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Latest London GP talk continues an irritating F1 ‘tradition’

by Edd Straw
6 min read

Talk of a potential London Grand Prix is never far away in Formula 1 with the latest noise concerning a race in the London Docklands.

No proposal has been submitted to F1 and talks haven’t taken place, maintaining an annoying ‘tradition’ that last flared up in the build-up to the 2021 British Grand Prix. Edd Straw explained at the time why the prospect of a London GP is so unlikely and his words are still relevant after the latest rumours. 

Speculation over a London Grand Prix has a habit of flaring up in the build-up to the British Grand Prix. It’s a tedious tradition, one that raises false hopes, as well as being part of the political games both within F1 and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Whether as an alternative venue for the British Grand Prix, which has historically been a popular suggestion at times when Silverstone’s contract has been up for discussion, or a London-branded race in its own right, it understandably has huge appeal. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a headline-grabbing concept.

It’s true that it’s perfectly aligned with Liberty Media’s desire for prestige, city-centre based events to bolster its calendar. So it’s only natural that F1 should be open to dialogue about facilitating a race, and Liberty’s tenacity in potentially finding a way to facilitate such a race shouldn’t be discounted.

F1 Live In London Takes Over Trafalgar Square Car Parade

But at the same time, we also know that it won’t be sinking in the cash required to make such a race happen because that’s not in the business model. Although it’s at least difficult to see Stefano Domenicali, as Bernie Ecclestone did back in 2012, suggesting that “maybe we would front it and put the money up for it” as part of the ongoing political games surrounding the British GP.

Any city should at least be open to staging such an event, which is why London mayor Sadiq Khan recently told The Evening Standard that discussions with F1 are ongoing – sparking the latest round of stories.

“We’re speaking to Formula 1 and they’re really receptive,” said Khan. “The reality is that the reigning champion of the world is a Brit. Lewis Hamilton is a credit to our nation and the sport, and it would great to have a grand prix in the capital city, to have Silverstone and London on the calendar.

“I think next year would be too soon but I’ve been really impressed with those at Formula 1 and I’m keen to bring it as soon as possible.”

Naturally, London’s mayor should be looking into the possibility of any such event. Indeed, Khan’s predecessor in the role – a certain Boris Johnson – occasionally made positive noises about the idea as well. F1 races do have a positive economic effect and it’s not good politics to rule out emphatically an idea that would be popular, even if there is no serious will to make it happen.

It’s therefore not in the interest of F1 or London to pour cold water on the idea publicly and is logical to keep a dialogue open. But the reality is there are serious financial, political and logistical hurdles that would need to be cleared to make a London GP happen. And while both sides will agree it’s a good idea, the practicality of the race is the big problem.

Think London GP and inevitably you have the image of Hamilton and Max Verstappen jostling for the lead through Parliament Square or as they round Buckingham Palace. Indeed, that was the premise for the attention-grabbing Santander London Grand Prix proposal.

It was, of course, not a serious idea but instead a promotional exercise – although it was at least based on a professional concept study. It’s no coincidence that it was released shortly before the 2012 British GP, which was sponsored by Santander, another example of the London GP cropping up as part of the noise surrounding the Silverstone race.

That Santander idea ticked all of the boxes, following a route that would seem logical enough for a London sightseeing bus. But the idea of shutting down key areas of London for a grand prix would face strenuous – and probably insurmountable – opposition.

Just consider the objections that resulted in Formula E’s Battersea E-Prix, which was staged only twice in a less high-profile area, faced. And that was for a category that is famous for producing very little noise!

For a London GP, it would not just be a question of the disruption caused and the cost, but also the environmental implications – as well as the question of whether a hugely popular tourist city really needed such an event.

And that’s supposing the money was there to do it. Creating a grand prix track on the streets is not a cheap task and would require significant spending just to modify simple aspects such as the road furniture before you even start thinking about barrier cost and wider logistics.

So there are huge obstacles for the kind of Central London grand prix that everyone has in their mind’s eye when this is considered. It’s been a popular dream throughout the 21st century, certainly ever since the 2004 street demo that ran between Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street and featured stars like Nigel Mansell.

A more realistic idea is one not held in the centre of London. There have in the past been serious proposals for a London Grand Prix in the Docklands area, where there are far fewer space and logistical problems. That model is at least a more realistic one.

F1 Live In London Takes Over Trafalgar Square Car Parade

But sadly, it lacks the same appeal because, as Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said in 2019, “a London Grand Prix only works if it’s proper London, if it’s in Dagenham, it doesn’t quite count”.

Proper London, as Horner puts it, is a vanishingly small long-shot as an F1 venue. In the future, in some transformed political and economic landscape it cannot be ruled out entirely, but currently, it would be a miracle for such an event to happen.

But one outside of Proper London it is at least easier to realise if you’ve got the cash. It is almost inconceivable that government money would be spent on such a race, particularly given the economic impact of COVID-19. And while F1 likes the idea, at best its financial contribution would be helping to source an independent promoter.

That’s possible and there have been candidates in the past – and continue to be interested parties – but it’s still challenging to pull off. Even so, if a company or individual were to commit the cash tomorrow, then what might be called a Peripheral London Grand Prix is very feasible.

If such a promoter comes up with the sums of money involved then F1 is likely to be amenable to the idea, although there will be legitimate concerns about the proximity of it to Silverstone. The two events will compete for fans, so despite the British GP being a hugely popular and successful race, is there really the appetite for two races in the UK?

Daniel Ricciardo

As Khan said, the fact Lewis Hamilton is at the top of F1 means it is hugely popular, but even if a race were to be green lit now the Mercedes driver might have retired by the time it takes place. And with city races highly sensitive to changes in the political landscape, even if a London GP does get off the ground it will by its very nature be subject to the whims of whoever has control.

There are many hurdles to be cleared for a London Grand Prix to become a reality. While it can’t be ruled out, particularly one outside of ‘proper London’, there’s every chance this will remain an idea that flares up every few years but never comes to anything.

Certainly, a politician of any political alignment making positive noises about it is no reason to get excited. When a credible promoter with cash is revealed, that’s the point where we can start to take this idea seriously rather than as part of this most predictable of traditions.

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