Silverstone’s owners — the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) — last week announced its intentions to cease hosting the British Grand Prix after 2019, citing that race was not financially viable under the current terms of the deal.
Signed at the end of 2009 for a 17-year period, the contract has a 5% annual escalator on the promoter’s fee and the BRDC has said it has reached a “tipping point.”
It lost nearly £3 million ($3.8 million) in 2015 after hosing that year’s British Grand Prix and close to £5 million (6.1 million) in 2016.
But Sean Bratches, F1 managing director for commercial operations, is confident that the race has a long-term future at the Northamptonshire circuit.
“We are very optimistic about the future with our friends here at Silverstone,” he told CNN’s The Circuit.
“We have three great Grand Prixs under contract left — 2017, ’18, and ’19 — and a lot can transpire between now and the end of ’19.”
‘The home of F1’
Silverstone occupies a special place in the affections of F1 fans and drivers alike. The former airfield was the scene of the first F1 race in history, back in 1950, and hosted its 51st British Grand Prix at the weekend — won by Lewis Hamilton for a record-equaling fifth time.
The former WWII bomber station has enjoyed an unbroken run on the F1 calendar since 1987, and Bratches says he wants to see that continue.
“We’re fans first. We’re committed long term to a British Grand Prix. We’re standing on the home, on a terra firma and the home of motorsport, the home of Formula One, and I am very confident that there is going to be a British Grand Prix for many, many years in this wonderful country.”
Bratches has been leading efforts to re-brand the image of F1 following Liberty Media’s $8 billion takeover, with an emphasis on improving fan engagement at the track and off it.
This year has seen a concerted effort to improve fan experience at race weekends, with more activities and access to the drivers and teams — Bratches pointed to the fan village and merchandise on offer at Silverstone.
Revamping fan merchandise is also key to the overall strategy, following years of neglect under the stewardship of previous boss Bernie Ecclestone.
“We are trying to create something that feels more like if you go to a Ryder Cup or an Open or Wimbledon, that has the breadth of activities and experiences that are there.”
‘There has to be a British GP’
The recent F1Live event in London, which featured a live stage show in Trafalgar Square and a car parade along Whitehall, was attended by an estimated 100,000 fans.
Two-time winner of the British Grand Prix Jackie Stewart thinks the prospect of not having a British Grand Prix is unthinkable, from both a sporting and economic perspective.
“I think there’s got to be a British Grand Prix,” Stewart, a three-time world champion, told CNN.
“There’s 143,000 people employed in the British motorsports industry in the UK alone and 80% of that is exported.
“So, for the British government alone, that’s a big economy. And if we lost the British Grand Prix, that industry would go down.”
Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull Racing, echoed Stewart’s sentiments.
“The British Grand Prix is hugely important — this track is one of the best in the world,” Horner said.
“Hopefully a longtime future can be safeguarded.”