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.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.