But the venue – and the money – need to be resolved
The future of Formula 1’s British Grand Prix is in the balance. This year’s event, scheduled for July 14, could conceivably be the last at Silverstone, the spiritual home of British motor racing … at least for the time being.
Silverstone’s multi-year deal to host the British Grand Prix ends this year and with the two sides failing to agree financial terms a dark cloud hangs over the future of the event.
So, if not Silverstone, where … Brands Hatch, Donington Park, Rockingham Motor Speedway? The problem with those three circuits is that it would cost too much to bring them up to modern F1 standards and the British Grand Prix is the only one on the F1 calendar that receives no government funding.
If there is no purpose-built race circuit available, what’s the answer? A street circuit perhaps, and that could only mean London.
A Formula 1 race on the streets of London is not a new idea. It’s been mooted – and rejected – in the past, but the idea has received fresh impetus with last year’s acquisition of the F1 franchise by US-based Liberty Media and through the lingering doubts concerning Silverstone.
F1 insiders, however, are keen to stress this is not an ‘either/or’ situation. Most want to see the British Grand Prix – one of only two (along with the Italian GP) to have featured every year since the world championship started in 1950 – continue at Silverstone. But they would also like to see a London Grand Prix run in tandem with it.
Ross Brawn, Liberty Media’s Head of Motorsport, said the idea of a London Grand Prix is being revisited, but not at the expense of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. However, such a race would not be staged in the heart of London.
“The disruption it would cause in the centre of London would be unacceptable,” he said. “But there are things on the periphery that are being explored – not in the centre, but Greater London. We’d like to see London complement Silverstone, not replace it. We could see ways we could make it work for both sides.”
It’s a view shared by Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull. “I think that there’s a desire within Liberty to see a street race in London, “ he said. “In an ideal world we’d be fortunate enough to have both – to retain the British Grand Prix and Silverstone and to have a street race in London.”
There also seems to be interest at the Mansion House where London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked his team to explore options with F1. If there is a stumbling block it’s likely to revolve around money.
The cost of constructing a street circuit has been estimated at $60 million (about £46.5m) – a fraction of what it would cost to upgrade existing circuits to F1 standard. But nevertheless, the question remains who would pay? The taxpayers of London would find it unacceptable and it is unlikely the government would step in unless the event could be guaranteed to show a profit.
Standing in the way of a profit is the hosting fee that Liberty Media might charge. Hosting fees are a closely guarded secret, but it is known from published accounts that they averaged $30 million per race in 2018. It is also known that within that figure there a wide discrepancy. For instance, Monaco, another street circuit and F1’s jewel in the crown, pays nothing while Baku, a recent addition to the calendar with Azerbaijani government support, pays in the region of $60 million a race.
So what about London? The possibility is they may get a free ride. Liberty Media are keen on more street races. Although they tend to produce less exciting races, they are popular with the fans. There are already six street circuits currently on the calendar – Baku, Monaco, Montreal, Singapore, Sochi and Melbourne – and a seventh in Hanoi will be added in 2020.
Liberty has a list of “destination” cities it is keen to add to an already crowded calendar, and London is one of them. Liberty is also anxious to add a second US grand prix and is believed to have been prepared to waive a hosting fee in a futile effort to get a Miami street race on board. Perhaps the same kind of offer to London might just swing it.
In London’s favour is its ability to host major sporting events. Indeed, it is no stranger to motor racing either. Battersea Park was the venue for two Formula E motor races in the past and London’s Docklands will host the concluding two races of the championship next season. The starting grid will be inside the ExCeL exhibition centre then take in 23 corners on a 2.4 kilometre track running in a clockwise direction across the waterfront of the Royal Docks.
Formula 1 would need a more substantial, longer and faster track to accommodate cars capable of generating speeds up to 230mph compared with Formula E’s 174mph. But would it not be possible to create such a circuit on the Isle of Dogs south of Canary Wharf? The circuit would be bounded by water on three sides, effectively creating an island track similar to Montreal’s. This would cause minimum disruption to the everyday life of the capital and would have the advantage of excellent communication links, including the nearby London City Airport.
Maybe this option has already been considered and discounted as the Isle of Dogs can in no way be considered the “periphery” of London mentioned as a possibility by Ross Brawn.
But the fact remains a London Grand Prix is very much on the cards. It seems it’s all down to the money.