The last few years have been tumultuous ones for the BRDC, but the groundwork has been laid for a long, successful future. By Tim Scott
The past four years have been a period of tremendous change for the BRDC. It has been faced with threats from the commercial world which have called its status into question, but it has met the challenges and laid the foundations for its long-term future as one of the pillars of UK motorsport
Its Board, along with several other influential members, have poured their talents and time into ensuring that the Club is equipped to deal with hosting a GP at Silverstone, that it nurtures young talent and encourages new schemes that help assure Britain's place at the head of global motorsport. Among the architects of change is BRDC Chairman Martin Brundle.
"In the last few years we have been recovering and rebuilding our financial base," he says. "We're heading out of debt and are stable again, and we have a secure future income. Most importantly, the British GP remains at Silverstone, crucial to retaining the value of the circuit."
Catalysts for this modernisation of the Club's structure were the disastrously wet British GP of Easter 2000 — which led to pressure to overhaul the circuit's facilities — and the expiry of the Club's contract to stage the GP. The BRDC simply could not meet the new and significantly higher fees agreed by sports marketing company Octagon, a subsidiary of US giant Interpublic.
The Club also received many unsolicited bids to buy the freehold of Silverstone. However, the Members who, as Brundle puts it, "are the guardians of the Club", voted against any such sale to ensure the BRDC's survival and ability to positively influence British motorsport.
"We had to find a solution otherwise we were going to go broke," Brundle explains. "Fundamentally, a private members club is not the right body to run the UK's biggest one-day sporting event. We were towards the end of a long-term deal, F1 had massively expanded and our fee for staging it had not. It was therefore relatively straightforward to make money at Silverstone for a period of time. Suddenly, the party was over, and the GP was going to Brands. If we had not moved fast, Silverstone would almost certainly now be up for sale, along with Brands and other British circuits."
The Board engineered two key changes. The constitution was altered to give another tier of voting to the 'Guardians', thereby making unsolicited buyouts not worthwhile. And in December 2000 an important deal was struck with Octagon, now renamed Brands Hatch Circuits Ltd (BHCL), by way of a long-term lease which enabled the BRDC to retain ownership of Silverstone and ensure that the British GP remained there. BHCL also undertook to join with the BRDC and Formula One Management to spend £40m upgrading the track's facilities and infrastructure.
"The difficulty for the BRDC," says Brundle, "is that on one hand it is a social club for the great and the good of the motor racing fraternity, but it has also evolved into a big business. However, our Memorandum and Articles prevent us from transacting in the way of a normal business and, in any event, we are not in a position to take significant financial risks as a big corporation could."
The lease income from BHCL — guaranteed even if Interpublic sells its division — has given the BRDC a chance to regroup financially and focus on future projects. Its unique philanthropic outlook, fuelled solely by the members' enthusiasm, means these ideas will be aimed at the welfare of British motorsport as a whole.
There are plans in the pipeline for the long-term development of the facilities at Silverstone. Club President Sir Jackie Stewart has been heavily involved in establishing links with the Government, encouraging state funding for this refurbishment, and establishing a committee in Whitehall to champion the cause of the British motorsport industry.
In Brundle's view, supporting young, talented British drivers is paramount: "I know from when I was a young driver how hard it is. The Club gave me an opportunity and springboard to establish myself, but now we can help financially, too. We provide over £500,000 of young driver support, from karting through the Rising Stars and Young Driver Initiative, the Formula Three Scholarship class and McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, right up to Formula One. It's a drop in the ocean and we must do more, but at least we are, uniquely, ploughing the funds back into the system."
The BRDC also owns a 50-acre High Tech Park on the north-western edge of the track which will be developed to create a further income stream for British motorsport. Positioned in the centre of the country, alongside the new dual carriageway M1/M40 link, it will provide a sound platform for motorsport companies.
The ultimate dream is a Centre of Excellence which would include an interactive motorsport experience tourist attraction to celebrate Britain's motorsport history; it will also look to the future. Alongside this would be the Motorsport Academy, where drivers, engineers and technicians could be trained together.
"Silverstone should be a busy, 365-days-a-year public attraction," concludes Brundle. "There remains much work to be done, especially regarding retaining the Formula One grand prix, but I am confident for our future.".