Sharing the British Grand Prix – nice idea but not economically sound

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Will the 2009 British Grand Prix be the last at Silverstone?
Will the 2009 British Grand Prix be the last at Silverstone?

The moving of the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to Donington Park in 2010 was discussed in Parliament yesterday. Mark Lancaster, MP for North East Milton Keynes, had this to say:

Although I realise that this is not a matter directly for the Government, the Minister concerned has recently had meetings with Bernie Ecclestone. All I ask is that we perhaps move to a system whereby the British Grand Prix can alternate between Silverstone and Donington Park.

It’s a logical idea in theory and I like the idea of having a choice of venues in my home country where I can see F1 cars in action. But the reality of the situation is rotating the Grand Prix would do nothing to guarantee the future of a race in Britain, and might actually do the opposite.

The German Grand Prix example

The British Grand Prix is one of only two races on the calendar whose country’s government does not provide any kind of financial support for the race.

The other is the German round of the championship. Since the retirement of Michael Schumacher at the end of 2006 instead of holding two races (the German GP at Hockenehim and the European GP at the Nurburgring) Germany holds one, rotating between the N???rburgirng in odd-numbered years and the Hockenheimring in even-numbered years.

Predictably the race makes a loss – every event on the calendar is believed to except for the Monaco Grand Prix which is the only race where the organisers take the money from advertising at the circuit, instead of Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Group. This year’s German Grand Prix is expected to lose ??3m (??2.36m).

If the rotation system isn’t working in Germany, which has two F1-standard circuits already, how could it work in Britain? As far as Ecclestone is considered, Silverstone is not of a high enough standard, and the Donington Park owners are talking about spending ??100m to bring their track in line with F1 specifications.

The Japanese Grand Prix is due to begin rotating between two venues. After this year’s race at Fuji Speedway F1 will return to Suzuka next year, and then switch between the two each year. But that event is understood to receive financial support.

How can the government help?

If the British government (whether the current Labour government or the Conservative opposition which at present look likely to succees them in a few years) wish to help the British Grand Prix, I can think of two ways it might happen.

The obvious way is financial support – and I wouldn’t bet a penny on it. Regardless of the huge losses made by F1 circuits on Grands Prix, Formula 1’s public perception is that it is cash rich, and giving public money to it would not be popular with the majority of voters.

On top of that Labour has the lingering memory of getting its fingers burnt with Bernie in 1997, when it was alleged he gave the party ??1m in order for the government’s support for an exemption from a ban on tobacco advertising for F1.

Perhaps more realistically, the government might be able to bring about an agreement with Eccletone whereby the race can stay at Silverstone at 2010 and beyond if, as seems likely, Donington is not ready to hold a Grand Prix by then.

Here’s a video of the session in which the point was raised – fast-forward to 2:15’18 for the statement:

More on the British Grand Prix at Donington Park