Saturday, 24 October 2009

Bernie is right on the British Grand Prix

“Do we need a British Grand Prix? No.”

That is what Bernie Ecclestone, who holds the contract rights to F1 is quoted as saying in a BBC article today.

As I write the plans for the 2010 British Grand Prix are in turmoil, Donington Park, the track that secured the deal to host the race for next year have been unable to raise the money needed to improve the track and its facilities in time to meet the last of the many deadlines the track, under the control of Simon Gillett, have been given.

Silverstone, the track which looked like it had lost the race, has offered to step in and take the date at relatively short notice.

However, Ecclestone has revealed that he will not negotiate a “discount” contract with the Northamptonshire track, despite the fact that other historic races, such as the Monaco and Italian Grand Prix do.

Seemingly central to this approach is that Ecclestone does not believe that F1 needs a race on British soil, or at least not one at Silverstone (offer him that fabled London street circuit and it’d be interesting to see his stance).

And you know what, he’s right.

Firstly F1 does not NEED any particular race. There are more than enough countries queuing up to host a race. Yes, most are Far or Middle Eastern countries, some have tracks of debateable quality, but there is enough interest to keep a 16 or 17 race calendar going. Simply because there is no British race does not make the eventual winner less of a World Champion.

Secondly, and more frighteningly, F1 does not NEED a British race.

You can argue that the fact that most of the teams are based in the UK should safeguard a home race? But why should it? They already travel the equivalent of umpteen times around the world in the season, what difference would maybe having one less race in Europe make?

And the team’s wouldn’t just up and leave because there was no race in Britain, they are here because of the huge pool of talent they can rely on and top class facilities, not because there so happens to be an F1 a metaphorical stone’s throw from their front door.

Also, from what I see so far, it’s the fans who are crying out for a British Grand Prix rather than the teams.

After all, fans are what keep the sport going. Fans make the sport saleable for sponsors, suppliers and manufacturers.

And are British fans going to still be watching F1, either at the tracks or on TV, even if there is no British Grand Prix?

Yes. Yes we are.

We will kick up a fuss for a few months, but by March next year, we’ll all be sat back in our normal chairs watching the first F1 races of a new season? Compare that to what Bernie will no doubt call "emerging" markets, such as Korea or India where fans need to be introduced to F1 on their doorstep.

OK, so no-one will get the gate receipts from a Silverstone, or even a Donington, weekend but many of the same fans who would attend a British Grand Prix will start change plans to go to another race. Spa, Monza, maybe a race further afield.

Sports fans, after all, are already used to spending money on flights (or other travel) and tickets to follow their favourites. Why else would sports stadiums around the world have “away ends”, why else would the Channel Tunnel be packed with cars headed for Le Mans every June.

Bernie will still be able to rely on the British Pound reaching F1’s pocket, so on a business level he doesn’t need the British Grand Prix, he simply needs the British, and the two are very separate.

But I repeat, that’s on a business level, not a sporting level.

I suspect Bernie doesn’t care about that.


NB: I, under no circumstances, support Bernie Ecclestone, the man is a greedy, evil man with no sense of how to run a sport. And that is what F1 is - a sport.


  1. A lot depends on whether you think Formula One is a sport or a spectacle. If it's a spectacle (like, say, professional wrestling) then the argument you make works.

    But if you think it's a sport, relying on races that provide genuine challenge and suspense, then boring circuits in far-flung bits of the world don't cut it. And events that can't pull in more than a few thousand at the gate don't make for a financially sustainable future either. It is likely Mr Ecclestone (79) is not taking the long view with regards to his business.

    In order to maintain any credibility as a sport rather than an extended tourism opportunity F1 needs to stick with its roots, visit the circuits like Silverstone that provide a real sporting spectacle instead of a stage-managed procession, and draw on the hugely knowledgeable and engaged fan base, which is to be found in countries like Japan, Britain, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and the US.

    You may be right to say that F1 can do without Britain specifically but nevertheless Britain has something that it simply can't do without. At least, if it is to retain any credibility as a sport or long-term financial sustainability.

    And that's without the next generation of Ross Brawns, Adrian Neweys, Christian Horners and Rob Smedleys. Hopefully there were little boys and girls being taken to the British Grand Prix right up until last year who will grow up to do exactly the same wonderful things that they have.

    What a depressing view of F1 fans you have! Far from sitting in your chair and turning on the telly, try getting out to a few races next summer. And, if you want to do more than just nod sadly and say: "Bernie's right" try emailing your favourite team and tell them you want to see them race in this country. Pop along to Brits on Pole for a few more ideas...

  2. I admit I may have a slightly depressing of a majority of F1 fans, as TV watching, chair sitting people, but it what I am, and I tend to believe I am far from the only one, for variety of reasons, distance from Silverstone, cost etc.

    I do, however, agree how you you view most of Bernie's decisions ALL depends on whether you consider F1 a sport, a spectacle or a business. On the face of it he is running a very good business, giving races to the highest bidders, while still trying to exploit his TV audience (with night races, later starts in Asia etc).

    But he is running a lousy sport, for exactly the reasons you mention.

  3. " I, under no circumstances, support Bernie Ecclestone, the man is a greedy, evil man with no sense of how to run a sport. And that is what F1 is - a sport. "

    Some might argue that Bernie knows exactly how to run a sport, with TV audiences around the world soaring and companies around the world queuing up to plough sponsorship money into the sport, despite a worldwide recession.

    I do agree that F1 doesn't need a British Grand Prix, although the hundred thousand fans who made it to Silverstone this year will no doubt argue this. However, once Britain has lost its race, whose to say other classic European races won't be next, with Middle and Far East countries prepared to pay huge sums of money for the privilege to hold a race?

    A race calendar without Silverstone wouldn't be a disaster (great tracks like Spa and Montreal have disappeared for the odd season recently and F1 has carried on) but what about a calendar without Silverstone, Barcelona, either German circuit, Spa and Budapest, replaced by plethora of circuits in countries thousands of miles away, all designed by Herman Tilke.

    The abolition of the British Grand Prix will not be the end of F1, or the end of F1 in Britain, but if the British Grand Prix is not sacred, then what other European races will be (apart from Monaco and Monza of course)

    Yes, Bernie no doubt does need to continue F1's growth, and turn it into a truly global sport (although a race in the USA doesn't seem to be on the cards yet), but not at the sake of its heritage. Unfortunately, most of the European countries like Britain that can't rely on vast amounts of their government's cash, and the sooner Ecclestone realises this and offers these tracks a more favourable contract, the better!