Why a British Grand Prix full house is so important for Silverstone

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It is no exaggeration to state that the staging of this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone with capacity crowds was crucial to the long-term survival of ‘Britain’s Home of Motor Racing’; indeed, to the survival of the circuit’s owner, the British Racing Drivers Club.

While the grand prix – and, by extension, the venue itself – has over the years had a mercurial relationship with red ink, no other event has threatened British motorsport’s ‘holy trinity’ – race, circuit and club – to the same degree that Covid has.

As revealed here last year, Formula 1 cancelled and/or renegotiated all its 2020 grand prix contracts once the true extent of pandemic became apparent. However, for this year F1 is believed to have adopted an uncompromising stance: pay up or lose your future slots, regardless of circumstances. Some government-backed events, such as those in Singapore and Melbourne, could afford to settle; privately-owned ones not.

Although F1’s 2020 moratorium on hosting fees let promoters off the immediate hook, venues such as Silverstone rely on grand prix bonanzas to provide turnover and cash-flow to off-set their substantial annual operating costs and overheads. Consider that around 60% of Silverstone’s £60m annual turnover is generated by the F1 grand prix; the rest by other activities including other race promotion, schools, launches and track days.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Silverstone, 2021
The crowd saw F1’s first sprint qualifying race
True, the Midlands circuit hosted two back-to-back behind closed doors events last year for which F1 modestly reimbursed the club. But it was only through the goodwill of fans (and club members) who did not demand immediate refunds after their attendances were denied that Silverstone balanced its cashflow. A run on refunds would likely have tipped the promoter over the edge, necessitating a government bail-out or worse.

Although 2020 accounts for the operating company, Silverstone Circuits Ltd, are not yet due, the estimated loss for last year runs to close on £3 million, while the 2019 report published at the height of the pandemic highlighted the threats posed by Covid to the company’s future. On turnover of £60m Silverstone turned a profit of £800,000 in 2019.

The 2019 report refers to “new funding arrangements with the company’s new main banking partner” and carry-over losses incurred “after an impairment loss was suffered through an unsuccessful track resurfacing operation in 2018.” The 2018 Moto GP round was cancelled and 40,000 tickets refunded, so the pandemic created a perfect storm just when the venue was ill-equipped to weather even intermittent drizzles.

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Thus, for the future of the British Grand Prix it was absolutely crucial that Silverstone be granted a full-house exemption via the British government’s major events pilot scheme. The Events Research Programme also saw Wimbledon host its final with a capacity centre court crowd of 15,000 in attendance, while last week’s Euro 2020 final in Wembley played to a live crowd of 60,000. Silverstone’s Sunday full-house will double that, moving live attendance up another gear.

Hamilton warned against using the crowd as a “test pen”
As always there is no shortage of support for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. Thus, it is rather ironic that Silverstone named its main straight for this race after the local hero – Hamilton, born 60 kilometres away in Stevenage – despite his warnings against fully opening the gates.

“It’s been great that we’ve had people even at the last race and I have not heard any negative things from the last race,” he said after the French Grand Prix where spectators were admitted in blocks of 5,000. “But I like to err on the side of caution and slowly build up rather than go full pelt and using our British fans as a test pen,” Hamilton added in response to the news Silverstone would hold the largest single-day crowd since the pandemic began.

The good news for F1 is that the trend is upwards: 15,000 on race day at Paul Ricard, 80,000 mainly Dutch fans turned up to cheer Max Verstappen in Austria a fortnight ago, 140,000 at Silverstone, another full-house in Hungary ahead of F1’s summer break. Indications are that Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza will be granted full exemptions by their respective governments, meaning the balance of the 2021 European season will play to capacity crowds.

2022 F1 car model, Silverstone, 2021
How many will see F1 cars like this in action next year?
As for the rest of the 2021 F1 calendar, it’s a matter of wait and see: Russia and Turkey are likely to have full crowds although Japan will in all probability delay a decision until the full effects of the Olympics are known. The final block of events cannot yet be predicted but indications are that the USA, Mexican and Brazilian rounds will go ahead – albeit the latter probably without crowds.

That leaves three calendar slots: A replacement for Australia plus the two Middle Eastern races in Saudi and Abu Dhabi respectively. The smart money is on a second 2021 race in Bahrain replacing Melbourne’s round although one hears from the region that negotiations with Qatar were well advanced before being scuppered by politicking in the region.

All this points to a 23-race calendar as originally scheduled, which was viewed sceptically by many in the paddock. At least 10 of the 13 rounds remaining after this weekend’s Silverstone race hosting capacity crowds, which augurs extremely well for 2022’s ‘new era’ F1. Fittingly, at Silverstone the series presented a full-scale model representing the cars which can hopefully race in front of full stands worldwide next year.

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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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28 comments on “Why a British Grand Prix full house is so important for Silverstone”

  1. I can understand that these great venues need a big turnout for saving themselves from bankruptcy, but seriously do we need to pack 140,000 people when Delta variant is going on a rampage in UK and is poised to invade continental Europe as well? Tomorrow if “freedom day” in UK, but it couldn’t come at a worse time.

    Liberty Media should have shown more flexibility with these payments and try alternatives to pump up their much desired cash flow for their shareholders.

    1. Yes, yes we do. We have a vaccine and the most vulnerable have been double jabbed for months now. We should have fully unlocked in May. Anyone who looks at the data can see we’ve broken the link between cases and hospitalisation/deaths. The vaccine was never created to fully end COVID, that’s simply impossible. The whole idea is to transform it into a manageable illness which the vaccine has done. I strongly suggest you really study the data as it’s very reassuring. The guardian ran a great article comparing the individual “waves” some key facts;

      Wave 2 vs wave 3 cases

      45 days into wave 2 – 20k
      45 days into wave 3 -50k

      Hospitalised

      45 days into wave 2 – 1000
      45 days into wave 3 – 250

      Deaths

      45 days into wave 2 – 110-130 per day
      45 days into wave 3 – 12 -16 per day

      Wave 3 is the current Delta variable which is known to be easier to spread. We’re seeing double the cases yet 10% of the previous death rate and 25% of the previous hospitalisation rate.

      1. Show all the improved % you want, but even at slower rates the hospitalisations will still put the NHS under the same pressure they had just a few months ago. A clap of hands won’t do them any favour.

        Look, I wouldn’t like to see another lockdown, it wouldn’t be sustainable for the economy of any country, but I don’t see the need of these super-spreader events like 140,000 people at Silverstone or 70,000 at Wembley for Euro 2020. The more Covid circulates, the more variants we’ll see.

      2. I’m not cursing, but looking on how infectious the Delta virus is, will the daily cases continuing the uptrend, breaking 100k (referring Indian last month), then you get the similar or more hospitalized and death count, if no stricter measure taken?

  2. I still see no way for Brazil to go ahead.
    The red list thing alone is a stumbling block, not to mention the overall COVID situation.
    The red list will also prevent Abu Dhabi GP from taking place unless UAE gets removed in time, but a non-issue for Turkish GP as long as Japan doesn’t face cancellation.
    I’m less skeptical for Japan and Mexico, although they could still lose out.
    As for possible replacements pre-Saudi Arabia, I don’t rule out Shanghai yet.
    Time will, of course, tell everything eventually.

    1. Sao Paulo will vaccinate everyone over 12 with the first dose by mid September and also, ironically, South America has the least dangerous version of the virus in the world at the moment. It will be full crowds, you can bet on it.

      1. @Postreader Doesn’t matter if Brazil doesn’t get removed from UK’s red list in time.

    2. @jerejj I agree on the Abu Dhabi race which is a shame. I’d also note that Bahrain has recently been added to the UK’s red list as well, so that race should be in doubt for the same reason. I live in the UAE and can confirm our cases are low and have been for quite some time, the vaccination rates are one of the highest in the world and things are very normal here (other than compulsory masks in and outdoors and social distancing rules) and have been for some time.

      The fact the UAE is on the red list, while the UK’s numbers are spiralling out of control while the government look the other way, is a joke quite honestly.

      1. @geemac I’m aware of Bahrain being on UK’s red list, but that wouldn’t be an issue as long as the following weekend would be a race weekend – specifically, why Istanbul Park isn’t at risk for now.

  3. Well, if 140000 spectators want to come, let them.

    Eventually we will beat this covid thing.

    As for F1 who knows how they will turn a profit. Ticket sales and TV rights bring the majority of in income. If they can get new Crypto sponsors, that can bolster dwindling spectator income.

    Even before Covid many circuits were unsustainable, now there is a big question when and if at all life will get back to previous normal.

  4. Just wondering how many if any F1 fan sites will report the number of cases of Covid caught at the British GP?

    1. They did such a study at the Indy 500 this year, which was capped at 40% of capacity and had attendance of 135,000 people. A month later they traced 19 people being infected and attending the race, and all those people were from Indiana and all lived outside of Marion County, the county that Indianapolis resides in. Pretty insignificant.

      1. William Jones
        18th July 2021, 15:33

        That was a report published by WTHR. They did not submit it to peer review or publish their data or methodology. Please don’t mistake a scientific study for pseudoscientific marketing.

        1. William Jones
          18th July 2021, 15:35

          *Or even mistake a pseudoscientific piece of marketing for a real scientific study!!

  5. The weak and frail people are vaccinated. How many collective lifetimes should be traded in for ‘staying safe’ against something mostly harmless for most people. You aren’t forced to go outside if you don’t want to, these people are aware they’re taking a calculated risk by attending.

    1. Not to mention it’s simple limit of a function, really. Any and all NPIs just delay the inevitable at this point since the chance of eventual exposure is 100% considering the virus is endemic.

      The only thing you can do is get vaccinated before your first exposure, but all of us will contract it at some point in life. Multiple times. As is the case for the 200+ respiratory viruses out there.

      Reply moderated
    2. William Jones
      18th July 2021, 12:34

      Their friends, their family members, the people that they pass in the supermarket, they don’t agree to take the risk. And no, the vulnerable aren’t all vaccinated. Some people can’t have the vaccine. Some people are young and vulnerable. There’s also increasing evidence that there is no age divide, and while the young aren’t dying in hospital, they are instead suffering permanent organ damage.

      But you do pose the correct question, how long should we fundamentally change our lives to collectively protect humanity? Most epidemiologists agree that we failed to take enough measures for Spanish flu, and we haven’t even reached the measures they took yet. So how about we simply match the sacrifices that the so called greatest generation made to protect each other from a pandemic level disease? We know it won’t be enough, and even though the only thing between deaths and minimal deaths is your desire to go and watch some race cars, and similar impulse control issues in other people but how about that as a proposal, we match the measures for Spanish flu?

      1. You do realize that the Spanish flu even in the most conservative estimate of 17 million deaths (they range up to 100 million) on a world population 1.8 billion was easily 1600% more deadly than COVID-19, right? Get some perspective.
        Besides, if you are sick you aren’t supposed to visit people or go to a supermarket. So there goes that argument. There is absolutely no evidence for ‘no age divide’. You can spend about 3 seconds to find that out. In fact, the average of death is lower than the average age of COVID deaths.
        Perhaps my impulse is entertainment, your impulse is totalitarianism.

        1. the “X is worse, stop complaining” argument is pretty poor at best. Surely you want to avoid the chance of Y being as bad as X, because if don’t you’ll get far more of your perceived “totalitarianism”

          1. If you had actually bothered to read the argument, you’d have known your intellectual compatriot started the comparison.

          2. William Jones
            18th July 2021, 15:21

            Humans are still humans. I am well aware of the differences between the two diseases, and the fact that the vast majority of of those deaths were in countries not imposing and restrictions, mostly on account of being war torn, but I’m not trying to do that. I’m using the sacrifices that humans have already made in living memory to counter the rather peculiar argument that we can’t sustain the control measures we already have. Unless your argument is that we have evolved in two or three generations beyond the ability to wear masks, wash our hands and self isolate then you have no argument because humanity has already proven we can do it. It doesn’t matter which disease is worse, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Your argument boils down to “we can’t do this much longer” but history demonstrates that we in fact can? And do it for longer without internet connections, reliable electricity, whilst being bombed in raids targeting civilians, without comfortable masks, but having to wear gas masks. How long should we do it for us a good question, “we’re trading in our lifetime” is a poor argument.

            Secondly, you might think that a 2 second google search counts as research, I personally don’t think it does. Your 2 second google search might have thrown up some wannabe shock jock blogger who assured you most sincerely that it only kills the elderly, personally I prefer reading the lancet for my information, along side other journals that you know, actually science. With all that problematic peer review. Maybe you think the recent papers demonstrating an alarming number of organ failures in the under 30’s who have been treated in hospital for COVID are flawed in their methodology, if so, feel free to explain what they got wrong and why it was wrong here. I’ll apologise profusely if it turns out you are familiar with them.

          3. William Jones
            18th July 2021, 15:27

            “If you’re sick, you’re not supposed to visit people, so there goes that argument”

            Did you forget or never actually know that you can transmit COVID before becoming symptomatic?

        2. Perhaps your impulse is selfishness, others’ is a bit of consideration and respect.

        3. You can’t compare Spanish Flu. If they had the same treatment options and modern facilities we have, the fatality rate would have been much, much lower.

  6. Indications are that Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza will be granted full exemptions by their respective governments, meaning the balance of the 2021 European season will play to capacity crowds.

    We’ll see. I have tickets to Monza. Right now the rules are that I’d have to quarantine for 5 days on arrival. But the situation is changing fast. It may be that UK people will be barred from travel to Europe if our case rate rises enough. Or that the curve picks up in Europe to UK levels, in which case the Italian government will not allow spectators (and I’ll get a credit or refund).

    Anyone else here in this kind of predicament?

  7. That was quite a great big old corona crowd there. In italy they reported the rise in corona patiens due to the euro vup celebrations. In 2 weeks we’ll see how england handles this. But the circuit os saved, enough money was involved to take the risk

  8. RocketTankski
    19th July 2021, 19:56

    I think my GP is also attended by 140,000 people. It’s a nightmare trying to get an appointment! (badum-tish)

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