Former British Grand Prix victor John Watson has said that Silverstone 'would have withered' if the event had made its planned move up the M1 to Donington Park.
It was announced back in 2008 that the event was to move away from Silverstone from 2010 onwards, only for the plans to take F1 back to Donington ultimately failing as promoters were unable to find the necessary funding to complete upgrade work at the East Midlands circuit.
As a result, Silverstone reclaimed the rights to host the race in a 17-year long deal, with the 2010 race being run on the new Arena circuit layout.
This season's race will be the first to make use of the new pit and paddock complex – dubbed the 'Silverstone Wing' – and BRDC member Watson admits that keeping the F1 race and redeveloping the circuit had been key to ensuring Silverstone didn't 'wither on the vine'.
“The reality in my mind is that if we hadn't retained the grand prix and if we hadn't done something on a commercial level, there was no way it would have been possible to generate the income to retain the circuits at their current licencing levels,” he said during the launch of the new Silverstone Wing. “This is a grade one circuit which you need for F1 but it would have withered on the vine and wouldn't have been sustainable. The BRDC and the circuit would, over time, have withered.
“In the real world, the way Grand Prixs are granted isn't down to history or heritage, it is because of the facility you provide – primarily for F1 but also now for MotoGP.
“To have a GP contract you have to provide a facility that is comparable to the rest of the calendar and certainly we have seen in the new world in places like china and Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, enormous strides being taken in what is created to host F1; Silverstone needed to respond and react to that. Being a former 1950s GP rights holder wasn't going to get that done, and we had to make the investment, we had to commit commercially to building something appropriate to the title of a Grand Prix of MotoGP race.”
The Wing will not only be used for race meetings but also for other commercial activities, with conferences and launches amongst the services being offered to potential clients.
“This is a building that can be used commercially and that can generate income at non-motorsport events,” Watson added. “It is like an aircraft. If you take a Boeing 747, every minute it is on the ground it is losing money and Silverstone is no different. We are effectively a Boeing 747. This facility has to be used every day of the year to generate income to allow it to support itself and that is just business, it isn't rocket science.
“We are now working to generate the income and there is a huge amount of interest because of its location. Why we didn't do it ten or 15 years ago is beyond me – maybe the momentum wasn't there. We have created this building and it can now make its money from commercial ventures, which we haven't been able to do in the past.”