After the scandal surrounding Formula One's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky, the sale of a lease on Silverstone is one of the longest-running sagas in the sport. For the past few years Silverstone's owner, the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), has been trying to sell a 150-year lease on the 3.7-mile circuit and the 850 acres of land which surround it. Despite repeated rumours that a deal was on the cards, the lease has still not been sold. It doesn't look like F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone will be stepping in to save the day if needs be.
The lease is a significant undertaking. As Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed in August last year, the new owner would also become promoter of the British Grand Prix which would financially separate the race from the BRDC. The club wants to use the proceeds of the deal to pay down loans it took out from Lloyds to fund construction of a new pit and paddock complex which opened in 2011.
Ecclestone demanded the new facilities as a condition of signing a 17-year British GP contract with the BRDC in 2009. It left the club with £26.1m of net debt in 2011, the most-recent year for which its accounts are available. Interest on the debt came to £842,000 which contributed to the BRDC's £4.5m net loss.
Ecclestone has been repeatedly linked to taking control of Silverstone but, in an interview with Sylt for American motoring magazine AutoWeek, he said "I'm not interested in buying the lease and I don't know who is."
It isn't the first time that Silverstone has done this kind of a deal. In 2000, Interpublic, one of the world's largest advertising agencies, took over management of the track. However, the arrangement was short-lived as Interpublic made huge losses on the deal and it ended early in April 2004. The BRDC took back control of the circuit and received a £22.3m settlement from Interpublic. Ecclestone helped the BRDC in the negotiations and says "I got them out of the deal with Interpublic and that gave them a lot of money." The club's latest foray has not been so fruitful.
The race to find a new investor has already stalled once. It began in August 2009 when the BRDC members gave permission for a lease to be granted on the land. The club then engaged accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to contact potential investors and entered into exclusive talks with a preferred bidder. The talks fell through and in May last year the BRDC announced it had opened discussions with other parties.
The latest company linked to Silverstone is MEPC, a property group owned by the BT pension fund. Its offer is understood to be for £40m and would pave the way for a 200-acre business park to be built on the land if it gets the green light. Time will tell whether the BRDC can actually close a deal.