Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart has branded the potential loss of the British Grand Prix an “absolute scandal” and demanded government help.
The future of the race was thrown into doubt after Silverstone’s owners triggered a break clause in their contract with the sport’s bosses.
The British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), which owns the Northamptonshire track, says it has lost £7.6m over the last two years and “run out of road”.
The BRDC’s move means the last contracted British Grand Prix will be in 2019 unless a new deal is agreed.
Speaking to Sky News’ Ian King, Sir Jackie insisted the UK “can’t afford” to lose the race as he highlighted the 143,000 people employed in the F1 industry in the country.
Image: Sir Jackie says the UK ‘can’t afford’ to lose the race
He said: “I know things are tough for the present Government at the present time but this is an economy that is very powerful for our country – bringing along young people and engineers that are the best in the world.”
The former F1 world champion claimed losing the British Grand Prix would “negatively affect the whole industry” in the UK, adding: “It would be an absolute scandal if that were to occur, particularly when the Government gives so many other sports financial support.
“So I believe in a case like this, where the economy is at stake, I think they have to look very seriously at giving a helping hand.”
More than 135,000 F1 fans are due at Silverstone on Sunday as Lewis Hamilton bids for a fourth successive British GP win.
“It’s not financially viable for us to deliver the British Grand Prix under the terms of our current contract,” BRDC John Grant told a news conference at the track.
“We have reached the tipping point where we can no longer let our passion for the sport rule our heads.”
Image: The circuit attracts more than 100,000 people on race day but still makes a loss
The BRDC has been the custodian of the British GP for 70 years, but their decision drew a strong response from the sport’s owners, the F1 Group.
They said: “We offered to extend the current deadlines in order to focus on everything that’s great about Silverstone and F1.
“Regretfully the Silverstone management has chosen to look for a short term advantage to benefit their position. Our focus is still to preserve the British Grand Prix.”
Under the current deal, the BRDC pay around £17m to host the race, which increases by 5% each year – and would cost £25m by 2026.
An adult general admission ticket for race day costs £185 and £92.50 for a child’s under-16 ticket. Seated tickets in the stands can run into the hundreds of pounds.
New countries like Russia, Azerbaijan and Bahrain pay up to £40m to host an F1 race, but Silverstone is the only circuit on the race calendar that receives no government funding.
1950 was the last year that saw no British Grand Prix on the F1 calendar.