By Ollie BarstowFollow @OllieBarstowF1 on Twitter

The honeymoon period for Liberty Media is well and truly over... Silverstone is beginning divorce proceedings and custody of the British Grand Prix is at stake. The outcome? At this time, anyone's guess...

It must be said, the BRDC's declaration today that it will go ahead and break its F1 British Grand Prix contract may be bitterly disappointing (perhaps more frustrating), but surprising it arguably isn't for those that have endured what has been a fairly tedious tale of behind-the-scenes politics at odds with the spectacular event it ultimately creates.

Indeed, the writing was on the wall back in January when it was revealed BRDC members had been told they would need to make a decision on whether to trigger an exit clause on its original 16 year deal to host the British Grand Prix spanning 2010 to 2026.

An unusual contract agreed with ever-the-shrewd businessman Bernie Ecclestone in the wake of the Donington Park debacle (more on that later), the terms meant Silverstone and the BRDC would need to pay 5 per cent more each year until the end of the contract.

It means hosting fees have already risen from ?11.5m in 2010 to ?16.2m in 2017 with another 10 years of the agreement left to run.

Given Silverstone sustained a ?4.8m loss in 2016 alone despite 350,000 live attendees over course of the weekend you needn't be an accountant to realise the terms are not anywhere near sustainable as they stand... though many would argue you needn't have been one in 2009 either to realise it was an immensely flawed offer in the first place.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing but the declaration from the BRDC that it signed the 'only' deal made available to it at the time reveals the absurdity of the terms in the first place.

Timing here is everything and not just because a 'yes or no' decision to trigger the clause or persevere for the next decade ultimately had to be taken right now.

As mentioned, Ecclestone was the architect of the current deal, thrashed out after bold (trans: farcical) plans to take the British Grand Prix to Donington Park fell into the quagmire of its own making... literally.

With deadlines looming and Ecclestone using the French Grand Prix axe as a fresh example of his ruthlessness, pen was put to paper swiftly to preserve the British Grand Prix from either a sabbatical or - worse - demise.

The world is a different place now - not least because Ecclestone doesn't run F1 - but Silverstone's British Grand Prix woes have degenerated annually, spiralling costs in tandem with spiralling losses, that couldn't be offset in an era that has seen Lewis Hamilton's halo-effect lure massive six figure crowds year-on-year.

Fundamentally, the result of 2009's short-term view and the draining effect of the expensive yet coolly received upgrades means the BRDC is now looking long-term at a bleak prospect - the loss of Silverstone altogether. The threat is real and no Silverstone ultimately means no British Grand Prix (in principle).

So if the situation isn't surprising then the next move potentially will be.

Indeed, the BRDC's deal with F1 signed back in 2009 ultimately isn't a problem of Liberty Media's making, though it is one it will already be well versed in.

Silverstone isn't the only venue feeling the pinch from the growing demands of hosting an F1 event in an era of austerity, not least when it and other financially constrained - mostly European - rounds have faced competition in last 15 years from other markets (and governments) more willing and able to dig deep into their pockets to entice the powers that be.

If anything, Britain has been lucky to keep its race at a time when France and Germany - two comparable and surely significant markets - have fought for and lost their places, but this will see it going into the ring with a fairly unknown foe in Liberty Media.

Is entering such unchartered territory a risk it would have taken with Ecclestone under his famously dismissive regime?

Cynics suggest the BRDC is chancing its luck somewhat with Liberty Media, its arrival and Ecclestone's exit being sensed as an opportunity to make fresh demands to newer bosses in the hope they will be more sympathetic to the plight.

Though Chase Carey has remained fairly 'coy' on the 'Silverstone debate', he has reiterated more than once that it is not his intention to renegotiate existing deals. Then again, he has also repeated he doesn't want to see iconic events lose their place, usually in the same breath.

Whilst it is bold to suggest Silverstone has 'gambled' with this move given a decision had to ultimately be made, it has seemingly been daringly provocative by going public just two days before the 2017 British Grand Prix when it was offered extensions in an attempt to get a deal in place.

We doubt Liberty would be terribly impressed that it also overshadowed its huge announcement just two hours earlier that it would be hosting a big live event in London tomorrow. Intentional? We're sure the timing hadn't escaped the BRDC's notice...

The subsequent bluntly worded statement from FOG (nee Liberty) gave the impression relations between the two parties aren't in a good place, at least compared with a few weeks ago when Carey was positive a deal could be reached.

Branding the BRDC as 'posturing', it serves to create an interesting dynamic this weekend as it forces Liberty to address the interested media and partisan fans on what could be termed enemy soil now. If Silverstone wanted to pull a power play, it's a potentially dangerous game.

The bottom line is no-one wants to see the British Grand Prix fall by the wayside because of the short-sighted implications of a long-term deal agreed back in 2009, not least because Liberty Media had nothing to do with it in the first place.

Trouble is, Liberty is aware it must choose its next move carefully or risk setting a precedent.

Should it go soft on Silverstone for reasons of heritage and commerce, which would risk paving the way for other venues to begin picking through their contracts?

Or should Liberty be questioning why the BRDC cannot turn one of the best attended events into a profit paying hosting fees that - despite the increases - remain lower than that of many other F1 venues?

We have three years - and a lot of behind-the-scenes meetings - to come until the prospect becomes reality whatever that may be, but while Carey's negotiation nous may currently be more of a mystery compared with Ecclestone's, it's safe to assume he is far from a soft touch.

After all, much like Silverstone may have sensed an opportunity in getting a new deal in place, perhaps Liberty Media is doing exactly the same.

Perhaps that much mooted fantastical London Grand Prix idea isn't as fanciful as it was this time last week...



Loading Comments...