F1 leaving Britain would be madness

The Turkish GP - almost half as many spectators as British GP practice

The Turkish GP - almost half as many spectators as British GP practice

If Donington Park isn’t up to scratch by 2010, there won’t be a British Grand Prix.

That’s Bernie Ecclestone’s insistence – and it is complete and utter folly. At a time when F1 spectator figures are taking a hammering, the last thing F1 should be doing is turning its back on one of the best-attended races on the calendar.

The effect of the recession on ticket sales is clear when you look at crowd figures for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Spanish Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2007-2009 (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2007-2009 (click to enlarge)

Yes, part of the drop-off in ticket sales will be down to the fact that Fernando Alonso is not in a winning car. That said, going into this year’s Spanish Grand Prix he had won two of the last eight races, so I think that is part of the explanation but not the whole reason.

While previously popular European races are seeing a decline in attendance, some of F1′s newer venues have embarrassingly small crowds:

Malaysia and Turkish Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2008-2009 (click to enlarge)

Malaysia and Turkish Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2008-2009 (click to enlarge)

So poor was the size of the crowd at the Turkish Grand Prix that even the drivers commented on it:

I think when you come here and you see in the city that there are massive fans around, and you come here and see that there is nobody then you know that it is just too expensive. So we have to make it cheaper. We prefer to race at a track with cheaper tickets but a lot of people inside, because if they put down the price of the tickets it would be full.
Felipe Massa

Inevitably lower ticket prices might mean more sales but it might not improve the track owners’ profit margins – and they have Bernie Ecclestone’s hefty fees to pay. As Ecclestone’s income from the races is not linked to how many people show up, he can charge sky-high prices and leave it to the track owners to worry about whether anyone will actually show up.

Of course, it is terrible for F1′s image for the racing to take place in front of near-empty stadia. That isn’t a problem at Silverstone:

British Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2007-2008 (click to enlarge)

British Grand Prix crowd sizes, 2007-2008 (click to enlarge)

Silverstone was a sell-out last year despite having recently added an extra 2,500-seat grandstand. More than twice as many people watched Friday practice at Silverstone last year than say the race at Istanbul this year.

I have nothing against Simon Gillett’s plans for a British Grand Prix at Donington Park. But we have to be realistic and admit that in a recession there are difficulties to financing such a large construction project and paying Ecclestone’s fees.

If Donington Park can’t hold the race next year, Silverstone should be offered the opportunity. For more than half of F1 teams it is a race right on their doorstep, and hence is the most cost-effective to attend. It packs in the crowds, and has never been off the world championship calendar.

Leaving the British Grand Prix off the 2010 F1 calendar would be madness.

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F1 fans at last year's British Grand Prix

F1 fans at last year's British Grand Prix

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69 comments on F1 leaving Britain would be madness

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  1. A Singh said on 16th June 2009, 12:04

    There should be two GPs in Britain, considering 6 teams are based here.

    And the British GPs have something a GP in the desert where 500 people turn up: atmosphere.

    • Just about to say the very same thing.

      Spain has two GPs following Alonso’s fanatical home following. In Britain we have both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button who have thousands upon thousands of supporters.

      So why not have two races at Silverstone and Donington each year?

      • Bigbadderboom said on 16th June 2009, 14:59

        Agreed, why can’t we at least have the european every 2 or 3 years? We have the most commited and arguably best informed supporters. Rather than Bernie threatening no British GP he should be looking for opportunities for a second! And base his income from the gate and merchandising, it’s always going to be a sell out!!

        • themark said on 17th June 2009, 3:52

          I have to say that the supporters in Japan could easily support two races as well. But as we’ve seen, commitment means nothing. Only the mighty dollar draws Bernie’s eye

    • frecon said on 16th June 2009, 17:36

      My personal feeling, as spanish fan, is that Valencia is going to fall from the F1 calendar after this year. Last year was the worst race of the season, and I don’t think is going to be better this time.

      Probably Portimao will take the place of Valencia.

  2. persempre said on 16th June 2009, 12:08

    I`m not even sure Bernie`s fee is linked to whether there`s even an event at all?
    He may get his money even if a GP doesn’t go ahead Keith.

    • al_amana said on 16th June 2009, 12:19

      Wow, sad state of affairs isn’t it persy (if I can call you that!?) And to think he’s part of the gang trying to “cut costs for the benefit of F1″ with Max’s budgie cap (and no it’s not a typo!)

      • persempre said on 16th June 2009, 12:49

        lol – you may call me anything you like, al_amana. Hopefully, it will be among the better names I get called ;)

        F1 needs a new broom. There’s too much dust left in the corners with the worn out ones.

    • Matt said on 16th June 2009, 13:00

      Hasn’t the GP been secured by Donnington for nearly the next 20 years – if the track isn’t finished it’s hardly Bernies fault – however he probably did push to get them to commit to the fee this year else they wouldnt get the whole package.

  3. ComeBackMontoya said on 16th June 2009, 12:25

    I agree completely.

    Lets just hope the FIA don’t manage cause a breakaway series, F1 loses it’s appeal and Donington get left high and dry.

    Silverstone isn’t perfect that’s for sure, but as an event it’s fantastic. Last year they made an extra effort with entertainment zones keeping fans amused during breaks in on track action.

    Even the rain last year couldn’t put a dampener on the event. It was without doubt the best GP I’ve attended at Silverstone.

    I must admit, I feel that as with the current political situation between FOTA and the FIA, the whole Silverstone row is more about personal disputes between Ecclestone and the BRDC, and as usual it’s the fans that suffer for it.

    I do hope that Donington has better toilets and P.A System than Silverstone, it took two hours to find a usable toilet last year.

    • F1 Rulz said on 16th June 2009, 13:41

      I do hope that Donington has better toilets and P.A System than Silverstone, it took two hours to find a usable toilet last year.

      How did you hold it in?

      • Chalky said on 16th June 2009, 14:28

        This is a major issue at the British GP with so many fans attending. Basic facilities like this should be much better catered for.

        It was hard to tell who held it in last year, when so many were soaked through due to the wet weather. :)

        Best thing is to scout out and plan your toilet stops. Like get a loo stop in during a support race and then don’t drink too much.

        I saw plenty fans emptying themselves behind any small building last year due to the length of the queues.

  4. I agree, there should be more than one British GP. However, the FIA is not known to make logical decisions. Furtunately, if there were to be a break-away F1 series, one of the best F1 circuits with massive spectator numbers will be available to support it.

  5. Navs said on 16th June 2009, 12:45

    Quite extraordinary that it’s even being considered. Taking everything together: proximity, attendance, history, costs, etc. I would think Silverstone would easily beat some of the newer venues. Sure Silverstone may not have the best or most modern facilities, but how much difference does that make really?

    • DGR-F1 said on 16th June 2009, 13:19

      Apparently quite a lot if Bernies previous comments are anything to go by.
      So every circuit on the F1 calendar has to pay a fee to Bernie, build new stands and facilities to suit Bernies tastes, then charge extra high ticket prices to claw at least some of this money back again.
      They won’t even see a percentage of the TV or sponsorship money, and if the teams have a right to some of that, don’t the circuits have just as much right too?
      And in Silverstone’s case, its not as if Bernie has said at any point, ‘that’ll do for five years chaps’. He appears to want extra money spent every single year. Why on earth have the BRDC put up with it for so long when he doesn’t appear to worry about say Bahrain or Monza…..?

  6. PJA said on 16th June 2009, 13:13

    The problem with F1 going to all these new countries is that they don’t have the support to justify it, this isn’t helped by Bernie charging sky high fees so tickets aren’t cheap for the local fans. During the Turkish GP the commentators mentioned that it was the only time the circuit is used all year, which I find quite amazing.

    Unless Donington are being charged cut price fees from Bernie just to spite Silverstone I can’t see how they will make a profit especially with all the major changes they need to make, even with a long term contract.

    I am against countries having two Grand Prix simply because of all the places left off the calendar.

    If a country has two good circuits one solution is to alternate between the two. Or how about the location of the European Grand Prix changes each year so in some years a country will have two Grand Prix, like in 1993 with the British GP at Silverstone and the European GP at Donington. I don’t know if there are problems with only hosting a Grand Prix every other year or more, which would prevent this from being feasible though.

    If Donington isn’t ready for 2010 and Silverstone isn’t used it will be because of issues Bernie has with the BRDC who own Silverstone.

    • Dougie said on 16th June 2009, 13:23

      During the Turkish GP the commentators mentioned that it was the only time the circuit is used all year, which I find quite amazing.

      Absolutely agreed, its crazy. But that is not Bernie’s fault, it is bad marketing to the other race series that could visit there. The problem is also the apparant lack of local race series in Turkey, any series visiting the track would need to be at WC level.

    • DGR-F1 said on 16th June 2009, 13:28

      There are now so many circuits available in Europe, there is not really a need for a ‘European’ GP. It was only created at a time to fill a gap in the season, as far as I remember.
      Why does F1 visit circuits where it is the only race in the year? If thats the only reason it was built, that must be a sure sign of lack of a motorsport history, and greediness on somebody’s part.
      Although I agree F1 should lead the way to opening motorsport to new countries around the world, isn’t it just practicle to go where the Marshalls might know what to do?
      It would be great to see F1 back in places like South Africa, Argentina, Mexico…. with cheap tickets there would be huge crowds…

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  8. Dougie said on 16th June 2009, 13:20

    Reading this post it makes me think that it is Spain we should have more Grand Prix in. Why?

    Well, according the the statistics you’ve chosen to show here, Catalunya attendance at its lowest is still comparable with Silverstone in what should have been high British interest seasons.

    What would be interesting, and I couldn’t quickly find the stats, is a line-graph showing Silverstone attendance over the last 3 decades to determine the pattern. For me there is no argument here for keeping a British GP over most other venues (Turkey excepted).

    …and all Turkey proves is that the ticket prices are too high and insufficient marketing had been done.

    That said, it would be sad to see the British GP go, and I hope that Donington pulls through. I don’t really care where it is, Donington, Silverstone and even Brands (with some development) are all great circuits.

    That said also, I can’t afford to regularly go to Grand Prix races and it would only be a small handful of times in my lifetime, and if I had to choose a race to attend (all costs considered) I would definitely visit mainland Europe often (probably Monza first) before any British race.

    • matt said on 16th June 2009, 20:17

      But it said Silverstone was sold out. Spain had more people mainly because it has more space I guess.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th June 2009, 20:42

        As Matt says, I think that’s more a question of total capacity. I don’t know what the reasons are for Silverstone not having greater capacity but I’d take a guess that logistics, cost and probably safety regulations are limiting factors.

        • Dougie said on 16th June 2009, 22:41

          Having visited the Circuit de Catalunya I can say that ultimately its location is not all that dissimilar to Silverstone. The difference is that the Spanish (and most European countries I’ve visited) have a fantastically integrated transport system, so although the train stopped a 30min walk from the circuit, the journey without car was very simple… and only 3€ return.

          Try getting to Silverstone without a car. Without the rail network the Circuit de Catalunya would have the same issues as Silverstone. Not just that, but the management of people leaving the circuit by car/train is managed very professionally. Almost like herding cattle…mooooo!!

          Almost 90,000 attended the MotoGP and I can only say I was totally impressed with the ease of getting there and away. Silverstone needs a rail link, mass transportation is the only answer. Park and Ride only works if the buses have a different route than the cars, but to do that you compromise the cars. Its all about balance. But, more than anything Silverstone needs a rail link.

          Honestly, I wouldn’t give Britain a GP, the government can barely organise a pi55 up in a brewery. Yet they will spend billions on the b0ll0x that is the Olympics, and spend nothing on a sport that brings enormous revenue to the country in tourism year after year. Fortunately, we already have a GP and long may we hold on to it. Not that we deserve it of course, not compared to mainland Europe.

          • persempre said on 16th June 2009, 23:11

            Yes, I agree,
            There seems to be a completely different attitude in Europe to that in the UK & transport is a good example.
            Monza has free buses running between the station & the circuit which are an experience in their own right.
            Special trains (some of them free to Monza spectators) are laid on from Milan & even some of the Milan-Como/Como-Milan Inter City trains make special stops at Monza during the race weekend to allow those staying further afield to get to the track without cars.
            If Silverstone had a train link it would be good. I doubt we`d ever get GP transport FOC though.

          • Arthur Fowler said on 17th June 2009, 9:15

            Without a GP at Silverstone, a rail link will never happen now.

          • CJD said on 20th June 2009, 9:40

            “Not that we deserve it of course, not compared to mainland Europe.”
            Why are we undeserving? Surely cars are part of the spectacle. Now that’s a thought for Max, mo more antsy team owners.

  9. Arthur Fowler said on 16th June 2009, 13:26

    Ecclestone is a disgrace. The guy is so wealthy, he’s just totally out of touch with the average guy. The British GP means soooo much to the people of Britain, but he has shown a total disregard for us. You’re not welcome here anymore, Ecclestone.

  10. HounslowBusGarage said on 16th June 2009, 13:37

    Bernie couldn’t give a monkey’s about the numbers of spectators at Turkey or Silverstone. He makes his money from the track by means of the fee he charges to actually supply the race – nothing to do with spectator figures. His major interest though, is the sale of the TV rights. And he makes a lot of money from that.
    TV viewing figures mean much more to Bernie that trackside spectators do. He really wouldn’t care if the stands were completely empty as long as the organising authorities had paid their $25 million or whatever, as he earns from the volume of TV audience instead.
    So if a track like Turkey says to Bernie “We lost loadsa money last year, so we don’t want to pay so much this year” Bernie will say “On yer bike” and scoot off to another country eager to project itself into the limelight for the price of a second hand plane for the national airline.
    It doesn’t matter two hoots if Silverstone packs in a million spectators or just one; Bernie’s not interested. Actually, that’s not true. Bernie would use the British GP success as a method of wheedling more millions from all the other GPs next season.

    • Choltz said on 16th June 2009, 13:58

      Bernie has a 5 year lease on the Istanbul track, so I do think he has interest in the success of that race, however, placing a F1 race in a country with a low GDP (low compared with the country it replaced on the calendar, Canada) and leaving prices the at the average levels is pricing out the locals.

      Oh well, Britain should have a GP, that is obvious, well, for race fans it is obvious, not so much for evil business men. ;)

  11. Daniel said on 16th June 2009, 13:52

    Well, I also think that countries with a strong racing heritage (UK, US, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, among others) should have their Grand Prix preserved… it would be the same as scheduling the Beach Volleyball World Circuit without Brazil or the United States, countries where the sport was invented…

  12. ccolanto said on 16th June 2009, 14:47

    It’s funny how places like Montreal, Canada, which is sold out year after year, get’s the boot, when Istanbul can attract 30,000 people.

    • zplol said on 17th June 2009, 6:48

      Bernie charges the same amount, sold out or not. The only losers are the race organisers

  13. Gman said on 16th June 2009, 14:48

    I can’t agree more with the title of this article, and the many supportive comments left here regarding the future of the British GP. The British public has contributed so much to Formula 1, in every possible manner, that it would be a disgrace for the nation not to have a Grand Prix. Under any circumstance, the future of the British GP should never, ever be in doubt.

    As for Britain hosting two races a year, that’s a very good idea, but i’ve always thought let the country host one race, and then alternate the second with another country every year. Perhaps keep Silverstone and let Donnington alternate with Imola or another circuit.

    In any event, here’s to the future of the British GP- long may it continue in all it’s glory :)

    • LewisC said on 17th June 2009, 16:32

      The problem with alternating is that the quality and safety required for F1 these days implies some very expensive facilities. Without a GP every year it’s extremely difficult to justify spending out on such upgrades (it’s not Bernie wanting 24 diamond-encrusted hot-tubs, it’s also the medical equipment, space in the pit lane for mechanics’ safety, run-off space, etc etc).

  14. theRoswellite said on 16th June 2009, 15:13

    F1 is very popular around the world. (the US always being the aberrant monkey)

    f1 could draw enormous crowds anywhere if the PRICE of attendance was just REASONABLE.

    The commercial structure of F1 is controlled by BE, and is thus designed to MAXIMIZE his profits. His interests and the LONG TERM interests of fans, participants, and the sport in general, are not necessarily similar.

    This is an important question we should be asking. Why is the FIA, in the person of Mr. Mosley, so concerned about limiting the cost of participation for the teams…because of the long term sustainability of such a structure, and NOT CONCERNED about what is happening to the historic relationship between many tracks, to include their national fan support.

    It could certainly be argued that Mr. Ecclestone has established an itinerary of races that are operated and sustained by financial support OTHER THAN WHAT CAN BE RAISED BY LOCAL FANS ATTENDING THOSE RACES, and the remaining limited commercial rights.

    Is it in the long term interests of the sport to drop races from the traditional locations, the locations which have grown and nurtured the sport, only because of the present commercial demands of Mr. Ecclestone?

    The FIA’s “concern” for the financial viability of F1 seems sadly misdirected.

  15. F1 Outsider said on 16th June 2009, 15:21

    The flipside of Spanish GP attendance being down because of Fernando Alonso not being in a winning car would be that Silverstone attendance is up because of Lewis Hamilton being competitive the last two years and this year Button.

    • F1 Outsider said on 16th June 2009, 15:26

      Of course its a moot point. It would be ludicrous if there were no British GP in 2010!

    • frecon said on 16th June 2009, 17:39

      You are wrong. A really high percentage of tickets sold lasts years in Spanish GP were to F1 fans out of Spain.

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