Silverstone, Northamptonshire - The British Racing Drivers’ Club will announce on Tuesday they have ripped up their contract to host the British Grand Prix.
The club, which owns the circuit, decided to trigger a break clause that releases it from hosting the race beyond 2019 because the cost is "potentially ruinous".
It will have informed Liberty Media - the sport’s owner which banks the annual hosting fee - by the time it goes public with the news during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. The decision leaves the Grand Prix’s long-term future in doubt just two days before teams and drivers arrive at Silverstone for the 2017 race.
At the heart of the issue are Silverstone’s losses - £2.8 million (R43 million) in 2015 and £4.8 million (73.5 million) in 2016 - which would likely have got worse as the cost of hosting the event rises by five percent each year until 2026, the final year of the contract the club is leaving behind.
However, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, a private group of about 800 members including the royalty of British motor racing from Sir Stirling Moss to Lewis Hamilton, has not given up on negotiating a more sustainable deal in the next few years.
Silverstone is the only circuit capable of hosting the British Grand Prix, a position reinforced by the virtual collapse of absurd plans to build the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale. A Grand Prix on London’s streets remains as remote a possibility as ever, though Formula One cars will perform in a promotional event around Trafalgar Square on Wednesday night.
Silverstone bosses had hoped Liberty would amend the terms of the old contract agreed with Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s former chief executive, but it refused to budge.
A spokesman for Formula One Management, the umbrella organisation under Liberty’s control, said on Monday: "We want a British Grand Prix and there is a desire from our side to see a race at Silverstone. Silverstone have a contract. They seem to be invoking the break clause, not us. We tried to help them in various ways. We now have three years to sort it out. We are willing to continue to negotiate with Silverstone to make it happen.’
This year’s race will be the first attended by Chase Carey, chief executive of Formula One Management. And Silverstone’s organisers hope he will be bowled over by the unique atmosphere and an anticipated race-day crowd of about 140 000 - the biggest anywhere in the world.
"We desperately want to keep the race,’ said a source close to the British Racing Drivers’ Club. "But it has to be affordable. It’s as simple as that."
The British Racing Drivers’ Club appears to be in a strong position. Liberty is torn. It cannot afford to lose the race set in the heartland of the world’s motor racing community in the English Midlands, but it cannot cut Silverstone such a generous deal that it undercuts its own business, which is dependent on 20 or so promoters worldwide.
Good weather and a British winner this weekend would act as the perfect showcase for Silverstone. Hamilton wants the latter to help him claw back his deficit to Ferrari’s championship leader, Sebastian Vettel.
Victory on Sunday would also see Hamilton join Alain Prost and Jim Clark as a five-times British GP winner.
"This is an intense battle which I’m loving," said Hamilton, whose fourth place in Austria last weekend left him 20 points behind Vettel. "I don’t have a crystal ball but it doesn’t look great at the moment.
"The bigger that gap gets, the more the pressure builds. But there are still 11 races to go. Momentum can easily switch around in just one race.
"It’s important for people who are watching to have patience with us drivers. You’re going to be p****d off sometimes because you put so much into it. You train, you sacrifice everything to make sure you get the best result possible.
"So when you don’t deliver and things are stacked against you, it’s hard to come out smiling. People think that means you don’t care enough, but the fact is I care more than I need to."
1948 - A staggering 120 000 crowd turned out at the converted airfield to watch Luigi Villoresi of Maserati christen Silverstone by winning the first post-war British Grand Prix.
1951 - Ferrari has won 227 Grands Prix but it was Jose Froilan Gonzalez who delivered their first, vanquishing the mighty Alfa Romeo of Juan Manuel Fangio - who would go on to win the first of five world championships.
1987 - Nigel Mansell smashed the lap record 11 times to catch Nelson Piquet... then with two laps to go fooled the Brazilian with a dummy move at Stowe to swoop by and win the race.
1995 - Damon hill unwittingly helped compatriot Johnny Herbert claim his maiden victory when he crashed while trying to overtake title rival Michael Schumacher, taking both drivers out of the race.
2008 - Lewis Hamilton claimed the first of his four wins, storming to victory by 68 seconds following a masterful drive in appallingly wet conditions.