Should the UK Government Back the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2018?

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NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the start finish straight after the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Formula One is in danger of encountering a very-much unwanted first: no British Grand Prix on the World Championship calendar. Losses being made each year despite vast crowds have resulted in uncertainty surrounding the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2018. To help secure one of Britain’s highlight sporting events, should funding come from the UK government and therefore the taxpayer?

Should the UK Government Back the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2018?

Britain’s contribution to motor racing – especially Formula One, is without question. More than half of the teams are based somewhere in England. Many other series benefit from the British motor industry as well in one way or another. More F1 World Champions have come from Britain than any other country, and no other country has bred drivers who have won more World Championship rounds. With three-time champion Lewis Hamilton at the very top of his game still, it is very important that there is a British round on the calendar.

Money Issues

The current venue of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone, is owned and run by the British Racing Drivers’ Club and their chairman – former Grand Prix driver Derek Warwick. It has a capacity of 150,000 and the Grand Prix is often hosted to a sell-out crowd. This despite offering ticket prices at extortionate prices which can be paid for by essentially taking out a loan.

Silverstone is not to blame for ticket prices being so high, however. The circuit must make a profit somehow, and if people are willing to pay such prices for their tickets (and they are given the attendance figures over recent years) then there is no need for them to make things more affordable. Some events such as the Belgian Grand Prix may actually work out as a cheaper event for British people, despite the fact that it is in mainland Europe.

Not every event at Silverstone requires such money to watch, though. The World Endurance Championship is certainly much more ‘bang for your buck’, and is arguably a better experience than going to the Grand Prix. However, the fee for hosting a WEC round at Silverstone is obviously much more reasonable than hosting a Grand Prix.

At-Risk Circuits

The fee for hosting a Grand Prix has become one of the more clear issues in recent years within F1, despite the calendar swelling to more rounds than ever before. 2016 saw the calendar reach 21 races for the first time ever. With 20 rounds scheduled for 2017 following the German Grand Prix being dropped yet again, despite Germany existing as another powerhouse when it comes to producing massive names and history in this sport. Italy – the home of the most successful team in F1 history still is shrouded in uncertainty year on year regarding the Grand Prix there.

Evidently the vast amounts of money required to host a Grand Prix is not an issue for all, otherwise the calendar would not be so long and full of races held in so many different countries. However, many of these races are willing to pay a lot of state-provided money to host these events. Often, this is at the expense of countries perhaps with more motor racing heritage. The British Grand Prix, like much of Britain’s motoring industry, does not get any funding from the government.

Competition

Instead, funding is pointed towards other sports, perhaps understandably as racing costs so much money – even at grassroots level. Whilst some F1 drivers in the past have had state-funded F1 drives, British stars have often had to rely on junior programmes or private companies such as the Racing Steps Foundation. For a sport which has given so much success and many heroes to the UK, motor racing does not always receive the support or recognition that it may need from the government.

Given the current economic climate within the United Kingdom and uncertainty surrounding the vote to leave the European Union still clouding much of the vision for the government looking forward, is ploughing money into a single three-day sporting event justifiable, especially given how stretched key services are? That is a fresh debate in itself, but it would be without a doubt a complete disaster to lose one of the most famous Grand Prix in the world, and the location of where the World Championship was born, be it for a single year or multiple years.

This writer believes that government should focus on solving some more drastic issues such as the NHS being stretched to extremes as well as coming up with a plan for leaving the EU before even considering thinking about a single sporting event. Yes, the British Grand Prix is very important, but by no means is it more important than keeping front-line services operating.

Alternatives

If Silverstone cannot host the British Grand Prix, is there a suitable alternative venue – similar to the agreement that the Hockenheimring and the Nurburgring have in place? All bar two venues have already ruled out any chance of hosting the race. The first of these is the yet-to-be-built and consistently troubled Circuit of Wales. It would be silly to even conceive the thought of hosting the race there until some serious work has been started, which will only happen once some funding finally appears. The second venue is Brands Hatch, which does not have the required grade from the FIA to even have F1 cars run a test there. The facilities are not even close to being to standard currently, and the track itself will not be fit for F1 without some drastic changes, which will likely sanitise the circuit completely.

No other circuit within the UK currently hosts the all-important Grade 1 status required to host a F1 Grand Prix. No ‘in-progress’ circuit (except possibly the Circuit of Wales) could be built to such a standard as it stands, and that venue is troubled as discussed already. So it would appear that it is Silverstone or bust with regards to keeping the race on the calendar for 2018 and beyond. There have been bids to buy the circuit fairly recently, but none of these have come to much. It seems as if in the short-term at least, the circuit will continue to be run by the BRDC.

Bid to Remain at Silverstone

Some of Britain’s heroes of the past – including Damon Hill and Sir Jackie Stewart have come out in favour of trying to keep the race at Silverstone. There is a lot of support regarding this motion and this is not surprising. It is one of the best-attended races on the calendar, the circuit has vast amounts of history and character unlike some of the recent additions such as the Russian Grand Prix at the lifeless Sochi Autodrom, and it is generally one which is popular amongst the drivers.

The British Grand Prix is one of the biggest events in the British sporting calendar, despite not every race being live on free-to-air television any more. Losing it would be a complete disaster, but funding this annual event through the taxpayer is probably not very high on the priority list for the government right now. It is clear that the fee for hosting a round of the World Championship is just too high for a lot of great venues and for that reason perhaps a year out or two may provide the wake-up call that the powers that be need. If Formula One fails in keeping the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2018 and beyond, then it is Formula One – and not Silverstone, which needs to take a long, hard look at itself.

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