The home of Formula One’s British Grand Prix has been thrown into turmoil by the unexpected departure of its boss Patrick Allen who has been suspended.
Allen is managing director of the Silverstone track in Northamptonshire and was seen there last month at the British Grand Prix when 139,000 spectators watched local hero Lewis Hamilton take victory. Allen is credited for turning round the fortunes of Silverstone but, according to senior sources, he has been shown the door for being “too close” to tycoon Lawrence Tomlinson who is bidding to take over the track.
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 Land Rover (JLR) after it burned up £55.9m of net losses over the past five years. However, the £33m sale to JLR is understood to have stalled as it has come to light that Porsche has the power to block rival manufacturers from using Silverstone for more than 45 days per year.
It is believed to be a roadblock as JLR planned 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.
The sale to JLR has been endorsed by BRDC chairman John Grant but a rival bid has been made by Tomlinson who is one of Allen’s long-time associates. Allen was commercial director of Tomlinson’s LNT Group, which owns sports car manufacturer Ginetta, and he joined Silverstone as managing director in 2014 after previous incumbent Richard Phillips was also suspended but never charged with any wrongdoing.
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A spokesperson for the BRDC 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”.
Allen could not be reached for comment but one BRDC member said “Patrick has been suspended for speaking to Lawrence”. Another added that he “was put on full paid gardening leave”. Silverstone’s sporting director Stuart Pringle is understood to have taken over the driving seat in Allen’s absence.
Some BRDC members are calling for the situation to be reversed at the club's AGM on 28 September setting the scene for an explosive confrontation. “Members are lining up alongside Patrick and asking John to either formalise his accusations or reinstate him,” says one.
“Patrick was holding the place together,” he adds. 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 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.