There’s a saying relating to London buses: You wait ages for one, and then two come along at once.
Well, if you want predictable regularity, then you need look no further than stories relating to a London Grand Prix. Every few years, there’s a story in a British newspaper that suggests it could happen on the city’s streets.
One of the funnier storylines was when a proposal for a CGI film for F1 sponsor Santander was taken seriously, despite the track including a run through Admiralty Arch (Google it) and restricting access to sections of parliament and Buckingham Palace. That said, not all have been quite so outlandish.
The capital of England was a target of former F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone’s for some time, and similarly got a little bit of Liberty Media’s interest as it focused on destination cities for new venues, but there’s never really been a viable option.
Then on Tuesday, the latest installment landed. First reported by The Times, a partnership between environmental group LDN Collective and consultancy firm DAR announced plans to transform part of east London known as Docklands and deliver “a new sports and leisure master plan which guides the transformation of the Royal Docks into a global waterfront destination.” The icing on the cake? A Formula 1 circuit that could host a London Grand Prix.
As a concept, it looks awesome — taking inspiration from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and having something that is a leisure hub on the waterfront (even using the docks for some floating modules that can be reconfigured whenever required) that hides an F1 track underneath.
“We know that Formula 1 is interested in hosting a Grand Prix here and we have designed a track that meets all of their requirements and regulations,” LDN Collective CEO Max Farrell said. “We have discussed the proposals with the GLA (Greater London Authority), who are developing a water strategy and planning framework with Newham Council, which we will align with.
“With or without F1, these proposals are transformational and would be a huge boost to London and the UK globally.”
The only issue is that F1 itself says there has been “no proposal sent to us and no discussions.”
And that’s where the “with or without F1” part of Farrell’s comments kick in. It’s perhaps easiest for a potential promoter in London to send a proposal to Stefano Domenicali and company given the company has its headquarters in the same city, but the latest idea appears to be a one-way street, albeit in a different direction to the past.
Previously, many London Grand Prix stories have been so easy to dismiss because there was no way local councils would accept such disruption and cost to put on the event. F1 might have wanted a race there, but it wasn’t getting a particularly positive reception.
Now, the tables have turned. F1’s boom in recent years has seen so many venues wanting to earn a spot on the calendar. Add to London the likes of South Africa or Colombia that have managed to generate headlines for races that have yet to come to fruition, and in some cases look far fetched at best.
There’s free PR simply in stating you want to host a grand prix, regardless of the viability of the project or the desire from F1 itself to entertain the interest.
A huge segment of the docklands area is under public ownership and therefore multiple groups will be vying for the opportunity to redevelop the sector, with funding available to support successful proposals. Picking up on one of the more popular global sports — and don’t forget major projects could well include global investors — to try and headline your plans therefore makes a lot of sense to build momentum.
That’s not to say Liberty Media is ever going to be particularly upset whenever there is talk of a potential new venue wanting to hold meetings relating to a race. As fanciful as some of the proposals may be, having multiple options to add to the calendar only drives up the asking price for a new promoter trying to join, and similarly strengthen’s Liberty’s hand when it comes to negotiations with existing events.
Plus, it’s a good time for Liberty to have a new external partner showing interest, because the newest addition to the calendar this year is one of its own, as Las Vegas includes promotion and investment from F1’s commercial rights holder to bring it to fruition. Add in a return to Saudi Arabia this weekend — a race that was already under intense scrutiny prior to last year’s missile attack on a nearby oil depot during Friday practice — and chatter about a grand prix in London is a far less controversial topic for people to be talking about.
Whatever the motives each time, the idea of a London race will always gain media and fan interest, just like New York City has in the past and will continue to.
F1’s probably not going to be racing in London anytime soon, but it’s unlikely that this week’s story is the last time we hear about an idea for such a race, and plenty of other locations will be following suit for as long as the sport is so in-demand.
Whether today’s proposal goes onto become anything more serious or not, it does provide a reminder that sometimes it’s not the race itself that is valuable, but the added attention even the idea of it can bring other things. And I’ve just given this one a whole column on it…