The long held dream of Bernie Ecclestone to hold a Grand Prix on the streets of London remains a dream, but the legal barriers to putting such a race on were lifted today when UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a change in legislation, allowing councils to close roads more freely for motor sports events. It will become law in March 2015.
Currently hosting a street race in the UK requires an special Act of Parliament.
“I can announce today that we are going to enable more road races for GB motor sport,” said Cameron. “We think this will be really useful to British motor sport: more races, more events, more money coming into the country and more success for this extraordinary industry.”
The FIA’s new Formula E series will be hosting a race in London long before F1 gets around to it, as it will be holding its final round of the 2014/15 season in Battersea Park in London on closed parkland roads in April.
Although the lifting of the legal barriers is undoubtedly a boost, the problem remains of who would be willing to take on the massive financial burden of promoting a London Grand Prix.
The promoters of the aborted New Jersey GP could speak from painful experience about the uncomfortable financial exposure of taking on a street race. Conversely the massive success of the Singapore GP is down to the innovative funding structure whereby 60% of the risk is taken by the Government and 40% by local entrépreneur Ong Being Seng, with the profits share on similar ratios.
Figures of £100 million for ticket sales are being bandied around but the cost of securing the rights to a race – current going rate at least $40 million per year) plus infrastructure costs, with only ticket sales as a way to recoup – make it something that only the wealthiest of private enterprises could consider. The Government itself is highly unlikely to want to get involved in that kind of business as is Boris Johnson’s London Mayor’s office, although both support the idea as a boost for tourism.
Ecclestone has had some fun with the notion of a London Grand Prix in the past, sometimes as a threat to Silverstone when negotiations were difficult, at other times to give some of his sponsors a bit of a boost.
He has intimated in the past, around 2012 the last time it came up, that he might promote the race himself on a track which was dreamed up by Santander UK as a promotional stunt for its British GP sponsorship (above), but that would depend a lot on the level of support he might get from within F1 and from the wider business and political communities in London and on his personal circumstances once his trial in Munich has concluded. More likely he would be looking for a promoter, speaking to Press Associaion this afternoon he said,
“In the past we spoke to the old mayor and all sorts of people. It just depends on what we can come up with commercially because how are we going to fund it?
“The news is good, but I don’t know whether you’d have street racing because it’s not cheap to put on something that’s safe. Street racing is expensive. But if they ever get it together then we’ll see what happens. At least it’s a good sign, a step in the right direction.”
Now that the legal barriers to a London GP have fallen, we will see whether there is any real traction in the business community for such an event.
There are no countries hosting two Grands Prix currently. Silverstone has a contract for over ten more years to host the British Grand Prix. Last weekend’s event boasted the third largest crowd in the race’s history.
The Prime Minister also opened Williams’s new Advanced Engineering Facility near Oxford today and paid tribute to the F1 industry in the UK,
“Formula One is a world beating, hi-tech industry and I am very proud that Britain and British engineers and designers play such a key role within it,” he said. “Williams opening their Advanced Engineering facility in Oxfordshire is great news for the local area and a vote of confidence in our long-term economic plan to back business, create jobs and secure a better future for Britain”.