Racing on the streets of London. Good, bad or just ugly?
After years of consultations and debates, the British Government has approved a piece of legislation that will allow for motor racing to take place on public roads. As of April 10, an Act of Parliament is no longer needed for an event to take place. Instead, all that is required is approval by the MSA as well as that of the local authorities of the area in which the event is taking place.
Many motorsport fans believe that this now opens the door to a Grand Prix on the streets of London which is what this bill theoretically allows. Yet just like the plans recently unveiled to build a skyscraper on an asteroid orbiting the Earth, it just seems like a waste of time and effort.
Calling a Grand Prix in London a ‘waste of time’ may seem a controversial point of view at first, particularly as from the outset it makes certain sense.
A London Grand Prix would provide economic benefits, delivering a boost to Brexit Britain with the huge amounts of money raised from ticket sales etc.
It would also bring to reality an occasion many fans have dreamed about for years, particularly after a Grand Prix demo in London in 2004.
Furthermore, it would fit in with London’s motorsport heritage and become the third circuit after Crystal Palace where James Hunt and Niki Lauda first clashed in an F3 race in 1970, as well as Battersea Park where Formula E held its season finales in 2015 and 2016.
Sounds good then, doesn’t it? Economic boost guaranteed, massive global spotlight, fans get to watch a race in London, a city that, on its own, comes with a significant amount of motorsport heritage to boot.
There’s more than meets the eye however because its not as simple as putting up a few barriers and waving the cars off to the grid. There are a couple of big issues that need to be contended with before the lights can go out.
First of the problems are the logistics. I’ve mentioned Crystal Palace and Battersea Park as previous examples of motor racing in London, but the reason both these made sense was due to their locations.
Both took place in enclosed public parks that in reality meant that, aside from increased levels of traffic on both the roads and local train stations, London could continue to function during the events. No roads, other than those in the parks, had to be shut for the events to occur.
If the Grand Prix of London is to take place as many desire on the capital’s central streets, the disruption caused will be immense. London is a city that is constantly busy and full of traffic 24 hours a day. Holding a Grand Prix at any time will create massive disruptions to those who require the roads to commute and earn a living.
There is a strong argument to say that if London can handle the Olympics it can handle Formula One; this is true. The infrastructure would be fine but it’s the logistics of closing roads and the diversions needed that becomes the greater issue.
The power of the people is something else that would stop a London Grand Prix. There may be a great many motorsport fans in London but the fact is that most people in the city don’t have an interest in Formula One or motor racing.
There’s no doubt about the disruption caused by a London Grand Prix — the road closures, travel delays, etc. All which would likely anger a substantial proportion of the population and could lead to the race’s suspension.
If the race did get suspended it wouldn’t be the first time people power has stopped racing in London. In 2015 a campaign was set up by residents of Battersea called Save Battersea Park.
They campaigned against the Formula E races in Battersea. They stated the noise pollution from the lorries and tractors as well as the closure of certain areas of the park for the race as reasons for their grievance.
They wanted their park back and in June 2016 just a few weeks after the 2016 season finale, Formula E announced that it would never return to race at Battersea Park.
The people of Save Battersea Park had won and there’s no doubting that a similar campaign would not stop a London Grand Prix either.
So what will happen then?
Whilst it would certainly be a contentious race, here are two possible scenarios for its fate:
Scenario 1: The event organisers will replicate the Sochi Grand Prix template and hold the race in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. If this doesn’t happen then the race will be moved to a different location or just called off.
Scenario 2: See the feature photograph that heads this article? That’s of an F3000 race that took place in Birmingham, a city that held an annual Superprix from 1986 to 1990. If this legislation could be used to boost the British Motorsport Industry why not take the race to a place near the industry and a city which would benefit from a strong boost to its economy? Places like Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester have some of the best transport systems in the UK, they’re also closer to eight of the ten Formula One teams competing in the championship.
Great setting, great economic boost but a lack of public support and huge logistical headaches. What will it be for the Grand Prix in waiting? As always, all in good time.