on year by 5%. This didn’t prove a problem in the early years of the race; Silverstone are known for selling the majority of race weekend tickets in order to generate substantial revenue. The reason this news has only just recently surfaced is we are now at the crossover where the current deal makes it impossible for the circuit to make a profit on the event. The chairman of the BRDC, John Grant, indicated that the event in 2015 had resulted in a net loss of £2.8m, with the following year adding a further £2m to this figure.
Like any other operating company, the BRDC are trying to remain financially sustainable; they need to generate profitability in order to remain successful and continue to operate, so they have without doubt made the right choice. New F1 owners Liberty Media however have expressed their disappointment at the timing of the decision, indicating that the run up to the Grand Prix should be one of ‘celebration’, not one of the BRDC trying to ‘posture and position for short term gains’.
Will we actually lose the Silverstone Grand Prix from the race calendar?
Whilst the news is a disappointment, there is still hope that the Silverstone race circuit will remain on the F1 calendar from 2020 onwards. John Grant and the BRDC are hopeful that a new deal can be made with Liberty Media, alleviating financial pressures on the event and allowing the circuit to once again remain profitable. The feeling has also been reciprocated from Liberty Media; although they are disappointed at the timing of the announcement, they will continue to to negotiate with the promoter in good faith in order to to reach a ‘fair and equitable solution for all parties involved.’
Gave a good chunk of my life 1996 to 2003 to help save Silverstone and the BGP as BRDC Director and Chairman. Very sad to see today’s news 😢
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) July 11, 2017
Current Sky F1 presenter giving his thoughts on doubt for the future of the British GP at Silverstone
On top of this, there is still plenty of time available for all parties involved to strike a deal which is fair for all involved. There’s still another two years to run on the contract, giving both the BRDC and Liberty Media enough time to re-negotiate the contract in order to remove the annual escalator.
Personally, I do not think the British Grand Prix will switch hands from 2020 onwards. Although this is the first time officially that we may not see the race on the calendar, there always seems to be rumours and murmurings that Silverstone may well fall off of the calendar. It is the 3rd longest serving race on the calendar, being up there with one of the most iconic circuits on the calendar along with Monaco, Spa, Monza and Suzuka. Both parties involved will surely put the importance of keeping Silverstone on the calendar before financial matters and it would be huge shame to not see the fastest F1 cars taking Maggotts and Becketts flat out.
If we do lose the Silverstone Grand Prix, what are the alternatives?
On the unlikely chance that BRDC and Liberty Media fail to come to some form of arrangement, are there any viable alternatives to the Silverstone Circuit? The logical idea would be to host the race at Donnington Park; it lasted hosted a race in 1993 as the European Grand Prix (y’know the one; the one where Ayrton amazingly went from 5th to 1st on a damp first lap.) Unfortunately, the owners of the Donnington Park race circuit have openly admitted that they wouldn’t be interested in a future F1 race.
On top of this, like all the other alternatives, they do not have the fundamental infrastructure to host an F1 race. To get any one of the circuits such as Donnington Park, Aintree or Brands Hatch up to scratch, huge investment would be needed to a) bring the safety of the tracks up to standard, b) invest heavily in new layouts for the tracks so that races are exciting and c) developing new paddocks that meet the requirements of the FIA.
The only logical option to therefore pursue is to host a race in the centre of London. This has long been a fancied option; it even got as far in 2012 of a mock up track been developed. The potential for a race here is definitely intriguing; the back drop alone would be breathtaking.
Having said that, we already have 3 street circuits on the calendar; do we really need another one? On top of this, are there question marks over the feasibility of such a race? 3 days of numerous road closures would cause unbelievable amounts of commuting chaos, in a city where congestion and traffic is amongst the worst in the world. If we do end up having the British Grand Prix at London, Liberty Media need to consider absolutely everything in order to make the race a success.
Whatever happens, it would be unthinkable for the British Grand Prix to fall of the F1 calendar fully. We would all hope for Silverstone to maintain its status on the calendar, but I think we can all agree that it isn’t just a case of wanting a British race, but we NEED a British race. 80% of teams are based in England, we have some of the die hard F1 fans here in the UK; it would be inconceivable for the British Grand Prix to be dropped and (probably) replaced with a race requiring thousands of miles travel. It just isn’t worth thinking about, so, a message from me to the BRDC and Liberty Media… For god sake strike up a new deal!