A London Grand Prix is less likely than it seems

Mika Hakkinen drives the two seater F1 car during F1 Live London at Trafalgar Square in July this year. Image: Getty.

The owners of Britain’s only Formula 1 race course, Silverstone, are to activate the break clause in their contract. In 2019, the track will host the British Grand Prix for the last time.

The news has prompted renewed calls for a London Grand Prix, to ensure the sport retains a UK presence. After all, the sight of race cars flying past Trafalgar Square for the F1 Live London event in July was a source of great excitement for motor racing fans.

At first glance, the capital appears to be in an ideal position to step in, enjoying apparent support from senior figures in government and in motorsport. “We have talked about destination cities and the ultimate definition of that is London,” said Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey, who replaced Bernie Ecclestone earlier this year.

What’s more, a legal change in April means local authorities no longer require an act of parliament to suspend the Road Traffic Act for certain events. Transport minister Andrew Jones has said that a grand prix “with the backdrop of London” would be “spectacular”.

But where would it be held, and who would pay for it? Docklands, the Olympic Park and Westminster have all been mooted, and those behind the Stratford bid claim the event could happen without a penny of public money being spent. All but two of the races on the F1 calendar enjoy government funding, however – and it seems hard to believe the London GP could take place without.

Monaco, the best-known example of a street circuit, has paid a reduced fee to host races in Monte Carlo for years, given what the principality “brings to Formula 1”. London could argue that a backdrop of Nelson’s Column, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben – bells or no bells – would help F1 and warrant subsidisation from it as Ecclestone suggested might be possible in 2012.

But, though Carey has claimed the sport “said ‘no’ too much and we have to start saying ‘yes’”, he has not come as close to promising to help with staging costs. Even in the unlikely event F1 were to waive the race fee or covered staging costs, it seems probable that London would still face a large bill it may struggle to recoup.


The annual operating cost of an F1 street race is estimated to be more than £45m, in addition to a hosting fee typically above £20m. Cities are expected to sign contracts committing to several years at once, bringing overall costs into the hundreds of millions.

Over the last decade, the capital’s streets have entertained three Tour de France stages, four Olympic road races, several marathons and F1 Live London. But a grand prix requires planning and finance on a different scale. Despite regularly selling out, Silverstone’s owners have described the cost of holding the British Grand Prix as “ruinous”.

Transport for London (TfL) has already pulled out of hosting a 2017 Tour de France stage. “To ensure value for money we must make difficult choices. We have always said that the return of the Tour was subject to funding,” its managing director of surface transport Leon Daniels said in September 2015.

And that was before the election of Sadiq Khan, who appears to have less appetite for costly, high-risk events and projects than his predecessor, the man who backed the Garden Bridge and the ‘Boris Island’ airport project. While Khan has been cautious in his support for a London GP, Boris Johnson was “broadly positive providing we can satisfy the air quality and noise issues”. Let’s face it: he would have loved the opportunity to stand in Hyde Park once more and make a speech like the one on the eve of the 2012 Olympics, with people shouting his name.

But times have changed. It could prove hugely controversial to spend so much public money on a race track post-Grenfell, with the capital facing a housing crisis. Few could blame Khan for avoiding the symbolism of being associated with a massive project unlikely to be of any practical use to Londoners. There are environmental concerns, too.

Today’s business case for western European countries investing in race tracks appears weak. Recent street circuits in Valencia (F1) and Battersea (Formula E) were short-lived, and the Welsh Government recently withdrew its support for the so-called Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale, which had been earmarked for Moto GP. F1 in London seems even less likely to provide long-term employment opportunities.

Countries prepared to cough up for new races tend to be those keen to put themselves on the map after struggling to attract tourism and investment. London doesn’t lack either. If it’s hard to argue Azerbaijan ‘needs’ F1, it’s harder still to argue that London does.

It took the Welsh Government years to decide whether to underwrite the Circuit of Wales. With what might well be Silverstone’s last grand prix under two years away, time is running out.

For supporters, it may be a case of right place, wrong time. Had Silverstone activated a break clause five years ago, with the Olympics fresh in the memory, Ecclestone running F1 and Johnson in City Hall, a London GP might have stood a better chance. But, as it is, proponents of the race need to act quickly to keep the show on the road – or, quite possibly, to keep the show on British roads at all.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget is hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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