Silverstone chief - British GP deal just "too risky"

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Silverstone believes Brands Hatch will most certainly end up making a loss over its deal to stage the British Grand Prix from 2002 until 2006.

Talking exclusively to MOTOR SPORT, Silverstone chief executive Denys Rohan explained that his circuit turned down a similar offer from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone because it was “too risky”. “A contract is about risk and reward,” he added, “and what this contract represents from our perspective is too much risk and not enough reward.”

The stakes rose after an offer to Ecclestone from Rohan’s opposite number at Brands Hatch, Nicola Foulston, to move the Grand Prix back to the Kent track for the first time since 1986. Silverstone’s refusal to match that offer led to the recent announcement that the British GP will move to Brands in three years’ time.

Rohan said: “On the proposed terms I don’t know whether anybody could make a profit out of it. You’re certainly talking about very small profits relative to the risks involved.

“You have to bear in mind that this is very long term, up until 2006. Promoting that relies on all sorts of assumptions you have to make about the future.”

According to Rohan the doubts include: tobacco advertising on billboards being banned by 2001, thereby eliminating a rich source of circuit revenue; the favouritism of Ecclestone towards pay-per-view TV, which is worsening the quality of terrestrial coverage and could mean those with only a casual interest in motorsport lose interest, and the uncertainty as to whether a new British hero can draw crowds in the same way as Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. Two other concerns are the flotation of F1 and whether Ecclestone will still be on the scene in 2006.

Rohan believes Foulston is attempting to manoeuvre Brands owner Brands Hatch Leisure into a position where it can buy Silverstone from the British Racing Drivers’ Club: “What Nicola is doing, I am sure, is trying to destabilise the membership so she can get the circuit cheap, and what she drops on the Grand Prix contract she can save by underpaying for Silverstone. It’s a straightforward commercial issue.”

He also claims that Silverstone can continue to make a profit without the Grand Prix, and hit back at criticism that the BRDC is run by “a bunch of old duffers”. “It’s got six millionaires,” Rohan said. “Lord Hesketh was a leader of the Conservative party in the House of Lords. You don’t get to do that without having some intellect. Frank Sytner has a big public company while Martin Brundle knows as much about Formula One as anybody. Those are not a bunch of fools.”

Foulston, according to Rohan, is being “fantastically brave”, and Silverstone is showing sharp business sense in not taking the deal: “We’re in the business of being aware of risks. After all, we are the guys who’ve done this for a very long time. It’s not the absolute amount of money it’s a question of the rights that go with it too. I mustn’t get to the situation where the company can’t continue in a strong and healthy way. With or without the Grand Prix, we’ll have a strong, healthy business come 2002.”

Rohan also claims the BRDC will put up a stiff fight against any takeover, particularly from a publicly-owned company such as BHL, which is accountable to profit-motivated shareholders. Rohan also revealed that the BRDC itself holds shares in BHL.

He said: “She’d much rather buy Silverstone and hold the Grand Prix here than go through the aggravation of recreating Silverstone at Brands. She doesn’t realise the BRDC member is not like a public company investor. He’s much more concerned about the future of motorsport, and the future of motorsport is not safe in any public company’s hands. End of story.”

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