British GP: What’s the latest on Silverstone’s Formula 1 future?

Week one saw the return of the French GP for the first time in a decade, one of only seven rounds that featured in F1’s inaugural year of 1950. Then there was Austria, an event that first featured in 1964 and returned four years ago from its own long F1 exile.

And now for the final leg it’s the British GP at Silverstone, the circuit that along with Monaco, Spa and Monza featured on that very first F1 schedule and, six decades on, is the sport’s most well-attended event.

The historic venue is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and its status as the home of the British GP, unbroken since 1987, is guaranteed until at the 2019 event.

But what about 2020 and beyond? A year after the circuit gave reluctant notice to break its contract due to spiralling costs, how are talks developing and is a new deal in sight?

How did F1 and Silverstone get to this point?
In truth, the issue of Silverstone’s F1 contract has been a situation nine years in the making, long pre-dating the reign of the sport’s current commercial owners, Liberty Media.

It was in 2009 that Silverstone signed what on paper appeared the most secure of long-term contracts – a 17-year deal all the way to 2027.

But it was the terms inserted into that agreement by then-F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone – namely a five per cent yearly escalator – which by last year had become too much for Silverstone to bear financially. This despite the sustained popularity of the event with weekend crowds in excess of 300,000.

Yet the British GP racked up combined losses of £7.6m in 2015 and 2016, a balance sheet which prompted the decision just days ahead of last year’s race to activate a break clause on its F1 deal in the hope of returning to the negotiating table between then and 2020 to agree a new one.

That break comes into effect after the 2019 race.

So how are talks progressing?
While the immediate build-up to last year’s race was overshadowed by the confirmation of the contract break, discussions over what happens next have since taken place behind closed doors and recent noises coming out of those talks have been positive.

Speaking to Sky Sports News a fortnight ago ahead of another planned meeting with British GP bosses, F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches said: “Silverstone is part of the foundation of this sport.

“We are a commercial business and we are going to do a deal that makes sense for us and hopefully there’s an opportunity there.

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“We just renewed Spa on terms that work for both parties, and my suspicion is that we can do the same for Silverstone. That’s our intent, anyway.”

Spa, another of those founding members of the F1 calendar, last month signed a new three-year deal with organisers and described it as an “improvement on the previous one”, with the Belgian circuit’s own future having appeared precarious from time to time in recent years.

For Silverstone, the desire to retain its showpiece event in to the next decade has always been the priority, with that target now going hand-in-hand with efforts to expand revenue streams and turn the Northamptonshire venue into a year-round destination.

“The door is 100 per cent not shut,” managing director Stuart Pringle told F1 Racing magazine. “We have an ongoing dialogue, which is why it’s best to keep it between us.

“They are on the record as saying they want to keep the British Grand Prix, and we’re on the record as saying that absolutely we want to keep it.”

So will a deal be agreed at some point in the next year? Until contracts are signed nothing can be taken for granted, but with both F1 and Silverstone keen to extend their relationship, and no obvious alternative UK venues yet on the horizon despite continued murmurings about a London GP, a contract extension for the Home of British Motorsport still remains more likely than not.

It’s summer, it’s Silverstone and it’s the 2018 British Grand Prix! Don’t miss a minute of Sky F1’s extensive coverage – featuring 2009 world champion Jenson Button – across the weekend. Sunday’s race begins at 2.10pm with build-up from 12.30pm Get Sky Sports F1.