Will Gray

Why the future looks bright for Silverstone once again

Will Gray

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It’s had its fair share of knocks and at times seemed unlikely to last but as Silverstone prepares to reflect on 50 years of Grand Prix racing it could finally have a brighter future ahead.

Luigi Villoresi won Silverstone’s first Grand Prix on October 2, 1948, two years before the first ever F1 race was held there in 1950. It has been the sole host of the British GP since 1987 and will celebrate its 50th race with a parade of cars that starred there in the past.

Anyone complaining about the current F1 engine note will be appeased at least for a while as the roar from yesteryear takes over, with star cars driven by some of the world’s most legendary drivers.

British world champions Sir Jackie Stewart, in his GP winning Mantra MS80 from 1969, Damon Hill, in his father’s 1968 Lotus 49B, and Nigel Mansell, whose steed is yet to be announced, will lead the way.

Martin Brundle will drive James Hunt’s 1977 British GP-winning McLaren M26, Johnny Herbert will be in a 1963 Tyrrell, Derek Warwick in a 1980 McLaren, Jackie Oliver in a 1965 Lotus and Dario Franchitti in fellow scot Jim Clark’s 1963 Lotus.

Other highlights include Alain Prost in Mark Webber’s 2012-winning Red Bull R8, Rubens Barrichello in a 1979 Williams and, in a tribute to Sir Jack Brabham who passed away this year, his son David will drive the Australian champion’s 1960 race-winning Cooper Climax T52.

The heritage of the circuit is without question and the fan support makes it one of the greatest atmospheres on the calendar – even though it is located in a quiet rural part of Northamptonshire.

There have been calls to take the Grand Prix to London, to move it across to Donington or even to relocate it overseas, but ultimately Silverstone is the home of British motorsport, and it is well loved.

More British drivers have gone on to win their home race than any other nationality - 12 in total - and ten of those have won at Silverstone.

The 1994 winner Damon Hill said: “I can honestly say that winning the British Grand Prix was one of the best days of my life. I just love the buzz and excitement from the fans.”

Silverstone has always struggled to convert that success on track into a business and financial success off it.

But since last year’s race, things have changed significantly.

The BRDC, who took the lease over from RAC in 1952 and bought the track from the MOD in 1971, made a £3.3m loss on circuit operations in 2012. They signed a 17-year agreement to host the British Grand Prix in 2009 but the cost of re-developing and updating facilities along with the race fees themselves put them heavily in debt.

These days, a motor racing circuit needs to work hard for its existence – as many of the new track developers around the world are finding out.

So Silverstone harnessed the passion of its heritage to turn the land around it into a cutting-edge technological park and, in September last year, signed a 999-year lease with land management firm MEPC for £32m.

It was not the greatest deal - the Guardian reported the value of that land had been at £50m in 2011 and claimed the £114,000 per acre rate was well below standard market rate – but crucially it paid off all the BRDC’s long-term and short-term loans.

At the same time, they were negotiating to sell Silverstone Circuits Ltd. and a lease on the venue – which would allow them to step back from running the circuit and give them the finance needed to support the development needed to retain the Grand Prix.

That fell through in May this year, but BRDC chairman John Grant insisted the future was secure “with or without another investor.”

The deal with MEPC for what has become known as ‘Silverstone Park’ has taken Silverstone off its leash.

The aim was always to create a centre for high-end engineering coupled with top educational establishments that are already set up there, but the experienced management is now securing improved occupancy and the potential to grow is huge, with planning consent for over 2m sq ft of development secured by the BRDC.

By 2024, MEPC predicts the number of occupiers currently on site will double to more than 100 with the project creating around 4,000 jobs.

How that added return filters down to the BRDC is undisclosed, but surely it can only be good for the revenue streams.

Now the BRDC must secure a similar agreement for day-to-day operation of the circuit itself, finding a team that can optimise the revenue from both the flagship events and develop new opportunities that can make it pay its way.

If it does, then despite the ups and downs, the circuit and the race has every chance of continuing for another 50 years...

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