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British F1 Grand Prix future in doubt

F1

Silverstone, Northamptonshire - The future of the British Grand Prix has been thrown into doubt as Bernie Ecclestone has revealed it needs a saviour following the collapse of a deal to sell Silverstone, the Northamptonshire track where the race is held.

Silverstone has a contract to host the British GP until 2026 but a clause in the agreement allows Ecclestone to drop the track. Speaking at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix he said “I don't know what is going to happen there. Somebody is going to have to step in and save it.”

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British Racing Drivers Club is trying to sell a lease on Silverstone. File photo: Malcolm Griffiths / LAT Photographic

The British GP is F1' s best-attended race with 139 000 spectators packing the stands in July to watch local hero Lewis Hamilton take victory. Despite this success it is the only of F1' s 21 races which gets no government funding and this has driven it into the red.

Silverstone is owned by the British Racing Drivers Club, a group of 850 motorsport luminaries including former champions Nigel Mansell and Jackie Stewart. According to the BRDC's latest accounts it has burned up £55.9 million (R1.06 billion) of net losses in the past five years alone and in February its chairman John Grant wrote to members to say “we have no cash reserves to fund future development of the circuit”.

Silverstone's plight has led to it paying the estimated £ 17.7 million (R336 million) British GP hosting fee in arrears and this is what allows Ecclestone to terminate the contract.

Its fortunes have began to turn around thanks to a low-cost airline pricing strategy introduced in 2015 with British Grand Prix tickets starting at £99 (R1880) . It has made an impact and in 2015 the BRDC finished in the black for the first time in a decade with a profit of £ 1.2 million (R22.8 million). However it is far from a long-term solution.

Porsche veto

To put the brakes on the losses permanently the BRDC is trying to sell a lease on Silverstone and in April announced that Jaguar wanted to buy it to use it as a high-speed test track. The deal was believed to be worth £ 33 million (R630 million) and was endorsed by the BRDC board. However, it now appears to have stalled as it has come to light that Porsche, which runs a driving centre at Silverstone, has a veto over rival car manufacturers using the track for more than 45 days per year.Compounding the problem, Silverstone's managing director Patrick Allen was recently suspended on full pay for allegedly being “too close” to tycoon Lawrence Tomlinson who has made a rival bid for the track.

Allen spearheaded Silverstone's financial turnaround and Ecclestone says “he has done a good job but they have got their hands tied behind their backs all the time, this is the problem. It's because of the BRDC. If they own the land they should lease it to somebody and they run the thing.”

The race is now on to do just that.

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