Silverstone cash boost
Lease deal safeguards future of British GP’s home
The British Racing Drivers' Club is set to hand over the running of Silverstone circuit on a long-term lease to an unspecified bidder — and details could be announced as early as the beginning of October.
The BRDC board is aiming to announce the deal, which is in the final stages of negotiation, to its members at its annual general meeting on October 4. It would follow the announcement of a deal with commercial property company MPEC, which is owned by the BT pension scheme, that covers land owned by the BRDC outside the perimeter of the circuit facility.
BRDC chairman Stuart Rolt explained that the second deal was designed to facilitate the kind of investment required to maintain the home of the British Grand Prix as a premier venue for F1 and other international formulae. "We are very optimistic that we will be stepping back from the day to day running of the circuit," he said. "In terms of future investment we are talking about a bridge over the circuit to The Wing [the new pit complex completed in 2011, above] and three hotels to make the facility even better. We think someone with deeper pockets can take responsibility for that."
Rolt pointed out that Silverstone stands alone as an F1 venue operating without government subsidy.
"Ours is the only venue that has to make the GP and the circuit pay," he said. "Every other [Fl] circuit is subsidised by the local authority or national government and it doesn't really matter if the GP makes money. We've managed, but it is not a very comfortable business existence."
The deal, about which the BRDC cannot comment under confidentiality agreements, is understood to have been agreed. The potential lease-holder is now going through a process of due diligence that Rolt is hopeful will be completed "in the next few weeks". The 800-strong membership of the club, which operates as a mutual society, will have no right of veto on the deal. It gave its board authority to negotiate such a deal to safeguard the track's future under a Members' Charter agreed three years ago. The charter includes certain safeguards about the usage of Silverstone in the future. It states that any deal must result in the circuit's primary function remaining "essentially a venue for car racing".
It reads: "The configuration, nature and quality of the race track, together with the associated buildings and media and spectator facilities, shall remain as befitting Silverstone as a premier international motor racing venue capable of holding the premier tiers of international motor racing." It further states that the lessee will be under obligation to secure major motor racing events on an annual basis.
The charter also enshrines the BRDC's home at Silverstone. It includes guarantees concerning the state and location of the BRDC clubhouse and rights of access to the circuit for members. The Charter was agreed after the members rejected a previous proposal from the board for Silverstone Circuits Ltd, which is wholly owned by the BRDC, to lease the venue. In 2005 the board negotiated a deal with horse-racing conglomerate Northern Racing (now part of Arena Leisure).
The new deal would mark only the second time since the BRDC took over Silverstone in 1952 that it has handed control of the circuit to a third party. The BRDC did what turned out to be a short-lived deal with Octagon in December 2000 after Brands Hatch owner Nicola Foulston sold her contract to host the British GP to the US sports marketing giant.
Octagon subsequently withdrew from the deal in March 2003, which resulted in the British F1 fixture's original omission from the 2005 calendar.
Rolt said he was confident there would be no repeat with the new group set to take what is rumoured to be a 150-year lease on the facility. "We have thought about that long and hard," he said, "but when we tell you who they are, I think the world will be comfortable with them."
The MPEC deal covers 760 acres of industrial land, which includes the Silverstone Industrial Estates.
It has taken a 999-year lease for £32 million, which has allowed the BRDC to pay off the short-term loans it took with Lloyds and Northamptonshire County Council to fund development of The Wing and the creation of the current circuit layout.