JUNE 20, 2003
Why the British government should help Silverstone
Jackie Stewart has been campaigning to get the British government to support Silverstone for some years now. Stewart wants taxpayers' money to be taken from the government's sport, education, local development and transport budgets in order to safeguard the future of the British Grand Prix through the modernization of Silverstone's facilities. To date the government has helped with the access roads to the circuit but, despite Stewart's campaign, has not come up with any money to modernize the track.
The only money that has been raised is private funding from Bernie Ecclestone, Octagon and from the British Racing Drivers' Club. The $60m raised between them has now largely been spent and Ecclestone is complaining that the money has been wasted and that the facilities have not been improved. Silverstone's plans to upgrade the pit and paddock facilities have been delayed.
Stewart was most recently in the newspapers after inviting the Princess Royal along to help raise funding for a Driving Academy to help train up the stars of the future. This would involve the construction of a world class kart facility at Silverstone but would not directly help the Grand Prix.
The government is wary for two reasons. The funding of Britain's national sports stadium at Wembley has been an embarrassing debacle and at the same time any association between Formula 1 and Ecclestone is treated with extreme care because of the huge embarrassment caused five years ago when a donation made by Ecclestone to the Labour Party was linked in the press to a switch in Labour policy on the subject of tobacco advertising. Whenever F1 and the government are linked the stories re-emerge.
There is, however, a good case for the government to help fund the event. Most of the F1 races nowadays receive support from their governments because it has become virtually impossible to sustain a Grand Prix on private money alone. Britain has a very good deal with Formula One Management compared to some of the events which are now paying as much as $40m a year simply to get F1 to visit. It is believed that Britain is paying around half that much. The British government knows that it has a strong motorsport industry and that this will suffer to some extent if there is no Grand Prix. The British motorsport industry has already been hit badly by the recession and by increasing competition from other countries, notably Germany. At the moment it remains the dominant force in the sport although with technology becoming ever more complex there are some technologies which are too advanced for British industry at the moment. The government is making attempts to rectify this problem with increased funding in research and development.
It is worth noting that when it comes to technology the British Government is not averse to dealing with motor racing companies. In recent days the Ministry of Defence has awarded a $5m contract to Jack Roush's Roush Technologies to produce a small six-wheel all-terrain composite military vehicle which will be air-portable and powered by a Peugeot diesel engine. One has to ask why this deal did not go to a British firm.
The British GP remains a problem but Jackie Stewart says that an announcement about government support will hopefully happen on the eve of the British GP this year.
"I think there will be support for all avenues of the industry and the sport," he said. "Most people will be well pleased by the outcome."
It will be interesting to see Ecclestone's response.
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