F1 leaving Britain would be madness

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

69 comments on “F1 leaving Britain would be madness”

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  1. Less than 40,000 in Turkey? The US wants its race back.

    1. Yea I know, Bernie complained only having 100k…

      Kinda sad though, Turkey is a great track, and one of like 5 in F1 that’s actually worth watching.

  2. I’d bin Turkey for a Canadian or USA race

  3. Keith,
    I’d like enquire about the stats you have on Sepang, I suspect that it may be incorrect. I’m pretty sure that there were way more than 40,000 spectators over the 3days at Sepang this year. The official raceday figures released in the local media was around 90K, I think I can believe that. I suspect that there were more people this year because of the Jamiroquoi concert and post race party. Quite a number of the people just went for the concert and not the race, which is sad.

    Asia in general doesn’t understand Formula racing. Yes, they get huge crowds for the Japan GT and whatever other drifting series. For most, F1 is “isn’t it better to watch from home?”. Its sad to watch the Asian races and see the stands empty. The price of tickets is always a factor. Take Sepang for instance, where the general hill stand ticket start at RM 100 (which is a less than 20 quid), and that is considered pretty cheap for the locals. Yes the granstand tickets rise exponentially, but even the cheap hill tickets never ever get sold out!

    This is got to do with interest, there just aren’t enough people who are interested. You cannot force people to get interested in a sport, they have to pick it up on their own accord and preference. Football will always supercede any sporting event in the Asia Pacific region, same can be said of cricket in the sub-continent.

    If F1 wants to sell in Asia, which seems to be F1s next big target area, they need to actually have a go at selling it properly. They have to set standards for marketing and boradcasting the sport. Everyone has been privy to the dismal quality of the Asian Broadcast, so how do you expect the common man to take interest in the sport when Football and Cricket broadcasts and marketing are so much more better?

    You know, since we’re talking broadcasters again, its funny how the football and cricket pundits are all established professionals in their field, unlike F1! ESPN Star gets the likes Steve McMahon, Gerry Armstrong, Paul Walsh, Lee Sharpe etc for football, Ian Bishop, Geoff Boycott, Tony Greg, Ravi Shastri etc for cricket….why can’t they do the same for F1? We get Alex Yoong!

    1. The best way to make F1 popular in any country is to have successful driver from that country.

      An article on this site a while ago showed a lot of us here got into F1 due to Mansell mania. Before Alonso came along F1 wasn’t that popular in Spain, even though they had had F1 drivers in the past, I remember people saying you could always get tickets for the Spanish GP as it was never sold out, now Spain has two Grand Prix. And most recently look at F1 popularity in Poland since Kubica.

      While it is always good to have expert analysis in the media from people who were involved in the sport, it is easier for sports such as Football and Cricket to do this just due to the number of people involved. In Football there will be hundreds of players each season in the English Premier League alone, whereas in F1 you have 20 race drivers each season. And then the really successful in both sports may just decide to retire totally when they give up playing/driving, as they are multi-millionaires and don’t need to work again.

  4. Well look at it from here in Canada, The Canadian Grand Prix was sold out every year I went (4 in the past 6 years) Hotels aroud Montreal were booked solid at a 3 night minmum at $1000 or more for the weekend…. So attendance, great venue , great fans and even being in North America means nothing to F1 leaders so why would the UK or anywhere else be different? If not for my trip to London, I doubt I care much for F1 and with next years rule changes it looks more like Indy Racing and I can watch that here at a normal hour……..

  5. Another reason sometimes overlooked…

    Silverstone is a bloody good track!

    What’s wrong with judging a circuit on its racing merits and its favourability with the drivers sometimes?

    F1 is dead. Let’s start our own series, get Silverstone on board for 2010, and raise our middle fingers in unison to Bernie, Max & Tilke.

  6. I think they should alternate between donnington and silverstone, giving equal chance for the two venues to improve.

  7. Few sporting events can match the glamour and excitement the Formula One Grand Prix Season. First Serve are market leaders in organising top quality Tickets for all the Grand Prix circuits both at home and abroad

  8. 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.

    Can’t agree more. Although new places do present a refreshing change, good established GPs should always feature in the calender.

  9. Maurice Henry
    17th June 2009, 20:30

    Bernie’s major problem with the Canadian promoters was that he felt they had not kept up with their payments and owed him over US$20 million from 2007. Unlikely support for Bernie’s position came from Ron Dennis after the teams were briefed on the situation on 19th October 2008, at the Chinese GP. By the time October 28th rolled round Bernie’s final contract offer to them was US$143 million over 5 years guaranteed by a bank or government. As we know this was simply too high for the promoter to take.

    Alternating the British GP between Silverstone and Donnington is not an option as you can see from the Canadian GP’s experience I just outlined. Bernie has signed a 17 year deal with Donnington because he really does not care aboutF1 fans. The primary motivation is money. The only reason they started alternating the race in Germany was to halve the cost of the franchise fee paid to FOM. At the start of 2007 Hockenheim was US$35 million in debt and so the prospect of two GPs in Germany could no longer be entertained. The other point to make is that Hockenheim receives no govt contribution to the FOM fee, whereas, Nurburgring does. This did not mean that Nurburgring could afford to sign a new contract with FOM to run the German GP every year. Hockenheim’s contract expires after the 2010 race and there are rumours they are not in a position to go beyond that. To put this in perspective the newer GPs are paying absurdly high fees US$40 million (Valencia)- US$50 million (Abu Dhabi) all funding courtesy of govt coffers (local or national). Please note that, contrary to popular opinion, Bernie does have a heart. Monza only pays FOM US$3 million in fees.

  10. Maurice Henry
    17th June 2009, 20:33

    P.S. Keith – Malaysia’s attendance figures for 2008 broke down as follows:

    Practice – 9,310
    Qualifying – 40,000
    Race – 126,690

    Source – SportsPro magazine March 2009

  11. Silverstone should definately be considered as one of the venues for the European GP as it will definately be a venue that will be missed on the F1 calendar!

  12. For the chart on Sepang and Istanbul, did you mean three day attendance or attendance on the third day?

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