Silverstone the latest circuit to hit contractual issues – will Formula 1 lose its birthplace?

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Despite a large turnout for the recent Grand Prix’s at Silverstone, the club who runs the event have sighted monetary concerns about running it

Britain’s most historic Formula 1 circuit, Silverstone – which hosted the first ever Championship Grand Prix in 1950 – is now at risk of disappearing from the Formula 1 calendar in 2020, reports ITV.

John Grant, the Chairman of the British Racing Drivers Association – the organization who own the venue and run the Grand Prix – has written a letter that details how running the event “does not generate cash,” even in a good year like 2016, which saw 139,000 fans attend the famous race.

The letter admits the BRDA “would like to preserve the BGP,” but only with “change to the economic equation.” The letter also states how the club wishes to be protected from the “potentially ruinous risk of a couple of bad years.”

In 2009, the BRDA signed a 17 year deal with Formula 1 to have the British Grand Prix remain at Silverstone and on the calendar until 2026. However, within that contract, a clause was written in which either party could opt out before then. Formula 1 Chief Bernie Ecclestone commented on this situation, telling BBC: “If they want to activate a break clause, there is nothing we can do.”

The break clause – which would have to be activated before the 2017 British Grand Prix on 9th of July – will see the race disappear from the calendar in 2020. If a replacement venue is not found by then, 2020 would become the first Formula 1 season in history to not contain a race in Britain.

However, Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t believe the situation will amount to this, telling ITV: “We’re not worried about losing Formula 1 in England, I’m worried about losing Formula 1 at Silverstone, that’s all.”

The Board highlight in the letter, “this is not a simple decision, and we will consider fully all the implications before coming to a conclusion by mid-year.” They also stated they are only willing to keep the race “if it makes sense to do so.”

Three time Formula 1 World Champion and Briton, Jackie Stewart, told the BBC that he believes this is “a credible threat,” and he would be “very sad,” to see the race go.

Silverstone is considered the home of Formula 1 after hosting the inaugural Championship Grand Prix in 1950. Despite many upgrades over the years, the track has not changed its blindingly fast and flowing nature, making it a favorite with drivers.

After winning there for the 4th time in 2016, Briton, Lewis Hamilton, couldn’t believe how many people turned up for the event, asking: “Where do they all come from?

“Nothing we see in any other country even comes close,” he also commented.

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Lewis Hamilton won for a fourth time on home soil at the 2016 British Grand Prix and celebrated with some crowd-surfing

So, will Silverstone opt out of Formula 1?

To some outsiders, these revelations of financial struggle may seem surprising, considering those aforementioned large crowds the event pulls in. However, the letter openly states that “it is widely recognized that no European circuit makes money from running a Grand Prix.”

Bernie Ecclestone did admit to ITV that “Maybe there will have to be a year without [the British Grand Prix].” He did reaffirm, however, “We’re not going to lose Formula 1 in Great Britain.”

However, all hope is not lost, as the letter reveals that the BRDC believes Formula 1’s new owners, Liberty Media, could “enhance” the sport to make “a more equitable balance for promoters.” Unfortunately, they believe this would be a process that would occur “over time.”

Silverstone isn’t the first circuit to express financial concerns in modern day Formula 1 as four other classic circuits have shown signs of struggle recently.

Firstly, the Hockenheimring, the location for the German Grand Prix, will disappear in 2017 after continued financial struggles stemming from poor ticket sales. This is the 2nd time in just three years that the circuit – which has previously hosted 35 Grand Prix’s – will not feature on the calendar.

Secondly, Monza in Italy – a track that has been on the calendar in every year of Formula 1 except 1980 – came under threat in 2016 with an expiring contract. However, Bernie Ecclestone made an incredible, personal effort to make sure a deal was signed at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix to guarantee Monza three more years in Formula 1, even after reports surfaced that the race would move to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola.

Third and fourthly, the futures of the Brazilian and Canadian Grand Prix’s looked uncertain this year when the 2017 provisional Formula 1 calendar was published. Both races were “subject to confirmation,” much to the surprise of fans. But when the official calendar was published by the World Motorsport Council on December 1st, 2016, both races had their futures confirmed in what turned out to be merely a small scare.

In the eyes of many, Liberty Media will be the savior who will restore these famous races to their rightful place in Formula 1. They are expected to shake up the monetary situation within the sport when they complete a full takeover of the sport later in 2017. If the sport can become more affordable, the future of the British and German Grand Prix’s will be looking brighter.

Another likely consequence of Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula 1 is Bernie Ecclestone’s retirement. If the supremo is to leave the sport, here’s hoping he can solve these new found monetary problems with Silverstone – perhaps the most historical and well-loved race on the calendar – before he goes!

Sources:
1) ITV News, ‘Bernie Ecclestone hints British Grand Prix could disappear from F1 calendar for a year’, https://www.facebook.com/itvnews/videos/vb.148007467671/10154419075212672/?type=2&theater, Updated: 6/1/2016, Viewed: 7/1/2016
2) ITV News, ‘Future of British Grand Prix at Silverstone at risk over ‘potentially ruinous’ costs’, http://www.itv.com/news/2017-01-05/future-of-british-grand-prix-at-silverstone-at-risk-over-potentially-ruinous-costs/, Updated: 5/1/2016, Viewed: 6/1/2016
3) BBC News, “British Grand Prix: Silverstone race ‘under threat because of costs'”, http://www.bbc.com/sport/formula1/38526002, Updated: 5/1/2016, Viewed: 6/1/2016

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