How new tracks are squeezing traditional circuits out of Formula 1

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

2005 Italian Grand Prix start, 470150

Christian Sylt keeps a close eye on all things money related in Formula 1 (that’s pretty much everything, then) for his excellent publication Formula Money.

He shared some very interesting data with me on how the new Formula 1 circuits are raising the cost of hosting a Grand Prix beyond the reach of F1’s traditional venues:

2002 2007
Average race sanctioning fee $11.3m $19.3m
Highest race sanctioning fee $26m $37.8m (Malaysia)

How much are the European rounds paying compared to that astronomical $37.8m figure of Malaysia’s? Catalunya, Magny-Cours and Silverstone all pay $15.75m – far below the market average.

On the face of it the Spanish Grand Prix should have nothing to worry about as the country has recently fallen in love with the sport thanks to Fernando Alonso.

But it now faces competition within its own borders as Valencia is now hosting the European Grand Prix and tickets sold out very quickly.

Early indications are that Catalunya’s grandstands, which we have become used to seeing full to overflowing in recent years, may not be at maximum capacity this year – although there are still a few days left for last-minute ticket purchases.

Lewis Hamilton’s popularity has prompted the British Grand Prix organisers to add another 2,500 seats this year – but even if the Grand Prix sells out can it really afford $37.8m without extra funding from somewhere else?

Silverstone’s contract runs out at the end of next year and the British Racing Drivers’ Club is investing money in re-developing it to keep Ecclestone happy. But will they have enough money after that investment to actually be able to afford the race?

Ecclestone doesn’t seem too concerned about their dilemma:

They’ve known for five years what they have to do to maintain it – to bring themselves up to speed with everybody else.

We can’t go round the world making people put grade A circuits together and we’ve got the home of motorsport in England and we’ve got the worst facilities. I’m sure they’ll make the effort to get it together in the end.

It’s not unreasonable for him to want his F1 championship to be held at the best tracks with the best facilities. But if they’re all going to be charged the same rate and the cost is pushed up by nations with governments willing to back the events then those without government clout are going to be priced out.

Protecting historic F1 venues

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Spa-Francorchamps, 2005, 470313

So what’s the solution? Some have suggested that certain F1 rounds should enjoy protected status on the calendar because they are part of the sports heritage.

For example, Britain and Italy have held a round of the world championship every year since it began in 1950. France only missed one year. Three other events have held substantially more Grand Prix than the others: Germany (55), Monaco (54) and Belgium (51). (Source: Analysing Formula 1).

These events are a precious part of F1’s heritage. Some of them like Spa, Silverstone, and Monza are much the same venues that were used in the 1950s and earlier. If they cannot afford the massive increase in prices to hold an F1 race then F1 should recognise their value to the sport and give them a price break accordingly.

The Concorde Agreement used to assure teams that some of these races would always remain on the calendar. The agreement (the commercial terms by which F1 is run) expired last year and it’s not clear whether the events are still protected.

Rumour has it Silverstone has been offered a new deal at a reasonable rate but with some very stiff repayment conditions attached. There are also suggestions that the British and French rounds might be forced to hold races on alternate years – a very unsatisfactory situation for the country that he the first ever Grand Prix (France) and the country that held the first world championship F1 race.

I’m glad to see F1 broadening its spread to new venues around the globs. But I don’t want to see it happen at the expense of the venues that are an intrinsic part of the sport’s appeal.

Read more about past Formula 1 tracks