The future of the British Grand Prix has been cast into doubt after the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) - owner of the Silverstone racing circuit - confirmed that it has activated the break clause in its contract with Formula One Management (FOM) to host the race.
The BRDC is adamant that it can no longer afford to stage the event, and the announcement means that unless a new contract can be negotiated, 2019 will be the last year that the Northamptonshire-based circuit hosts the showpiece.
The current 17-year deal was drawn up in 2009 by Formula One’s former owner Bernie Ecclestone. A five per cent annual fee escalator included in the terms means that the initial UK£12 million to host the race has now risen to UK£17 million, and would have been set to exceed UK£27 million by 2026.
The aforementioned figure is significantly lower than what other racing circuits on Formula One’s calendar are paying, but many of those tracks are funded by governments keen to showcase their country to a global audience. Silverstone, on the other hand, is a private members’ club that receives no government funding.
“We have reached the tipping point where we can no longer let our passion for the sport rule our heads,” said BRDC chairman John Grant. “Put simply, it is no longer financially viable for us to deliver the British Grand Prix under the terms of our current contract.
“By running the British Grand Prix we sustained net losses of UK£2.8m in 2015 and UK£4.8m in 2016 - that's UK£7.6 million over two years. We expect to lose a similar amount this year. To continue on this path is not only unsustainable, it would put at risk Silverstone, the home of British motor racing.”
Silverstone - which welcomes 40,000 fans each year - hosted the first ever Formula One race in 1950, and has been the permanent home to Britain’s stage of the world’s elite motorsport series since 1987. The announcement comes ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, and Formula One’s new owner Liberty Media has criticised the BRDC for threatening to overshadow the event.
“The week leading up to the British Grand Prix should be a week of great celebration for Formula One and Silverstone,” said a spokesman for Liberty Media. “We deeply regret that Silverstone has chosen instead to use this week to posture and position themselves and invoke a break clause that will take effect in three years’ time.”
The BRDC’s decision does not mean that Silverstone will not host the British Grand Prix in 2020 and beyond if new terms can be agreed, but alternatives have already been mooted. Brands Hatch and Donington Park racing circuits are possible destinations, while a street race through London remains an attractive but problematic prospect given the challenges of hosting a four-day event in one of the world’s busiest capital cities.
Silverstone, however, is still Liberty’s preferred host for the race, and Formula One’s new chairman Chase Carey has made it a priority to thrash out a new deal in time for 2020.
“Our focus is still to preserve the British Grand Prix,” Carey explained. “We will carry on negotiating with the promoter in good faith and in private to reach a fair and equitable solution.”