The British Grand Prix has been a staple in the Formula One World Championship calendar since its inception, so much so that it’s part of the heritage of the sport. The British Grand Prix and the Silverstone Circuit have become synonymous, but now the historical track is set to not only pull out of the F1 schedule but also take the event of the British Grand Prix with it.
On July 11, 2017, Silverstone announced that they triggered the break clause in their contract with Formula One, confirming that they will split from the sport in two years' time. This sets the 2019 British Grand Prix at Silverstone as the last British Grand Prix unless either a new agreement or a new host can be established.
So, has Silverstone decided to pull out of its agreement with F1, and will the British Grand Prix continue past 2019?
Silverstone haemorrhaging money on F1 events
The British Racing Drivers’ Club, who own Silverstone racing circuit, has continued to state that they love the sport and wish to keep the British Grand Prix alive at Silverstone, but that the current agreement was no longer financially viable.
Knowing full well what triggering the break clause meant, chairman of the BRDC John Grant stated: “Unless a new contractual arrangement can be reached with Liberty Media, 2019 will be the last year that the British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone – the only viable venue for a British GP,” per the Silverstone official site.
When they initially signed the deal with Formula One in 2009, the contract detailed a Promoter’s Fee that increased by five percent with each passing year. So, from an initial 2010 fee of £11.5 million, Silverstone found themselves forking out £16.2 million in 2017, and they would have seen a cool £25 million paid for the Promoter’s Fee is they had seen out the contract to 2026.
Unfortunately, it came to be that the British Grand Prix – the UK’s most popular weekend sporting event – couldn’t amass the net ticket and hospitality sales revenue to cover the Grand Prix’s share of the circuit’s overhead costs.
Deemed unsustainable, the British Grand Prix sustained a combined net loss of £7.6 million over 2015 and 2016 - £2.8 million in 2015, £4.8 million in 2016 – with those losses expected to continue for the remainder of the deal.
As tough as it is to say, it was wise of the British Racing Drivers’ Club to pull Silverstone out of the Formula One agreement as the increased costs from the being in the deal would have continued to incur losses on events. Silverstone needs protecting, and that’s what the BRDC have done. Having said that, the withdrawal of Silverstone potentially means the withdrawal of the British Grand Prix altogether.
Other viable British Grand Prix venues
Since its inaugural season in 1950, only two race circuits have played host to the Formula One World Championship: Aintree and Brand Hatch.
From 1955 to 1960, Aintree and Silverstone alternated the British Grand Prix, and then Aintree got to keep it for two consecutive years in 1961 and 1962. Then the race moved back to Silverstone, who alternated years with Brands Hatch from 1963 to 1986. From 1987 and for the last 30 years, Silverstone has been the sole host of the British Grand Prix.
The reason behind people seeing Silverstone pulling out at the end of the British Grand Prix is because the race circuit is the only Grade 1 track in the UK – a license which is required from the FIA to host an F1 event.
Aintree, famous for hosting the Grand National, is a classy venue and caters for the biggest horse racing event in the world every year – so they know how to handle the mega crowds. In an easy to access area of the country littered with hotels, public transport, and an international airport very close by, it seems like the perfect venue.
However, it’s not the track of old and would need significant construction to get up to a Grade 1 standard and become an F1 host once again, so it seems financially unfeasible at this stage.
Brands Hatch faces a slew of other restrictions that would hinder both the Formula One event and the racing circuit for the rest of the year. For a start, the venue is only allowed six days of ‘noisy cars’ per year. Also, engines cannot run until 9:15 am on a Sunday, and races cannot begin until 10 am.
These restrictions would bring some limitations to the F1 event but would limit the number of events that Brands Hatch could host outside of Formula One due to the sport needing three days per event – Practice 1 & 2, Practice 3 & Qualifying, Grand Prix.
To add to this, Brands Hatch is not great when it comes to accessibility and would require substantial work to not only make it race ready – with only one viable overtaking area on the course right now – but also to bring it up to Grade 1.
So, where does that leave us? Well, there are some other more commonly discussed venues in the picture.
The Donington dilemma
A big name track often cited in this conversation is Donington Park. Donington hosted the 1993 European Grand Prix and was all set to have the British Grand Prix from 2010 to 2027, having signed an agreement with former owner F1 owner Bernie Ecclestone.
However, that fell through when finances couldn’t be raised to get the track up to standard. The failed attempts to get the venue ready put Donington on its knees and into administration.
But now, Donington Park is up and running again, but the circuit managing director Christopher Tate has already made clear what they think to getting the British Grand Prix, stating: "Absolutely not. We've set a very clear target of keeping the trace of the circuit as it is… we'd have to completely change Donington Park."
In fairness, it has taken a lot for the new owners to get Donington back up and running again after their former Formula One deal almost forced the end of Donington Park altogether.
Any other options?
There really aren’t any other viable options right now. While it is a very nice racetrack, Rockingham’s American-themed track would require a lot of work to make it race appropriate as well as fan appropriate to bring it up to Grade 1.
Then there’s the Circuit of Wales which could be a serious contender, but the Ebbw Vale based track is struggling financially due to not receiving government backing.
They were reportedly seeking funding from the £1.2 billion Cardiff Capital Region deal at the end of September 2017, but nothing has materialised as of yet. The controversial race circuit does not look to be a venue to hang British Grand Prix hopes on right now.
Silverstone or nothing
The British Grand Prix is a historical event, one which has produced great races and legendary champions over the years. Take this year, for example, Lewis Hamilton won his fourth-consecutive British Grand Prix to join the likes of Alain Prost and Jim Clark on five BGP wins, and recently claimed his fourth Drivers’ World Championship.
Formula One has just under two years to try and get a deal done with the BRDC if they wish to keep the historic British Grand Prix on their calendar because, quite simply, no other race circuit in the UK is up to scratch for the lofty Grade 1 standards.
There is always the chance that Silverstone and the new owners of F1, Liberty Media, strike-up a new, financially viable deal which would enable the event to continue beyond 2019.
Unfortunately, without serious investment elsewhere in the UK or a brand new deal for Silverstone, the 2019 Formula One World Championship is set to see the last British Grand Prix – for the time being at least.