NEWS FEATURE

Silverstone goes to the government

Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya , British GP 2001

Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya , British GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

The 2001 British Grand Prix is out of the way, as is Britain's general election, and now it is time for Sir Jackie Stewart to take himself back to Westminster to ask for money to create his vision of Silverstone.

Stewart took his cause to politicians from all parties before the recent elections which saw a landslide return to power for Tony Blair's Labour Party. Unsurprisingly the vote-hungry ministers all gave verbal approval for the scheme to create Stewart's 'Centre of Excellence' for an industry claiming to employ over 100,000 people and generate an annual turnover of $7.5 billion.

Britain's new sports minister Richard Caborn is expecting a delegation led by Stewart - who was put forward for knighthood after the election in the Queen's birthday honors list - to arrive on his doorstep soon. "Sir Jackie is going to come in to see me with other people from the industry," said Caborn. "The case has to be made in the round but we have to understand the worth of this industry to the British economy."

Britain's Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), unveiled the results of its survey into the scale, scope and future of British motor sport in January, suggesting that the industry boasts 2400 motor sport engineering and service companies, leading to a direct comparison between British dominance of the motor sport industry and Hollywood's dominance of the movie-making world.

This good news for Britain was, however, slightly tempered by the fact that 80% of the industry's turnover was generated by only 50 of those companies involved in the survey. By removing Formula 1 and foreign export sales from the equation, that leaves the rest of the sport in Britain barely breaking even. One crucial area yet to be covered is that, Silverstone aside, all of Britain's circuits other are in need of investment if they are to continue to support the domestic sport for both promoted and club events that provide the through-flow of talent in the industry.

Octagon Motorsports, which is leasing Silverstone circuit for the next 15 years, also owns Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park, Oulton Park and Snetterton - making a total of almost half of Britain's 11 circuits. It remains to be seen however whether the investment Octagon is making in the lease of Silverstone and in its share of the 'Silverstone Vision' project will allow it to make the long-overdue investment in facilities at its other circuits.

"We are in trouble," said one team owner. "We've been scraping by on the barest minimum we can in terms of facilities at the circuits, in the promotion of our events and the returns we make out of our businesses. Potential sponsors would rather spend their money hiring a hospitality box at the Grand Prix than on a season's sponsorship for a promising team or driver."

Championship representatives are also experiencing increased difficulty in the once-thriving grass roots and national sport. Said one: "Unfortunately the future of British motor sport has been taken out of the hands of the motor clubs and even the governing body itself and turned over to the promoters, who all have shareholders looking to make a profit.

"The fees to go testing or hold an event are rocketing up, and it's got so petty that we're not even allowed to keep the money from selling our own programs! Even the specialist press is cutting back on the space it gives the domestic sport because Formula 1 sells copies to the man in the street, so we lose out on promotion. As a result we'll offer these people less and less opportunity for a profit and will be left dying on the vine."

Whether or not the concerns of British motor sport beyond the British Grand Prix will be addressed when the Stewart-led delegation goes to Westminster is unclear. From Sports Minister Caborn's perspective, however, it seems that it is Formula 1 first and foremost in his mind:

"I am not going to be events-driven," he said. "I want to have a strategy about what adds value to the British economy and the sport itself. Far too long we have been making decisions in a strategic vacuum and those days are over. The strategy must continue of inward investment, manufacturing, exports and a spectacle like the British Grand Prix."

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