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Formula 1 British GP

British GP still chasing sell-out as Red Bull F1 dominance takes its toll

Red Bull’s dominance of Formula 1 has been cited as a key factor in British Grand Prix tickets still being available for next month's race

A huge crowd gathers to see Lando Norris, McLaren, 2nd position, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position, on the podium

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

After recent record-breaking years with sell-outs and bumper attendances, British Grand Prix promoters are facing a last-minute push to find buyers for the final Formula 1 tickets.

But while there is no alarm that some seats may remain empty next month – and estimates of a weekend crowd of 465,000-470,000 are still something other venues would be jealous of – it marks an interesting reflection point on F1’s fan popularity after its recent boom.

The post-Covid bounce helped lift the popularity of all events to new levels – be it sport, music or anything that took place in the great outdoors – but F1 appeared to be enjoying the uplift longer than most.

In 2022, Silverstone enjoyed its fastest ever sell-out – with 142,000 tickets snapped up for race day shortly after being put on sale. Last year, it boasted an attendance of 480,000 across the weekend, and there seemed little sign of waning interest.

But that record-breaking figure looks likely to have been a peak – for two reasons.

First, Silverstone has deliberately moved to reduce capacity this year because it felt that the customer experience would benefit from it not being so crammed to the rafters. At some point, after all, a venue can get too busy that it ruins things for everyone.

Then, despite cutting back on the number of tickets up for sale, Silverstone has also not had a repeat of the rapid sell-out of last year – and has joined other races in seeing ticket sales run right up until the doors open.

Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle is not overly concerned by how things are playing out though.

Silverstone boss Pringle isn't concerned by developments

Silverstone boss Pringle isn't concerned by developments

Photo by: JEP

Instead, he sees the non-sell-out as a return to norm for the British Grand Prix – and probably one fuelled by there not (yet) being a British driver properly in the championship hunt amid the stranglehold that Max Verstappen and Red Bull have had on F1 over the past 12 months.

“Historically we’ve always had to promote up until the end, but definitely there was a discernible bounce post-Covid,” he said.

“That wasn't unique to motorsport or Formula 1. Indeed, it was seen in other sports and entertainment events.

“But if there is a strong likelihood of the same winner, and the jeopardy is taken out of sport, it does take the edge off it. Last year was very repetitive in terms of one team dominated and they set off this season in the same vein.

“Things may be changing now, and I do recognise that we had several years of a British driver dominating the championship, and we didn't mind that so much as a British promoter! But it's certainly been a lot harder with Red Bull dominating.

“Also, as a promoter, you have to get your ticket pricing strategy correct. You could make these things go quicker if you reduce price.

“But we have got expensive bills to pay, not less the promoter fee, so it's about hitting a strategy and making sure it works, which we're pretty comfortable with.”

Capacity has been reduced for 2024

Capacity has been reduced for 2024

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Indeed, the importance of local success appears critical as there was an uptick of demand following the double British podium of Lando Norris and George Russell in Canada.

Fingers will be crossed that more British success in the Spanish and Austrian Grands Prix will help fuel further interest that could potentially still deliver that sell out.

More than F1

Silverstone has followed the trend of several other venues in ensuring a festival vibe to its grand prix – knowing that bringing in the crowds requires more than just putting on a motor race and finding some support categories.

Fan zone appearances from F1’s biggest stars are now a trademark and music concerts remain a core attraction – with this year’s main stage being host to stars like Kings of Leon, Stormzy, Pete Tong and Rudimental. It’s also adding a comedy tent.

As Pringle says: “We're trying to create that: ‘you can't see life without that weekend in it’ moment.”

Pringle is also especially proud that Thursday night’s Kings of Leon concert is the cheapest ticket available for the band’s European tour – and includes the chance to capture the build up to the F1 weekend.

The flow of ticket sales also appears to point to a cultural shift in event attendance now that things have settled down after the pandemic.

Whereas in the Covid bounce era the desire was to get out to everything, a return to normality means people are more selective, especially amid the cost of living crisis.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position, celebrates with fans after the race

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position, celebrates with fans after the race

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“I think society generally is booking things later,” added Pringle. “I've spoken to other promoters who are saying the same thing.

“People are used to instant gratification these days: I want to do this so I’m going to book it now. They don’t think about booking things a year in advance.”

Dynamic pricing

Silverstone faced some criticism last year for dynamic pricing of tickets, with some fans upset about the way it had been implemented.

But Pringle has defended an approach he says a host of other businesses use, and sees nothing wrong with incentivising people to book early for better prices.

“In truth, it's been like that since the mid-1980s,” he said. “We had a flyer that we used to put in Little Chefs that said the first 10,000 tickets were at this price, or some years it was ‘book by this date’ for this price.

“Of course, it has become more refined than that in the digital age, but is it absolutely the way that society is going across everything from train tickets to airline tickets.

“One of the pub chains prices its pints differently on a Friday evening and Saturday evening compared to the rest of the week.

“We're a promoter. We need to incentivise people to part with their money. We need cash in the business. We need to know that we're going to be able to pay our bills. So, I have no problem at all with incentivising people and rewarding them for booking early.

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas F1 Team, throws hats into the crowd from the stage

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas F1 Team, throws hats into the crowd from the stage

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“If you make a late decision to come, then you do so cognizant of the fact that that's what it's going to cost. They have a choice to make about whether or not they would like to attend at that price.

“You can still buy a buy a three-day weekend ticket today that includes Friday night with Stormzy, Pete Tong, Rudimental plus all that other stuff, and weekend grandstand seat, for £359. It is £100 to watch one game of football.

“So, the value is there. And the evidence is that 488,000 people who visited last year felt that was the case. So, I think it’s working.”

Finances

Even if Silverstone is not a sell out this year, it is safe to say that the track’s finances are more robust than ever. And the British Grand Prix crowd that is already confirmed, irrespective of how many of the final tickets get sold, will be enough for the event to be profitable.

Whereas there were times when the privately-owned track risked bankrupting itself to pay the race hosting fee, the current popularity levels of F1, allied to better business practices, have left it on a surer footing.

With owner BRDC not seeking profits for shareholder gains, any positive cash flows end up being reinvested into Silverstone to make even better in the future.

This year that will be manifested in a £16.2 million investment in a new international karting circuit. Pringle added: “We've rebuilt the company, and we only do business that makes sense for us.

“We're consistently making money, and the club is reinvesting it back into Silverstone.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, others in the queue to leave the pits

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, others in the queue to leave the pits

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

“One of the things is the opening of Escapade luxury trackside residences. Although we are not the developer of that, we will be the operator, and we have to employ the significant staff to operate that scheme. And in line with most hotel businesses, it will not turn a profit for the first couple of years. So, the BRDC is funding that trading deficit.

“That will impact our financial results in 2024, but it's building the business in a much more robust fashion for the long-term, and will serve us well.

“The commitment to a £16.2 million-pound international standard karting circuit is a significant cost, but the BRDC is funding it out of cash because it can and it wants to, and it's the right thing to do for British motorsport.

“It will serve British motorsport well in the long run, through all the time that we're the promoter the British Grand Prix - and we know that we've got that runway for at least a decade now.

“There will be young British drivers that will race on this kart circuit, and they will be on the grid in F1 during the term of this contract. So, that's the right thing for the BRDC to do.”

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