The British Grand Prix at Silverstone is Formula 1’s oldest tradition. The venue held the first ever championship event back in 1950 and in 2017, Silverstone remains at the heart of the sport.
Despite its popularity, however, the event is seemingly in a precarious position. Reports suggest that the circuit’s owners are on the brink of activating a break clause which will see Silverstone’s contract terminated after 2019, as the financial implications of a contract penned in the sport’s previous governance have made the event unsustainable.
The question is whether a new deal can be concocted that will please all parties.
The British Grand Prix is a special event. While I am arguably biased, given that Silverstone hosts both my home event and also what is, for now at least, the only race which I attend year in year out, evidence gathered by such polls as featured in the Motorsport Network’s Global Fan Survey, prove that I am not alone in my views.
The key findings in the 2017 survey saw four current venues being identified by fans as critical to the sport’s health. Monaco, Italy, Britain and Belgium were those that were considered notably more significant than the rest.
Similar survey results gathered in 2010 and 2015 demonstrated the same trend and what is unwavering support for the event at Silverstone.
And why would interest in the British Grand Prix deteriorate? Home hero Lewis Hamilton is at the peak of his powers, chasing down a fourth world title. Silverstone is one of the most spectacular circuits on Planet Earth, with legendary corners such as Copse, Becketts and Stowe among the pantheon of greats alongside Eau Rouge or 130R.
Regardless of sell-out crowds and a growing event year-on-year, the circuit bizarrely finds itself with the future of the event in jeopardy.
It is one of few races on the calendar that receives no government funding, leaving the BRDC alone in needing to generate enough revenue to cover the ever increasing race hosting fees.
According to reports, Silverstone has parted with £17 million to host this season’s event, which would rise to £26 million by the end of their current contract in 2026. It is easy, therefore, to see why the current terms have been deemed as unsustainable by those with the unenviable task of number crunching.
Quotes from an un-named but supposedly prominent BRDC member have been featured on PitPass.com this morning; “Apparently there’s been no movement from Liberty who haven’t had the time to address all the issues. So no bad will, just a lack of time.
“I, therefore, understand the BRDC board are left with no option but to terminate and Liberty are aware of this. It’s just a case of when it will be announced rather than if it’s announced. This has to happen before the Grand Prix but the BRDC don’t want to cause any embarrassment or ill will for Liberty so I guess some time in the next week.”
So, what will a triggering of the break clause actually mean? Essentially, Silverstone will be left without a contract to host the race beyond 2019 and the ball will be placed firmly in Liberty’s court. Chase Carey – and in particular commercial man Sean Bratches – will then have to open renegotiations.
Striking a deal is going to be complicated by knock-on impacts at other venues. Liberty has already expressed a desire to keep the British Grand Prix on the calendar, but slashing Silverstone’s hosting fees and dramatically altering the contract terms will naturally invite other venues to also seek a more profitable deal.
The new contract negotiations at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in Canada – the first race hosting contract signed under Liberty’s ownership – were no doubt simplified by the local government offering support with regards to the funding of the event and whether this would be an option for Silverstone is unknown.
Silverstone’s future is far from sealed. The triggering of the break clause seems somewhat of an inevitability and the fate of the British Grand Prix will then be decided in a boardroom.
No doubt the 2017 event in under two weeks time will once again serve to demonstrate that Silverstone needs F1 just as much as F1 needs Silverstone. All we can hope is that commo-sense prevails and a deal is struck.