Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2018

Will the British Grand Prix be on the 2020 F1 calendar?

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Five races on this year’s grand prix schedule do not have contracts to appear on the 2020 F1 calendar. Geoff’s keen to know about Silverstone future – but what about the other four races as well?

@DieterRencken answers another of your questions:

Will there be a British Grand Prix in 2020? And, if there is one, where will it be held?
Geoff Thomas

Hi Geoff, you know how to pose the difficult questions, don’t you! Let me start by reciting my stock phrase when asked to predict F1 stuff: If I had a crystal ball, I’d earn my living by gambling on F1 rather than writing about it.

That said, I am sure I speak for all fans, particularly British ones, when I state that I sincerely hope Britain retains its grand prix, and more so at Silverstone, for the venue truly is the ‘Home of British Motor Racing’. It hosted the F1’s first-ever world championship round in 1950 and it would be tragic to lose that bit of history.

However, the sad fact is modern F1 is a voracious monster that needs feeding on a massive scale, resulting in costly race hosting and television fees. Staging grands prix without government funding is very much an economic high wire act – with many risks and commercial considerations.

Giuseppe Farina, Alfa Romeo, Silverstone, 1950
Silverstone hosted the first world championship race in 1950
I believe the cost of staging the British Grand Prix is about £35m, including hosting fees and promoter costs. That needs to be recovered from gate and concession income. Assuming an average three-day crowd of 120k – that’s on the high side – it means Silverstone needs to recover £300/head during the weekend to break even. With zero state support, that’s a massive ask – hence Silverstone’s insistence on reduced fees going forward.

There are, though, two sides to the story: I believe Silverstone is paying well over the odds for a European round after Bernie Ecclestone squeezed the circuit owner BRDC particularly hard last time. Equally, Liberty does not wish to reduce its fee lest it set a precedent. Result: stalemate.

So on to your second question: What are the chances of a grand prix elsewhere in Britain? Difficult at short notice unless Liberty already has viable options. First, there is no circuit able to step into the breach, and I doubt a street race could be set up in the time available given all the red tape.

Therefore, it’s Silverstone or bust for 2020, with the deciding factor being the calendar Liberty has lined up for 2020 – if it features 21 races without Silverstone, Britain is likely to lose out; if not the race could be handed a reprieve, if only temporarily.

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Start, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2017
Mexico’s race and three others are also in doubt
Which brings us neatly to Spain, Germany, Monza and Mexico, all of whose contracts also expire this year. All are pushing for reduced fees. Spain is suffering from the two-prong effects of Catalan unrest and the lack of an Alonso factor; Germany had already withdrawn for this year, but agreed to extend after Mercedes stepped in at the last minute with support; while Monza has lost piles of money for the past five years.

Mexico’s five-year deal expires this year, with the incoming (socialist) government planning to allocate its grand prix funding to infrastructure projects. Thus, Liberty is under pressure to decrease fees for five grands prix in quick succession, which would impact heavily on its revenues and profitability – and hit its NASDAQ share price.

The joker in the pack is, though, Zandvoort, pushing hard for a three-year deal (with options). Should Liberty renew the full quartet (above) and the Dutch deal comes off at a reasonable fee, then Liberty has no need for Silverstone; if not, there may well be an opening at a reduced rate for a short-term period.

That said, in my opinion it is unlikely that Liberty will manage to extend all five contracts at their current rates, so Silverstone has a better than 50-50 chance of being on the 2020 calendar. Thereafter the entire charade is likely to be repeated – particularly as Monaco, Austria and Brazil come up for renewal.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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44 comments on “Will the British Grand Prix be on the 2020 F1 calendar?”

  1. I thought Monaco do not pay a race fee?

    1. It doesn’t, but its contract is up next year, so in theory that could change. I seriously doubt Liberty will have the necessary financial scope to make that demand, though.

  2. As far as I know, they don’t, but they still have a contract both sides need to comply with, and Liberty may decide to insist on a fee going forward. No fee does not mean no contract…

    1. If any government could afford the fee it would be Monaco. It is a plum track, with a tasty history and clear glamour. I would bet that Monaco could be successfully pressured into paying a fee, like everyone else, yet they are not like everyone else. What is the value of such exclusivity?

      1. The reason MC has money is because it doesn’t squander.

      2. I don’t think Liberty will have enough races on its calendar to make the exclusivity threat.

  3. If there is no British GP for a year, it’d be worth a giggle. We can move the heart of f1 to austin and make more crashes ;)

  4. Is it correct to assume Liberty’s spending cap initiative does not include race promoter’s budgets?

    I’m not a global business guru, but it seems to me that if the F1 business models depends on the local hosts to lose vast amounts of money each season, that the F1 revenue model might be broken.

    1. Bingo. Also, the track promoter does not get any of the track advertising money; that all goes to Liberty. Finally, the track promoters are not allowed to use any Liberty intellectual property, such as film or pictures of races, in their promotional activities for their races…

    2. The model is not broken it was purposely that way for the benefit of Bernie. Basically it is a big Pyramid scheme where the people at the top were always going to walk away with all the money at the expense of everyone below. Tracks have to pay way too much to host races (I am not even sure they should pay at all…). Then there is the money given to teams. They are not given enough (especially the lower teams) so it is very hard for them to even exist let alone compete for the top. This used to be offset a little by sponsor money however that is drying up because Bernie sold the rights to pay TV stations. The problem is that these Pay TV stations do not generate the same number of viewers that free to air used to get and so logos on cars are not worth anywhere near as much as they used to be. The other problem is that potential new viewers are not being exposed to F1 so less new viewers are coming to the sport, which is worrying for the future.

      Liberty made a huge mistake in buying F1 and I am not sure they realised just what they were taking on. Their problem is that they paid a lot of money that needs recouping. They however are faced with falling revenues, tracks that can not afford to host races, teams that can not afford to stay in the sport and sponsorship that is depreciating. To fix the sport they are going to have to take a big hit in reducing fees for races and increasing money paid to teams and then hope that they can survive until the pay TV licences run out and they can then sell to free to air but again at reduced prices although at least then the viewership may increase, the sponsorship money may then increase and then the money given to teams can be reduced a little and the money they get for sponsorship may also increase… However they have to pay back big costly loans so I am not sure they can survive that long… Also even if they do survive for the next 5-10 years, if they lose the British GP and other prominent GPs will there be a viable sport left at that point?

      1. Great post. Spot on.

      2. Louise Bedford
        8th July 2019, 8:58

        There are so many free apps or websites to watch F1 free, & if they do get taken down they are replaced. So there are so many people that can watch F1 without having to pay a penny. I love F1 but this year I’ve hardly watched as to be honest it’s been so boring, I’d have been really fuming if I’d had to pay.

  5. Jonathan Parkin
    19th March 2019, 20:32

    I can’t help but think that Bernie had it in for Silverstone ever since it was essentially given the short straw in 2000 and forced to be the fourth round of the season.

    1. My info is that he tried to buy the place st some stage, and was rebuffed…

      1. Ah, a lover scorned :)

      2. Didn’t he buy Brands Hatch instead. That would be good alternative, but apparently the track is not up to F1 specs?

        1. Duncan Snowden
          20th March 2019, 0:48

          He didn’t buy Brands, but before the better-known Donington débacle – off the top of my head, around the turn of the century; I’ve a faint recollection of discussing it on Usenet newsgroups – he tried to play it off against Silverstone in a very similar manner. Plans were published for redeveloping the place to bring it up to spec., but unlike Donington, fortunately, work never actually started. There was some doubt at the time over how serious the project was, and if it was even financially viable.

          My feeling is that Liberty understand the value of the traditional races and venues much more than Bernie did, and I’d be surprised if Silverstone lost the race, but that doesn’t mean it should be complacent.

          1. BlackJackFan
            20th March 2019, 9:26

            My feeling is that Bernie understood their value, but didn’t give a damn – because he worked on his belief in his own revenue stream.

        2. @gpfacts The book “Bernie’s Game” tells this brilliantly, and I can only offer a pale echo of it, but here goes:

          The owner of the Brands Hatch circuit at the end of the 20th century, Nicola Foulston, wanted to retire early, and thought buying Silverstone would give her the werewithal to do it. After her first attempt to buy Silverstone was looking weak due to the arrival of better-recognised faces, she approached Bernie.

          Bernie was fed up of the BARC and BRDC’s general stubbornness at not doing what he asked them to do, or doing it their own way and time (an annoyance that had been going on since the 1980s). So he was quite eager to help Nicola. Especially when she told her that the BARC had been reconstructing the management of Silverstone in what Bernie considered to be a breach of contract with Silverstone.

          Nicola then managed to negotiate to BRDC that if it sold Silverstone to her, the management reconstruction would be overlooked and Silverstone would keep the Grand Prix. This failed, but due to the Silverstone management managing to rub Bernie even further up the wrong way than usual in the process, Bernie decided to accept Nicola’s offer for Brands Hatch to host the race for an increased fee. Spotting that the rights were themselves highly valuable, Nicola was perfectly fine with this. Her agenda was better-served if she sold Brands Hatch and its F1 race right to someone else to actually stage the race.

          However, it was only after she got the rights that she discovered that this would be quite expensive. The financial side, unlike Donington Park’s attempt, was relatively straightforward; this was just before the dot-com bubble burst, and the Royal Bank of Scotland was happy to underwrite the extensive cost given the guaranteed six-year contract. She even managed to find a company (Octogon) who would happily pay the proper value of the circuit, the upgrade costs and the value of the contact for the F1 race. She got her wish and retired happily.

          It is not clear how long it took Octogon to discover the locals wouldn’t stand for the environmental changes needed to bring Brands Hatch up to standard, making the costs moot, but it wasn’t immediately. The local council even approved the upgrade when it was put forward to them six months after the acquisition. However, the residents’ complaints were heard by the national government, who launched an inquiry. Bernie never wanted to lose Britain’s income stream, and the arrival of Martin Brundle at the helm of BRDC meant someone who spoke his language and with whom he could make a deal. Octogon got a 15-year lease of Silverstone, all talk of attempting to move to Brands Hatch dried up, and that brings us neatly to the 2008 break clause activation…

  6. The story around Cylchffordd Cymru is interesting, as it was recently floated as an alternative. Of course (Pardon the pun), the Circuit of Wales was a costly wager and an environmental problem, so it never received government funding. Any juicy knowledge?

    1. @ferrox-glideh That was a mess of a project. It was supposed to generate 6000 jobs in a very difficult part of Wales in which to attract employment, and on that basis asked for £18 m from the Welsh Assembly in 2011. Building was due to start in 2013 and the track to open in 2015. The understanding was that an insurer was underwriting the rest of the (then estimated to be £200 m) bill. This was granted, subject to meeting relevant milestones. A year later, it hit the first milestone (it not being clear what that milestone entailed) and received £2 million.

      So the Assembly was surprised when, two years after the track was due to open, having missed all other milestones, it asked for… …£357 million. The politicians thought this was a tad fishy and investigated. The Auditor General’s eventual report has to be seen to be believed, and the Public Accounts Commitee report that followed is no kinder.

      There certainly was an insurer, but it only promised half of the original projected cost. The actual cost had turned out to be far in excess of the projected £100 m. The insurer refused to increase its funding because it had signed no contract to do so and expected other parts of the public sector to contribute, and the Welsh government did not wish to pay any more money into a project that, it soon transpired, would likely need over £400 m to successfully complete and also would not generate the 6000 jobs originally stated.

      Matters were not improved by the fact that it was long since known that a minister had broken the Ministerial Code by lobbying in favour of the circuit to an environmental agency, or the suspicion of its having used priviledged information to co-opt the environmental risk assessment necessary to get the land released for the circuit’s development. Further, the Welsh Assembly had been forced to pay £7.34 million to cover a loan to suppliers that was defaulted upon by the circuit developers. This limited the extent to which the Welsh Assembly could risk further involvement with the scheme.

      Did I meantion that initial £2 m was found to have been at least partially misused by the developers?

      You may not be surprised to hear that a subsequent request for £234 m fared no better. Not to be deterred by this or the £31 m of debt it is currently carrying, the same company made an application to renew the circuit’s expired planning consent six months ago.

      Oh. Dear.

      1. @alianora-la-canta
        That is seriously juicy. What a debacle. Thanks for your reply.
        Cheers from Canada!

  7. It seems ridiculous to lose a historical track like Silverstone over less money than Ferrari receive for their Long Standing Team payout just for showing up.

    1. Agree, @g-funk.

      However, applying logic or common sense to both sides of the FOM ledger has never made any sense. Since they seem to race well there, maybe Ferrari will step in and cover any Silverstone race fee shortfall. That would be only logical. Uh-oh…

  8. Josiah (@yoshif8tures)
    20th March 2019, 4:09

    If the British GP were to disappear next year, and with F1 now being behind a pay wall, I can see interest in the series facing a fast decline irregardless of Hamilton being successful.
    If people can’t and won’t pay to watch it, it’s very unlikely people will continue to care, much less gain new fans.

    1. @yoshif8tures totally agree with this. it’s hard to see how the sport will survive in the UK in this environment. one glimmer is that sky will be more open with their pricing (it has come down significantly since they first got involved, though admittedly not enough for me) and that they will transition to more of an on demand netflixy model. you could argue that this is short term loss for negligible and unpredictable long term gain, but growing viewership of the sport ought to be the primary concern (hence why we get so exercised about it not be free to air!).

      perhaps the sport needs to set its targets lower – people are just less fanatical about things in a world where there is so many options for entertainment.

      also, I don’t mean to be unkind but ‘irregardless’ is not a word. it’s either ‘regardless’ or ‘irrespective’. it always bugs me when people use it, sorry!

    2. @yoshif8tures Attempting to gain new fans by treating existing ones shoddily does seem an odd way to go about it alright.

  9. Panagiotis Papatheodorou (@panagiotism-papatheodorou)
    20th March 2019, 6:09

    I am not even British but the British GP is the heart of F1. Silverstone is one hell of a Track so hopefully they will allow it to be in the calendar next year. It is unimaginable that the current champion may not have a home race, similarly to how Vettel didn’t have one in 2015/2017, which was also Mercedes’ home race.

    Some countries like Britain, Germany, Italy and even Brazil need to have a race.

  10. It would sucks if Zandvoort takes the place of Silverstone which i hope doesn’t. I rather see Zandvoort added then taking a place of a other circuit.

  11. BlackJackFan
    20th March 2019, 9:30

    Hi Dieter… I’ve never understood why an existing, high-class circuit like Brands Hatch is invariably described as “unsuitable for modern F1” when the same people can turn around and happily convert a few public streets into a very suitable circuit… Where’s the logic…?

    1. The only thing with Brands is they will want to turn the gravel traps into tarmac which would be the worst decision in history. I agree they don’t complain about run off at Monaco or Baku (and the speeds are much higher in Baku). the noise restraints only apply to a certain amount of days a year only for the GP layout to be used, but the Grand Prix would just end up being one of those days. Would love the GP to go back to Brands Hatch, and would be happy for the circuit to be made wider in certain places, but placing tarmac instead of gravel would ruin the look of the track, and remove the challenge of some of the greatest corners in the world. (see Spa for reference). Brands certainly has better infrastructure than Zandvoort, and would need less work done.

      1. Gavin Campbell
        20th March 2019, 13:39

        Brands is super tight on days for the GP loop, so much so that the DTM round last year was shortened down to a 2 day event from 3. The other issue is that Brands (and donnington, along with pretty much every other uk circuit) is owned by MSV (Jonathan Palmer). He knows how to make money out of racing circuits, they also promote/run BTCC (Briting touring cars) and BSB (British Super Bikes) – the only external championships he really has engaged with is World Super Bikes and DTM.

        MSV are very unlikely to turn around and sign onto paying liberty 35 million a year for F1 race rights.

      2. Gubstar, if you look at the footage of the circuit from the F1 races held back in the 1980s, they were already converting some of the gravel traps over to tarmac because of safety problems back then (Paddock Hill Bend was covered in tarmac). There were notable serious accidents in the past at Brands Hatch, such as Jacques Laffite having both legs shattered in a career ending accident at the start of the 1986 British GP or the injuries Irvine suffered in Formula 3000 in later years, so it is not as if Brands Hatch hasn’t had problems with driver safety before with higher powered single seater cars.

        The problems are not just confined to the drivers though, as there was a near miss only last year in the European GT4 Championship race when van der Ende was pushed off the circuit and ended up crashing head on into a barrier. His car ended up partially vaulting over the barrier and threw quite a bit of debris over the wall, coming quite close to hitting the marshal who was standing just behind it at the time.

        For all the focus on the drivers, the safety of the marshals is often overlooked in these discussions, and in that area the safety standards of Brands Hatch are lacking.

    2. BlackJackFan
      21st March 2019, 2:05

      Thanks guys for your replies… but I seem to have erred by mentioning Brands, as the replies have mostly dealt with why Brands, specifically, isn’t/might not be, suitable…

      What I was asking is why any potentially suitable circuit seems always to be rejected, usually because it doesn’t come up to ‘F1 standards’… and it is usually declared it would be cost-prohibitive to upgrade…
      whereas…
      a bunch of public streets that were never intended to be used for any form of motor-racing is suddenly accepted by the F1 authorities after adjustments (mostly safety, I think) which seem not to be too expensive.
      How is it apparently so easy to convert these streets, but not an already pretty decent circuit…?

    3. Upgrading to the F1 standards of 2000 was found to be impossible due to environmentally-based objections by residents. The requirements have only got more onerous since then.

      Donington Park was the most suitable alternative venue to Silverstone, and had someone very much willing to make the effort. However, getting it to 21st century standards would have required careful handling… …and to say the least, the 2009 attempt was not careful. Current owners do not like financial risks and don’t tolerate even small amounts of red ink on small parts of their project (hence Donington Park Museum’s closure last year). Having a big red hole every year for the F1 race would be anathema to them.

      Every other established circuit has been put off trying as a result of this – the ones that, from an environmental standpoint, could make an attempt, wouldn’t because it would be too difficult and too expensive for too little potential reward and too little chance of obtaining that reward.

      UK street circuits a) don’t have all that baggage and b) have been successfully held for F1 cars (albeit not as rounds of the F1 championship) as recently as the late 1980s. It won’t work in London, but Birmingham would happily do it, and some other cities would likely consider it.

      1. Many thanks for your contribution… but it seems to simply echo all the old reasons given why existing circuits find it too expensive / difficult to up grade… but fails to answer my question:
        “How is it apparently so easy to convert these streets, but not an already pretty decent circut…?”

  12. Whilst there are other circuits I like more (Spa springs to mind immediately), it would be a pretty poor show if there was no British Grand Prix, given that of the 10 teams currently entered to compete, 6 of them are based in the UK, even though not all of those race with a British licence.

    So that’s:

    McLaren (Woking)
    Williams (Grove)
    Renault (Enstone)
    Racing Point (Silverstone)
    Mercedes-Benz (Brackley)
    Red Bull Racing (Milton Keynes)

    All of this world-class engineering in the UK, and unable to show it off here. How sad it might come to this.

    1. Make that 7 teams – I believe Haas have their base in Banbury.

  13. I would genuinely like to know how much a country’s interest in, and TV viewership of, F1 is linked to that countryhosting a race.

    As sad as it would be to lose Silverstone, it’s so unaffordable for me to attend, it might as well be hosted at a Silverstone carbon copy on an island in the middle of the Pacific. But it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment of F1 that I can’t go.

  14. The promoters of Spain, Germany, Monza and Mexico, as well as Silverstone, need to get together! A calendar without all these five rounds would be unthinkable. Together, these promoters could dictate terms to Liberty. On their own they will be picked off.

    1. They did. Joint letter weeks ago.

      1. @rsp123 Not only did they do so (apart from Mexico, which may not be able to host the race even with a fee reduction due to its ogvernment’s new priorities), but they got 12 other tracks to join them in FOPA.

  15. Brexit is also a big factor in how things will turn out on the GP. Together with the availability for Zandvoort. Also Zandvoort could be a replacement for Hockenheim. But the Dutch GP is still uncertain in many ways. So I wouldn’t trust in this just yet.

  16. bringa back zolder in f1

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