Silverstone: fans will not pay for deal

Extra day planned to raise income at British GP, while new track design unveiled
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The Independent Online

Silverstone yesterday unveiled its plans to make a profit from the British Grand Prix a day after securing the long-term contract to stage the event. Richard Phillips, the circuit's managing director, insisted the terms of the deal with Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management Group (FOM) were healthy and that suggestions the track had agreed to pay FOM an annual fee starting at £12m were "confusing". Phillips also announced the Northamptonshire track, which will be extensively redesigned over the next two years, had sold more than £1m worth of tickets in the 24 hours following confirmation of the 17-year deal.

The managing director said that fears that ticket prices would have to be raised to ensure Silverstone covered its costs were groundless, with the only rises those necessary to allow for inflation and the readjustment in VAT. The circuit will increase its income in other ways, one of which will be to increase footfall by expanding the traditional three-day event to four days. "Moving the event to a longer four-day period, which is what we're doing with MotoGP [the British Motorbike Grand Prix, now also being staged at Silverstone] in 2010, and possibly even a five-day event, incorporating things like conferences and exhibitions, will broaden the potential income," Phillips said.

"Beyond that, the stability means we can develop the Silverstone brand, and what we can do with it. In the last three years we have been diversifying so we now do a lot of work outside Silverstone, with things like running car launches. Our catering company, which we started three years ago, did the catering at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and has a seven-year contract there. Improving the infrastructure here will build and strengthen the Silverstone brand, and enable us to do deals in other areas."

The rush to buy tickets indicated that staging next year's race on the same day as the World Cup final did not look like it was going to be a problem, Phillips said: "It's an opportunity, embracing the concept and making sure everybody knows they will be able to watch the match on big screens adds to the festival atmosphere."

Phillips accepts that considerable investment in facilities at the circuit would be required, and it has already been scheduled. Work on improving and reconfiguring the track has begun and will be complete by next year and, pending ratification by the sport's governing body, the FIA, a new pit and paddock complex will be completed in time for the 2011 Grand Prix – when the finishing straight will be resited to between the Club and Abbey complexes – and new grandstands will also be constructed.

A Heritage Centre is also being considered, with many members of the British Racing Drivers' Club, which owns the circuit, having promised to furnish the building with historic cars and memorabilia to display.

Phillips said the money needed for the improvements to the track, and for building the new pit and paddock complex - a total of around £12m - had already been effectively raised. He added that Silverstone's success in winning the contract signalled a fundamental shift in the direction of Formula One. "There's a recognition you can't keep building all these new circuits in emerging markets, you have to keep a core of the good traditional circuits, and they have to have the ability to invest in themselves."

* Renault may withdraw from Formula One, but sell its team, which has a base at Enstone, near Oxford, to the British motor sport company ProDrive, owned by David Richards, who visited Enstone on Monday.