It is no great surprise that on the morning after the sentencing in Germany of Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky to a lengthy prison term for accepting a bribe in the sale process of the Formula One group – and the obvious questions that arise from that verdict – there is a story in the English newspapers, led by The Times, that there will be a Grand Prix on the streets of London.
Magicians achieve much of their magic by using distractive techniques to draw the audience’s attention away from whatever it is they are up to. Emphatic gestures, a drum roll and a crash of cymbals, or a flash-bang with smoke. The magician orchestrates his words and actions so that the spectators are looking at what he wants them to look at, rather than what he does not want them to see.
A Grand Prix on the streets of London makes no sense at all in real terms and the people at The Times simply end up looking foolish for having gone down this path. One can only hope that they did so wittingly, perhaps currying favour with the F1 boss, rather than printing such a load of guff because they actually believe it is possible. If Mr E has convinced them it is real, then good for him, although alarms would have started sounding for me if he had mentioned that the Formula One group might even pay for the event itself. Clearly the story would have no legs if there were doubts about funding.
However, I can only wonder what CVC Capital Partners and its friends from Kansas would make of someone agreeing to reduce its profits by a sizeable chunk. Funding a race on its own would require the Formula One group to pay various parties: the teams would want the usual money for an additional race; if there were no fees coming in from a local promoter that would mean around $30 million would need to be found. Add to that about the same sort of money to create the infrastructure needed and you can see that this would be a major financial undertaking, with only the gate money in return. So there might be 120,000 people. If they each paid $200, that would raise $24 million. You see the problem? These investor types would not go for that because that would impact on their bottom line. F1 gains nothing by boosting the local economy, which is why local governments pay for races, but in the case of London the impact would be lessened.
Depending on who you believe, London is the world’s top tourist destinations, ahead of New York and Paris. Whatever the case, it is in the top three. Its hotel rates and occupancy rates are higher than ever before, with 92.4 percent last summer and even better figures expected this year because of the Olympic Games. This means that the economic impact of an event such as a Grand Prix are limited because the money is already there. All that would happen would be different people in the hotel rooms. Perhaps they would pay over the odds, but London prices are already very high so the economic benefits would be less dramatic than in other cities where they need to fill the beds; and London hardly needs any more global advertising.
Disruption would be another question, just as it is an issue in any major city where a race track runs through the centre. The only way to avoid the kind of criticism that happens in Singapore, where the tracks cuts major traffic arteries, is to have the circuit running in and around a park. Unlike Albert Park in Melbourne, it would be hard to get the whole event into one of London’s existing facilities and have the kind of landmarks one would want to see. It is not impossible but 30 years ago Autosport ran just such an idea in one of its April 1 editions…
This is all rather academic in my opinion because there is no real likelihood of such an event happening. Silverstone has an F1 contract that runs until 2027 (yes, really) and that means that there would need to be two GPs in Britain, at a time when the concept of two races per country is deemed to be rather old-fashioned (and unnecessary). I am sure that if I dug around for a bit, I could find a quote for Bernie on that subject.
While I would love to see a Grand Prix in London and think that it would be good for the sport, I do feel that this idea will fade quietly away, having done its job of deflecting attention away from the important question of today: what are the implications of the Gribkowsky guilty verdict?
The cynic in me says that a man who has nothing to hide does not need to use the old magician tricks, but I prefer to wait and see what the prosecution service decides to do before making any judgements on the rights and wrongs of the Gribkowsky Affair.