A shower of propaganda leaflets

Many years ago propaganda was delivered in leaflet form from aeroplanes, telling the people on the ground about how bad the authorities in their country were and how things would be much better with a different person in charge. Today such messages are delivered over lunch, by professional spin doctors or in press release form. The means of delivery may have changed, but the content is much the same.

This week the former chairman of the British Racing Drivers' Club Ray Bellm took some of the British F1 media out for lunch. There will shortly be another lunch involving Sir Jackie Stewart. The message that flowed from the Bellm lunch is that the BRDC attack on Stewart is not personal and that the members of the club simply want a different form of governance and that personality is not the issue. That is a news story in as much as, up until now, everyone has assumed from the evidence available that the clash of personalities was exactly the problem and the thing that led Stewart and Bellm to go head-to-head in a BRDC board meeting in January. In a very close vote Bellm's role as chairman disappeared from under him and Stewart came out, talking about being an executive president. That may have been a bridge too far for the old boys in the club and Stewart may yet pay for that coup d'etat but none of this will solve the underlying problems of the BRDC.

While this Punch and Judy Show is going on, the reputation of the BRDC continues to sink into the mud.

The BRDC was created in 1924 as an informal dining club. The aim of the club was to promote the interests of motorsport, to extend hospitality to drivers visiting from abroad and to further the efforts of British drivers who were competing abroad. Membership was restricted to gentlemen racing drivers of proven success and experience.

It was five years before the club organised an event.

In the 1950s Britain needed someone to take the lead and develop motor racing and the club volunteered for the task and played an important role in developing Silverstone aerodrome in the 1950s and finally bought the land in 1971. Under the leadership of Earl Howe and the Hon Gerald Lascelles the club invested heavily in the business and in 1966 created a commercial structure to run operations. It is fair to say that it has never been very interested in business and has got into trouble whenever the subject comes up, notably in 1991 when it went into the automobile trade, buying garages off its then chairman Tom Walkinshaw. This resulted in years of litigation. In 1998 an attempt to convince the BRDC members to sell the circuit failed but the club lost the British Grand Prix as a result and club president Lord Hesketh resigned soon afterwards. In the end a deal was worked out which saw the Grand Prix return to Silverstone but the circuit fell under the management of outsiders as a result of that deal and it was only after the newcomers woke up to financial realities and bailed out that the club won back control of the race. One of the results of all this is that the image of the club has slipped to such a point that young drivers are no longer desperate to have the honour of being a BRDC member and do not really see much point in getting involved. If there is to be a future for the BRDC there need to be new recruits and that is not going to happen if all the youngsters see are a bunch of sixty year olds fighting to be the boss.

There has long been a school of thought that the BRDC should sell the circuit and invest the money in a nice clubhouse in London and in a foundation that would provide scholarships which would be of sufficient magnitude to help British drivers from the start of their careers right up to Formula 1 level. The Elf company ran such a scheme with enormous success in France in the 1970s and 1980s and, given land prices in Britain, the money that the sale of Silverstone would generate would be more than enough to achieve more sensible goals for the club.

The young racers could then find a reason to join the club and the older folk could argue about who is in charge of the Wine Committee as old gentlemen in clubs love to do.

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