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What will two new British drivers in Formula 1 mean for the sport in Britain?

October 14, 2018

2018 is the first season since Formula 1’s inception in 1950 not to feature multiple British drivers.

Thankfully for the sport in the UK, that driver just happens to be Lewis Hamilton: One of the fastest, most successful and biggest stars the sport has seen for decades, keeping Formula 1 in the headlines day in day out, whether it’s for his racing exploits or his off-track activities. And he’s World Champion.

Love him or hate him, you have to admit – he’s box office. He gets fans and non-Formula 1 people talking about the sport in an era of complete and utter domination and fairly stale racing that has threatened to turn people off in their droves.

But Hamilton isn’t getting any younger. Now 33, he might have four or five good years left if he’s lucky. And that’s if he doesn’t get bored and want to try his hand at something else. (Did anyone say MOBO award??)

So what would this mean for Formula 1 in the UK?

In 2016, UK Formula 1 TV viewing figures dropped by 10 million, around half of the worldwide drop in people watching the sport. And the bods at F1 attributed this, in part, to Lewis Hamilton’s failure to win the 2016 World Championship.

The other factor that contributed to this reduction in viewers is F1’s move from the BBC, where all races were free-to-air, to a Channel 4/Sky split, where only half the races were shown live on terrestrial TV, and the other half were available only to SkyF1 subscribers.

This downward trend is likely to continue into 2019, as Formula 1 moves exclusively to SkyF1, without a free-to-air equivalent, Channel 4’s coverage ending at the end of this year.

In addition, the clause written into Sky’s contract that ensures that the Formula 1 British Grand Prix must be shown on free-to-air television allowing everyone in the UK the chance to watch it free of charge without subscription would be irrelevant if there’s no British Grand Prix.

In 2017 the BRDC, owners of Silverstone: venue of the British Grand Prix for the past three decades activated a break clause in their F1 contract, citing the spiralling costs of hosting a Grand Prix which prevents them from making a profit even when the crowd is at capacity, forcing them to protect the long-term future of the circuit ahead of their short term desire to host a Grand Prix.

So at the time of writing there’s no contract in place to have a British Grand Prix of any description beyond 2019.

With no other track in the UK with an FIA A-Grade license required to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and with a once-mooted London street race seemingly off the table, it would appear that it’s either Silverstone or bust for the British Grand Prix.

Should either of the two interested parties be unwilling to compromise, in the second season of Formula 1 being out of most living rooms in Britain come Sunday afternoons, many British race fans won’t have their annual pilgrimage to the Grand Prix to look forward to either.

On top of that, if in the near future Lewis Hamilton were to call it a day, it may just be enough for your less-committed F1 fan to switch off altogether, leaving Britain with the majority of F1 teams and people employed in the operation of F1, but without a driver, a Grand Prix or indeed a fanbase.

This is where Lando Norris and Martini Williams Racing’s George Russell come in.

The Britons were the stand-out drivers in F2 in 2018, and thanks to their strong Formula 1 connections, they were able to grab your casual F2 fan’s attention in a way that many junior drivers before them simply couldn’t.

This has allowed each driver to build up a significant following to take with them into Formula 1, where they will met by strong support from fans of their new teams: Williams and McLaren – two of the most well supported teams in sport over the last 20 or 30 years, especially in the UK.

So perhaps if anything is going to stave off the triple threat of no free-to-air races, no British Grand Prix and a retiring home-grown superstar, it might just be not just one, but two young, exciting British drivers that keeps interest in F1 alive in the UK.

No pressure lads.


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