“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.