Silverstone is special The BRDC Chairman explains why negotiations about a grand prix at Silverstone are entirely different to other events around the world
I am surprised by Bernie Ecclestone’s recent statement that he does not want to communicate any further with the BRDC in any negotiations about the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Bernie says that he wants to deal with a promoter and not with a club. Well, he is dealing with a promoter, it’s called Silverstone Circuits Limited and they are the promoters under the current five-year contract, as they will be in the future.
He says he has misgivings about dealing with the BRDC; I have explained to him that we have made structural changes. We have put in place a business board called Silverstone Holdings which is chaired by Charles Auld who is not a member of the club. We have two non-executive directors from outside the club and two who are on the board of the BRDC. We have made a very deliberate effort to remove the club’s influence from the day-to-day commercial business at Silverstone and to give these businesses autonomy.
I have spoken to Bernie about this and I understand that the world has changed, that he wants to do a deal for the British Grand Prix in the way that he now does with developing countries in other parts of the world.
The problem is, most of these countries have a willing government body or local authority that is prepared to make a long-term deal and is not concerned about the commercial viability. Take Valencia and Singapore — he is not dealing with a club of racing drivers, he is dealing with governing bodies which can do business because Fl is right for their country or city. We are prepared to take on the commercial risk of the British Grand Prix, and the hosting of the event, as we always have done. But we live in an
increasingly commercial world and Bernie is in a position to drive a harder bargain. Formula One Management has successfully sold Fl worldwide, and the fees it commands were unheard of even 10 years ago. We do take the business of the British Grand Prix very seriously and there’s no doubt that the BRDC has played a major part in keeping the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and we will do our very best to ensure that the event remains with us. We have had a promoter other than ourselves for the GP previously — that was Octagon and IPG. They paid us a handsome annual rent for the circuit and they paid FOM its fee for bringing the event. However they soon found the sums did not add up and withdrew from contracts in 2004. If there is somebody out there who feels there is a similar deal to be done, paying Bernie the fee he demands for the race, then we
will look again at this approach. We took the grand prix back from Octagon in 2004 and signed a five-year contract with FOM because we believed, and still do, that it is a viable business and a significant part of the business at Silverstone and at the BRDC. We should remember that Silverstone and the BRDC is a unique situation, a circuit owned by a club of racing drivers. The club was given the circuit by a group of generous British industrialists in 1970 and now we own the freehold of the circuit. So we are trustees of something special and important and that is a heavy responsibility. We must therefore do our utmost to meet the aims of the people who gave us the circuit. We are totally different from, say, a wealthy nation or city that can unilaterally decide that they want a grand prix and, to an extent, will simply pay whatever is demanded. We know from recent announcements of grands prix
in new cities and countries, that this is increasingly the future for Formula One. These are not purely commercial decisions, rather they are often taken for the sake of image and prestige.
I believe, however, that there is great desire in the Fl world to see a British GP at Silverstone. The UK is a hugely significant market for the manufacturers and for the sponsors. And, you know, I think Bernie wants to see a British Grand Prix. He wants us to convince him that we can deliver a viable plan by the end of this year and he has made it clear to us that he is not happy with the way the circuit looks. He says there will be no contract unless we improve things. We reckon this will cost in the order of £20m on improvements to the infrastructure. So we will spend time and money to enhance the value of the place. This means we must obtain planning permission for our new commercial ventures which, in turn, will fund the demands made by Bernie. It is these new ventures that will decide the success, or failure, of our bid to keep the grand prix at Silverstone.
We cannot, however, go out on a limb. We cannot waste the club’s resources just to do a deal, we have a duty not to squander our resources. The BRDC board will stay removed from any commercial dealing with Bernie and we have told our business board to use their own best judgement. They will do their best to come to an agreement that Bernie can live with and this may, or may not, get done.
There is pressure on us to succeed and, yes, it keeps me awake at night. Bernie wants to see some clarity from us, and I do not believe that he wants to take the race away from us.
I remain optimistic, but if we can’t come to an agreement that makes sense to us, then that will be the end of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.