When news broke last week that the 2017 Formula One Silverstone Grand Prix could potentially not happen, motorsport media threw itself into a frenzy of very British panic. Hamilton’s home race, the home of British motorsport, the most prestigious race on the calendar! How could we lose this? How could this be?
It may come as a surprise to many British motorsport fans, but I’m really not sure how: Formula One’s model is not functional anymore. Maybe it was easier to bury heads in the sand about it when the tracks at Malaysia or Singapore, in Germany or Austin or even Monza had races canceled, had to struggle through financial woes, but sure, now that it’s your home race — welcome to the agony, my friends. And it’s a canary in the coal mine, a warning that this can happen anywhere, and it’s one that needs to be acknowledged.
I don’t mean to be harsh. I know firsthand what it feels like to have your home GP threatened, and truthfully – it’s an awful feeling. But here’s the thing: Silverstone is not special. In fact, it’s one of the worse experiences I’ve had at a Grand Prix, and by far the most expensive. Why are British motorsport fans not given more value for their pound/dollar? Why could I pay 99 euros in Austria for a sweeping view of about 75% of the track, with tons of space to sit comfortably, when in Silverstone I paid over twice that to literally fight with people much larger than me to even be able to see a small fraction of the track, one corner and half a straightaway?
The “ah well; it’s tradition, that’s how it’s always been, that’s how it always will be” attitude has officially arrived to bite Silverstone in the rear. While it won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back to get F1 into a fixable situation, maybe it’ll be the one that makes people realize how unsustainable this sport is. While the pockets of teams like Mercedes and Red Bull and Ferrari get fuller and fuller, the little guys like Manor and Caterham get screwed. Unlike in other sports, where being really terrible gets you a really good draft pick or relegation to play against competition closer to your own skill level, in F1, if you don’t produce results, it’s off to administration and folding the team for you.
That’s the way it’s always been, but why does it have to continue as such? If there are bad teams and lovable circuits who struggle financially but ultimately benefit the sport of F1 by being there, why isn’t there a contingency plan in effect for these things to remain in place?
The simple answer is greed. What incentive do Bernie and the big teams have to let any of their profits go towards revenue sharing? Why should they care if Silverstone is off the calendar, when they get massive profits from the circuits in places like Abu Dhabi and Baku? They don’t care where they race or who comes to watch the races, as long as TV revenue holds steady and a profit is made.
Truthfully, the focus shouldn’t be on Silverstone, here. While Silverstone holds a lot of meaning to many, and while reasons like the ones Helena Hicks lays out here are certainly important to a small slice of F1 fans (truly, isn’t an increase of revenue to local businesses one of the reasons the USGP has been able to continue?), this focus is superficial. F1 has proven with Monza that it doesn’t give a toss about historical circuits, and has proven with Germany that it doesn’t give one about champions’ home races. It doesn’t care about safety, it doesn’t care about fans attending races, and it sincerely doesn’t care about teams outside the top tier. It cares about revenue in the pockets of the mighty, and that is literally it.
And until that changes, you can kiss your certainty that lesser teams and historical circuits will be permanent fixtures on the f1 calendar goodbye.