London in; Hamilton out; Silverstone break out!

There’s no doubt that a day of Formula 1 in the streets of London sounds like a great idea and a lot of fun for the British fans. Driving the team cars around Whitehall, musical acts, technology and innovation showcases and a host of other features sounds terrific.

Perhaps new owners, Liberty Media, are thinking this could be the kind of week-long event that each race could offer with entertainment and events that focus on F1 within the nations that they race. Intriguing that the race is in Silverstone but they’ve gone to the epicenter of the UK and one wonders if taking F1 to the streets of NY even though the race is in Austin might be a goal.

A couple of thoughts did cross my mind as I read about the announcement.

Timing

If I were a British fan and had a day or two notice to get to London, that would be quite a challenge to be honest. I certainly understand the discretion needed but I’m curious why they weren’t promoting this earlier. This way more fans could attend as they would have more time to arrange their work schedules etc.

Silverstone out

While choosing a massive fan experience event with London to celebrate the British Grand Prix and the intrinsically intimate and symbiotic nature of the British relationship with the series, it comes on the day that Silverstone executed its break clause and will, as we stand, not be hosting the British Grand Prix after 2019. It’s a bit like heading to London to celebrate a racing series that just announced it won’t be racing in the UK any longer. Now, we both know that this may not be the end result but on the surface of it, that’s where we stand.

The formula One Group were not happy about the announcement and heaped some scorn on the BRDC which could signal a very tenuous negotiating period between now and 2019:

“The week leading up to the British Grand Prix should be a week of great celebration for F1 and Silverstone,” said the F1G.

“We deeply regret that Silverstone has chosen instead to use this week to posture and position themselves and invoke a break clause that will take effect in three years’ time.

“We offered to extend the current deadlines in order to focus on everything that is great about Silverstone and Formula 1.

“Regretfully the Silverstone management has chosen to look for a short-term advantage to benefit their position.”

The statement held the door open for talks with Silverstone to continue.

“Our focus is still to preserve the British Grand Prix,” it added.

“We will carry on negotiating with the promoter in good faith and in private to reach a fair and equitable solution.”

If Luca di Montezemolo were in the F1G, he would have said that the BRDC is engaging in “polemics”. Not a happy bunch of campers over there at F1G. While the closing statement suggests a possible future deal, I can’t imagine the BRDC is happy with being scolded publicly. Then again, F1G boss, Chase Carey, isn’t happy about the culture of F1 doing all its negotiating in public.

I read a very nice piece by Kevin Eason at the Standard and Chase was not keen on how F1 traditionally does its public sparring and negotiation.

“This seems to be a sport that likes to posture in public — I’m not sure why,” says Carey. “My method is to have the strongest relationship by doing things in private and then explain in public why you did it.

“Our preference would have been to have a quiet conversation to talk about ways to go forward.

“It is a sport that loves to negotiate in public: to talk first and act second. Bernie might have had some of the best of the one-liners, but there are plenty of others in the sport competing with him. There is a lot of message planting and positioning.”

At some level, this is how it’s always been and while it can be contentious, I’m not sure I would want the over-veneered character and homogenized, processed media and fan experience of NASCAR for F1. In and effort to Americanize F1, you run the risk of turning it into NASCAR where everything is done in secrete and then secreted out to fans through patronizing media press releases and heavily reigned teams and drivers.

Chances are that ten teams spending $100m or more per season will always mean that their issues will be taken to the press if not abated and the risk of becoming a contrived NASCAR experience will never reach British shores but then again, if Silverstone doesn’t work this out, F1’s only claim to the UK may be where they hang their hat in between races.

The economic, educational and collateral benefit of F1 and a British Grand Prix are barely measurable for the UK. It is, in this Yank’s opinion, critical that a British Grand Prix is held and Silverstone is best poised to do it.

London

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of racing through the streets of London is a cool concept but this growing penchant for less expensive street circuits is starting to wear a little thin on me. There is nothing like a purpose-built circuit and while Austin’s COTA may be, if rumors are true, struggling with the economics of it all, the races there are galactically better than the ones on a roval or in a street in Detroit.

Domino effect

The BRDC doesn’t like the price they pay for F1. I understand that but once the F1G starts making deals in which they take big haircuts to keep the races, then all the tracks, Austin included, will be looking for break clauses and big discounts to keep the races on their tracks. If Silverstone gets a race for $10m per year, there isn’t a track currently contractually bound that won’t legally seek some restitution for the $20m they are currently paying.

The F1G bought a series that was near implosion with its exorbitant race sanctioning fees and far-flung locations to find willing emerging markets who could be fleeced for a quick 3-10 year deal for $250m. On the heels of this difficult-to-sustain model, the F1G is also said to be looking to re-classify the prize money distribution for teams and that’s going to go over like a lead balloon.

Regardless, Carey says he’s not considering the concept of renegotiation anyway.

“We are not a soft touch,” says Carey. “We are not renegotiating deals. These agreements were reached fairly between adult organisations, but we want to support the event in the best way we can.

“The [financial] model in the past was to negotiate an agreement, get paid and then hand over the race. These races are the platform through which the fans follow the sport and it is important we contribute and engage, but it will take different forms because we have 21 different partners.”

Lewis Out?

Lewis Hamilton has been getting his share of consternation on social media Tuesday over the London F1 Experience as he tweeted:

‘To my loving fans, I can’t wait to see you at Silverstone. Until then, I’m away on a two-day break. God bless you all. Love, Lewis.’

Many have taken this tweet as an indication that he will not be attending the London event even though Jolyon Palmer, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button will be along with all the other teams and drivers in F1. Some media suggest this exposes a rift that actually exists within the team and Lewis Hamilton. I’ve no idea if that is the case but it will be strange if all the drivers show in London and Lewis does not, it’s a bit of a command performance, no?

Hat Tip: Kevin Eason at Standard