Matters of moment, May 2014

We’ve been gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response to our Time for a Formula 1 Revolution cover story, run in the April issue. We published our framework for change on the conviction that the majority of Motor Sport’s readers have become disenchanted with the artifice of modern Grand Prix racing, and judging by the feedback our instincts were on the mark.

The response from the superpowers at the top of the sport, including that from a certain former second-hand car salesman, was slightly more muted.

In fact we’ve yet to hear a squeak from anyone in a position of authority.

Are we surprised? Of course not.

The promotional rights holder couldn’t care less what we think of its ‘product’, the same is probably true of the sport’s governing body and it’s certainly the case with the man we made look like Che Guevara or Andy Warhol (depending on your point of view).

Also, we suspect other matters might be occupying Bernie Ecclestone’s attention right now.

Still, that doesn’t mean we’ll let it rest. As you can read this month, both Nigel Roebuck and Mark Hughes have been hugely encouraged by what they have seen (and heard) so far in 2014. But while the new F1 rules are a welcome shot in the arm, the fundamental weaknesses we raised remain all too real. We won’t stop campaigning for a better sport.

So many think F1 is motor racing, it seems. Even a wide-ranging topic of importance such as the MSA’s lobbying of government on the subject of closed public roads for competition (see page 44) was spun into a silly story about a London GP moving closer to reality. Talk about a red herring.

The closed roads act, if it can be marshalled through Parliament, could be the most exciting development in UK motor sport for years, allowing both national and district car clubs to create highly promotable grass-roots events. But it has nothing to do with F1.

Niggled by the nonsense of a London GP, I was then further reminded how this F1 fixation bears little relation to reality. Motorsport Industry Association chief Chris Aylett pointed me towards a report his trade body published recently, reviewing the strength and breadth of the so-called ‘motor sport valley’ in this country.

Based on 2012 figures, the UK motor sport industry generated a turnover of £9 billion, up from £4.6bn in 2000 – not bad in the face of the global economic downturn. A total of 4300 businesses employed 41,000 personnel, largely in high-performance engineering roles. But the figures that really made me sit up were the contributions made by F1.

Just 12 companies were included in what was called the ‘F1 Business Group’: McLaren, Red Bull, Lotus, Mercedes, Williams, Force India, Marussia, Caterham, Mercedes AMG and HPP, Cosworth, Silverstone Circuit and the Formula One Management Group. Of the gross national turnover of £9bn, these 12 generate £2.1bn: an impressive contribution from just a dozen companies, but still only 23 per cent of the overall business. And of the 41,000 employees working in motor sport, only 5243 operate at the pinnacle.

F1 is exclusive, just as it should be. But lest we forget, it’s not the whole story – never was, never will be.

If Michael Carrick (not the Man Utd midfielder, in case you wondered) has his way, the proposed Circuit of Wales – due to be built in time to host MotoGP in September 2015 – will add another 6000 to the overall employee count in British motor sport. The project, based on an Ebbw Vale site comparable in size to Silverstone, seems to be of F1-scale proportions when it comes to cost. A whopping £280million will be required – more than five times what it took to build Britain’s last all-new race circuit at Rockingham.

The project has churned up a great deal of ill feeling and suspicion within British motor sport. The mooted MotoGP deal isn’t signed and sealed, but that’s just the start. The real focus of resentment among the other UK circuit owners is CoW’s request for £50m of public funding, £30m from the Welsh Assembly and £20m from Westminster – so much so, it prompted Silverstone to “request clarification” from Prime Minister Cameron, claiming any such funding would be “illegal state aid”, the Government’s verdict when it chose not to help save the British GP in 2009.

Silverstone pointed out that, “Motor sport at circuit level is not particularly profitable and often loss-making. Many UK circuits are under-utilised and struggle for revenue. It is unrealistic to suggest Circuit of Wales will be the exception.”

Expectations have been raised among the Ebbw Vale community, not only of multiple jobs but 500,000 visitors a year. Now Carrick and the Welsh politicians supporting the project must deliver on their promise.

Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo in a Welsh dogfight? Fantastic. But for now we remain sceptical.

By the time you read this, the first rounds of this year’s BTCC will have been and gone. The crash-bang-wallop of Britain’s premier four-wheeled series isn’t to every purist’s taste, but with seven former champions in a guaranteed field of more than 30 cars, the BTCC is flying high once more.

As you can read on page 121, 1999 British Formula 3 champion Marc Hynes is returning to full-time racing directly because the BTCC attracts sponsors – according to Marc, easily so. The all-day TV coverage on ITV4 is a big part of this growing success story. But judging from the crowds that attended the March media day, it won’t just be TV viewing figures that bloom in 2014. Packed spectator banks are all too rare, as any British circuit manager will lament. BTCC race days buck the trend.

The big news for the Goodwood Festival of Speed this summer is that nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb will go for the hill record in the amazing Peugeot 208 T16 that blitzed Pikes Peak last year. Nick Heidfeld’s mark of 41.6sec in a McLaren F1 car has stood since 1999, so it’s about time it was broken. Let’s hope it stays dry on June 26-29.

I was also delighted to hear Richard Petty will return to the Festival for the first time in years. “I’ve been getting emails from ‘The King’ – no doubt who that is!” said Lord March. “It’s great to have him. And to have two current Sprint Cup cars will be exciting too, from Michael Waltrip and Richard Childress. They’ve made these special lightweight chassis, so they’ll be trying.”

Many star names have appeared at Goodwood over the past 20 years, but there are exceptions. I asked Lord March who was still on his list. “Michael [Schumacher], tragically,” he said. “That was going well for this year…

“And AJ Foyt. I just can’t persuade him! We’ve tried everything, but he doesn’t like the transatlantic travel. He loves his horses, and as Goodwood is as much about horses as cars I’ve tried that, too. You never know, one day it might happen.”

The incongruity of the Texan legend at a Sussex garden party would instantly become a great Goodwood moment. Let’s hope LM can talk him around.