Highs and lows ahead of the British Grand Prix
“This is the start of the new regime,” Ross Brawn told the throngs of Britons assembled at Trafalgar Square and up Whitehall at Formula One’s first ever ‘F1 Live’ event.
It was a coming together the likes of which Formula One had never seen before — all current teams assembled for a non-championship event — all in the name of making good on the sport’s new commercial rights holder’s promise to bring F1 closer to the fans, particularly in so-called destination cities.
The hours-long demonstration festival came together without a hitch barring the inevitable teething problems that come with a first event of this scale. Even the weather, the day before typically rainy and miserable, changed favourably for the show.
At times the spectacle was overcooked, particularly the liberal use of smoke machines and a quintet of trumpeting foot guards presenting the British Grand Prix trophy, but the combination of cars, drivers and live music made the afternoon a real crowd pleaser.
The only notable exception was the absence of Lewis Hamilton, the nation’s only championship hope this season. The Mercedes driver inexplicably decided to holiday between the Austrian and British grands prix rather than greet his adoring home fans ahead of his home race.
“I just wish … there was more time to see more of the fans,” Hamilton said in an interview, ironically published on the same day [http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/motor-racing/Formula1/british-grand-prix-2017-lewis-hamilton-mercedes-sebastian-vettel-a7838391.html]. “You see them at such a distance, it sucks, and it’s not so easy and there’s not much time to interact with them.”
Hamilton’s apparently hypocritical absence didn’t escape those with the microphones, and their references to the missing twentieth driver drew boos from the crowd.
But the incongruity of the Briton’s non-attendance was bested by that of Formula One and the scale of the event — one couldn’t help but think how unlikely such a demonstration would have been during CVC Capital Partners’s tenure as ‘promoter’ of the sport.
It’s difficult to imagine that the previous administration, ended six months ago and headed by Bernie Ecclestone, could have arranged such a festival for the good of the sport, much less by commandeering the heart of London to do it.
It was shaping up to be that sort of week, however, in which F1 old and new collided. The new regime, as Brawn illustratively called it, is still in the painful process of subsuming its predecessor.
Less than 24 hours prior the F1 Live London the Silverstone Circuit, host of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, triggered the break clause in its contract, effective after the 2019 event.
It was a move long foreshadowed. The British Racing Drivers Club, Silverstone’s owner, signed its 17-year contract out of desperation after briefly losing the race to Donnington Park, which hit financial troubled before it had the chance to run its first grand prix.
The terms of the deal and its five per cent per annum escalator clause were financially devastating, however, with the circuit unable to recover the fee with ticket sales and hospitality revenue.
It puts the commercial rights holder in a difficult situation. Having spent much of its brief tenure running the sport espousing its belief that Formula One must not desert its cultural beginnings, here is the very first circuit to have hosted a Formula One grand prix daring it to do just that.
Undoubtedly it won’t be the last time the workings of the previous administration act as a road-block to its plans for growth.
It’s tempting to think that the sport’s new money-spending approach to promotion would lead to a quick cut-price deal for Silverstone, but make no mistake: the commercial rights holder is in Formula One to make money, not to lose it, even if it has a view to evolve the sport with the proceeds.
Liberty Media Corporation agreed to buy into Formula One because of its significant revenue and enormous growth potential. Put simply, it cannot afford to hand Silverstone a bargain basement deal, not least because a cast of fellow promoters are assured to be knocking on Chase Carey’s door looking for similar discounts, which would in turn cripple the company’s ability to execute plans like F1 Live, which will grow the sport in the long term.
It is an illustrative example of the state of the sport the commercial rights holder has bought into — accustomed to big paydays without the burden of expenditure and uncompelled by sentiment.
Weaning the sport from the unhealthy practices of the old regime without undermining the policies of the new is the fine line Carey and co must walk, and F1 splurging in London while one of its highest profile assets waves the white flag is as demonstrative as it gets of the challenges facing the sport in the near future.