Silverstone gambles on reduced crowd

VOLUNTARILY heading off FIA criticism by opting to admit a reduced crowd for next year's British Grand Prix is being seen this week as an audacious bid by race promoters Octagon as a means of investing in future credibility for Britain's round of the F1 world championship.

Reducing the paying spectators to a maximum of 60,000 should certainly improve the perennially uncomfortable access problems which have an all-too familiar element of the "Silverstone experience" over the past decades. However, whether it will persuade the December meeting of the FIA World Council to take a benign view of what the governing body clearly regards as a "rogue" event is another matter altogether.

With a three day pass for next year's British GP costing between $285 and $428 - depending on whether one opts for a grandstand seat or not - Octagon could be turning its back on additional income of around $8.5 million at a time when it is not only pledged to pay for the race on a long-term basis, but also is committed to around $20 million for its one-third stake in the costs of updating the track which it will share with the British Racing Drivers' Club and Bernie Ecclestone's F1 Management organization.

Yet Octagon is, certainly in the short-term, in an uncomfortable situation, squeezed between the generally sceptical gaze of the FIA and the indignation of the race fans who feel that they are being ripped off by what they see as inflated prices.

Giorgio Zorbes, President of the F1 Supporters' Association, wrote in Autosport magazine this week; "To raise the price to 199 for a three day general admission ticket. We have had complaints already from people who save up to treat themselves to a day out at the grand prix and they are upset. They will be going to Spa this year because it is cheaper."

The bottom line, of course, is that Octagon has precious little choice but to grin and bear it. It is saddled with a contract originally agreed in the days when Nicola Foulston owned Brands Hatch Leisure and there was a misplaced belief that Brands itself could be revived as a feasible F1 circuit.

Their accountants must increasingly wish that they'd never seen Brands Hatch or heard of the F1 business. But they are stuck with the deal and have to make the best of it. Long term.

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