House of cards is looking fragile
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Now should be the time to look to next weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix — but last weekend’s British Grand Prix has a hangover that continues to resonate around the sport.
Traditionally, the season’s biggest and best-attended Grand Prix, this year’s organisers decided to make the event a four-day weekend instead of the normal three days.
Whether that was in response to the need to make more money or to alleviate the schedule of a crowded three-day weekend is debatable — but it did cement the event as a British summer institution.
With another staggering example of the “new order” sweeping through the sport, Liberty Media brought the centre of London to a halt on the Wednesday afternoon before the Grand Prix, when all the F1 teams and most of the drivers took part in the F1 Live London event.
Trafalgar Square and Whitehall were swamped with thousands of people watching F1 drivers acting like boy racers, spinning their cars with clouds of smoke and speeding with ear-splitting engine noise.
And all against the promoters’ orders, I am happy to say.
The London event was a major shift in thinking from the Bernie Ecclestone days of Formula 1 (where any promotion by his organisation was actively discouraged).
But it was set against the cloud that had descended over the future of the Grand Prix event at Silverstone.
Ecclestone has encumbered the owner of Silverstone, the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), with contract commitments that have unsustainable financial burdens.
To be able to renew the contract to host the GP in 2009, Ecclestone forced the BRDC to build a pit and paddock complex costing around $50 million, then further commit to a contract that had an escalation clause.
Silverstone paid $21 million to host the British Grand Prix in 2010.
With the 5 per cent escalator, that figure had increased to $29 million this year and will reach $45 million by 2026, the final year of the contract.
Therefore, the BRDC has activated a break clause in the contract which means the last Grand Prix at Silverstone will be in 2019.
In building the pit complex, dubbed “the Wing” and re-siting the pits to the back of the original track, the essence of Silverstone has been changed for the worse.
Described variously as badly designed, sterile and bland, the pits and paddock have little atmosphere compared to the original.
Even the nature of the track has changed so much as to emasculate it in the eyes of many drivers and devotees.
Silverstone is not what it once was. So, does it need to be saved? Does it need to be the home of the British Grand Prix and of motor racing?
The answer has to be an emphatic yes! Despite its failings, Silverstone remains the home of the sport.
With an estimated crowd of 400,000, the largest crowd of any of the GPs (perhaps inflated by “Hamilton mania” this year) and sited in the heart of the entire industry with all of the biggest motorsport events held there each year, what else could it be?
The thought of losing the spectacle of Formula 1 cars racing at top speed on an open, demanding, traditional track, one of the fastest on the calendar, and swapping all that for a meaningless street race with these brutes of Formula 1 cars penned between the canyon walls that racing on the street will inevitably mean, fills me with horror.
It would be a fatal mistake. Good for Formula E perhaps, but not Formula 1.
The negotiations will be difficult, as Liberty Media cannot be seen to be reducing the fee for just one of the 20 or so promoters around the world. If it did, there would be an avalanche of emails asking for similar treatment.
But somebody has to move somewhere because a deal simply has to be done.
Like Spa, Monza and even Suzuka, Silverstone is what Formula 1 is all about and the foundations upon which the sport was built.
Take away the foundations and the house of cards that is Formula 1 will crumble.