Silverstone, a Storied F1 Track, Wants to Continue Its Tale

Silverstone, host of the British Grand Prix this weekend, is very popular with the people who matter most in Formula 1: the drivers.

The 3.7-mile course built around a former Royal Air Force base features many high-speed corners, which provide the thrill that those behind the wheel seek.

“It has the best layout,” Lewis Hamilton, the English Mercedes driver and eight-time winner of the British Grand Prix, said of his home race. “It’s one that all the drivers look forward to because we have great races there and you have crazy high-speed corners.”

Silverstone is steeped in Formula 1 history. When the sport started in 1950, the track hosted the first Grand Prix, which was won by Nino Farina, who went on to win the first drivers’ title. Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Michael Schumacher all won British Grands Prix there, although Sir Stirling Moss never did.

And while the British Grand Prix was run at other tracks over the years, Silverstone has held every one since 1987. For many fans, who pack the stands and make it among the most heavily attended in Formula 1, Silverstone is the true home of British motorsports.

It’s “the one I look forward to the most,” Lando Norris, an English McLaren driver, said.

But Silverstone’s deal to host the British Grand Prix runs out in 2024, and the track will be required to come to new terms with the sport to continue hosting the race. Stefano Domenicali, the chief executive of Formula 1, has said that, with many new countries and cities interested in holding races, even tracks with long histories were not guaranteed places.

The two sides are negotiating, but neither would say where the talks stood.

“We won’t know until we get there,” Stuart Pringle, the managing director of Silverstone, said.

Silverstone’s place on the Formula 1 calendar has been under threat before. In 2008, Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula 1 at the time, said the race would leave Silverstone. Then in 2017, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, the owner of the track, activated what is called the break clause in its hosting agreement, which would allow the club to stop holding the race.

Silverstone felt it had to threaten to walk away because it was bleeding money: 4.8 million pounds in 2016, or about $6.5 million at the time, up from £2.8 million in 2015. It was reeling from its previous contract terms in which it had to pay Formula 1 more money each year, as well as paying the costs for renovating the track and constructing buildings to modernize Silverstone.

After two years of talks, a new deal was struck with Formula 1 and its new owner, Liberty Media, which had replaced Ecclestone. The track had used this time to reshape its finances.

Based on its most recent financial filing, Silverstone made £6.9 million in profit in 2021. It is, according to Pringle, consistently showing “black numbers rather than red numbers,” enough to help the track add 9,000 more seats to its grandstands for this year’s race. This is part of the drivers’ club’s commitment to reinvesting the track’s profits.

“The members, the 820 or so racing drivers or former racing drivers,” he said, don’t take money out. “They get no dividend, they get no personal financial benefit. They get two passes a year and some biscuits with their coffee in the clubhouse.”

The turnaround in Silverstone’s fortunes stems from the track’s efforts to “generate a living from the other 51 weeks of the year,” Pringle said.

This includes holding MotoGP motorcycle racing and other racing championships, as well as attracting visitors to a new museum and a hotel. Silverstone is also selling 60 track-side apartments, inspired, Pringle said, by “examples of something similar in America.”

The track had also been helped by Hamilton’s run to seven world titles, Formula 1’s increasing popularity generated by the Netflix show “Drive to Survive” and people’s eagerness to attend live events again after years of Covid-19 disruptions.

A record 400,000 people attended the 2022 British Grand Prix, but Pringle hopes “another 50,000 or so” will come this year.

In 2013, the drivers’ club sold land it owned around the track, which led to the development of the Silverstone Park business area adjacent to the track. The park houses many motorsport businesses, including the Aston Martin team. Its road car division uses Silverstone to test its products. Pringle said the park was blossoming.

Domenicali, the Formula 1 chief executive, put many racetracks on notice last year, saying “some of the current Grands Prix will no longer be part of the calendar.” He said he wanted existing races to offer more fan entertainment.

Silverstone is working to meet Domenicali’s goal by installing more music stages and holding more fan events. Pringle said it was a “vision of sport and entertainment” that broadens its appeal.

As a privately run track, Silverstone receives no government funding to pay its hosting fee to Formula 1, as many other races do. Silverstone is on its own.

“It’s all we’ve ever known,” Pringle said. “And if we don’t run the track and race successfully, we don’t eat.”

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