A roadblock in the way of the sale of Silverstone to Jaguar has fuelled the dramatic departure of the track's managing director Patrick Allen according to an article in the Telegraph by Christian Sylt.
Silverstone's owner, the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), announced in April that it intended to sell a 249-year lease on the track to Jaguar. However, the £33m deal is understood to have stalled since then due to a veto right held by Porsche which blocks rival manufacturers from using Silverstone for more than 45 days per year.
The Jaguar deal was endorsed by the BRDC board but a rival bid has been made by businessman Lawrence Tomlinson and, according to several members of the club, Allen was recently suspended on full pay for being "too close" to him. It comes completely out of the blue as Allen was last seen speaking to sports writers at the British Grand Prix last month but none reported on the turmoil behind the scenes.
Although Silverstone hosts one of F1's most famous races, the BRDC is trying to distance itself from the track which reported combined net losses of £55.9m over the past five years. The BRDC's chairman John Grant touted Jaguar as a saviour but the deal now appears to be in limbo due to a veto held by Porsche which operates a driving centre at the track.
"Porsche has a covenant within their lease that says no manufacturer can use the circuit for more than 45 days a year. JLR were aware of that covenant and assumed that they might be able to sort it out after the deal was done," says a senior BRDC member adding that "I have been told in the last 48 hours that Porsche have indicated that they would not be prepared to waive their rights."
It could be a roadblock as Jaguar plans to use Silverstone as a high-performance test track for its customers as well as building offices for up to 1,000 of its staff along with a hotel and heritage centre.
A BRDC spokesperson says "The Board of the British Racing Drivers' Club is continuing discussions with JLR about the future of Silverstone Circuit. Porsche have not raised any objections."
A spokesperson for Jaguar says there is "nothing new to add at this stage. Jaguar Land Rover remains committed to long-term and sustainable growth in the UK. Our discussions with the British Racing Drivers Club are on-going, but there is no detail to share at this stage. All discussions remain commercially confidential."
A Porsche spokesperson added "we are not prepared to confirm or deny any details contained within private contracts. We have a shared aim with the BRDC, in that we wish to see Silverstone and its local community thrive."
The deal has sparked divisions amongst the BRDC ranks with some opposing it because Jaguar's owner Tata recently pulled out of the UK steel industry.
Some members favour Tomlinson's bid which, according to his offer letter, "would leave the BRDC with an upfront payment of £6,000,000, capital investment, no debt responsibilities and on-going rent of £1,000,000 per year for a further 248 years (index linked). This equates to a commercial value today considerably in excess of the Tata deal."
Allen could not be reached for comment about this and one member said "Patrick has been suspended for speaking to Lawrence." Another added that he "was put on full paid gardening leave because John Grant thought he was too close to Lawrence. They have been friends for many years."
The two are long-time associates as Allen was commercial director of Tomlinson's LNT Group, which owns Ginetta sports cars and Ideal care homes. Allen joined Silverstone as managing director in December 2014 after previous incumbent Richard Phillips was also suspended and never charged with any wrongdoing. Silverstone's sporting director Stuart Pringle is understood to have taken over the driving seat in Mr Allen's absence.
Allen's absence has been validated by the BRDC spokesperson who says "The British Racing Drivers' Club can confirm that Patrick Allen is currently on a leave of absence from Silverstone Circuit but as this is a private matter we cannot comment further."
Some members are calling for the situation to be reversed at the BRDC's AGM on 28 September setting the scene for an explosive confrontation.
Silverstone is the only F1 race which gets no government funding and this has fuelled its losses. However it has begun to turn around thanks to Mr Allen's efforts and in the year to 31 December 2015 the BRDC finished in the black for the first time in a decade with a profit of £1.2m.
It was driven by a low-cost airline pricing strategy with introductory tickets to the 2015 British Grand Prix starting at £99. It clearly hit the spot with a record 140,000 turning up to watch Lewis Hamilton race to victory last month.