If you’ve had any type of involvement with motorsport in the UK in the past 20 years you’ll know of Motorsport Vision (MSV). Not only do they own and operate most of the big race circuits in the country (Cadwell Park, Oulton Park, Donnington Park, Bedford Autodrome, Snetterton and Brands Hatch), they run trackdays there for cars and bikes, driving experiences, as well as about 30 different car racing championships (including the BRDC British F3 Championship) and the British Superbikes. Yep, that’s right, MSVR (the racing division of MSV) run BSB. But is it too much? Should one organisation have so much control over the industry? Is it time the Monopolies and Mergers Commission stepped in? Or should we just pull our pants down and let MSV get on with it?
The MSV stranglehold on motorsport in the UK used to really upset me. In my early 20s I was paying literally thousands to MSV, year after year, for the privilege of being able to race in the British Superstock Championship. I felt like I was spending all the money I had to help put on a show, so they could sell tickets and pocket the profit. Because in essence, that’s exactly what I was doing. And when Jonathan Palmer, majority shareholder and Chief Executive of MSV, would fly in, in his helicopter, it felt as though he was just rubbing it in. I imagined him laughing at me through his Eurocopter windscreen whilst he burnt 10 gallons of av-gas an hour, and I wriggled back into my five year old leathers.
Because it wasn’t just me putting fuel in his chopper. We all were. All my mates that I was racing with were giving MSV money. Everyone that came to watch us race were giving MSV money. All the people selling tee-shirts, hats, cheeseburgers and beer. The companies paying for trackside advertising. The companies televising it. Everyone. Cash seemed to be going almost entirely in one direction. They own the circuits and all the facilities, they own the rights to all the race series. They’re getting all that cash in, and what are they paying out for? A few groundskeepers salaries?
I know it’s not quite as simple as that, but it really didn’t sit right with me. Not when Palmer’s buzzing around in his chopper with his cheesy grin and his Rolex watch (probably).
I was giving MSV (and therefore Palmer) so much money but I didn’t feel as though I was getting anything back, apart from the chance to see his little boy race in Formula 1, which as you can imagine I was absolutely thrilled about.
But now I’m older and ever so slightly more worldly wise, I have to admit that my attitude has changed. Because in a lot of ways, UK motorsport is in a better place now than it was 20 years ago. Ok, there might not be as much cash going round, thanks to the credit crunch, the banning of cigarette advertisement and various other things, but if you look at what MSV have done, it’s hard to knock them.
The British Superbike Championship has gone from strength to strength and continues to be one of (if not the) best domestic bike racing championship in the world. The facilities at Cadwell, Snetterton, Oulton and Brands are way better than they’ve ever been. And Donnington looked as though it was going to be turned into an airport carpark at one point, but thankfully, MSV stepped in and snapped it up before that could happen.
It still makes me feel a little bit sick when I think about how much money I’ve spend servicing Palmer’s chopper, but I suppose that’s just the nature of any industry. The bloke at the top makes a load of money, usually at the expense of us plebs. He used to be a very good racing driver, now he’s a very good businessman, and you can’t knock him for that.
But rather than just being a good businessman, I think he’s probably still genuinely passionate about motorsport. I don’t think you could do what he’s done if you weren’t. So maybe he deserves his helicopter. Maybe I should be celebrating everything he’s done for motorsport in the UK, rather than getting all eggy about industrial monopolies and helicopter fuel. I’m probably only jealous.
But I can’t be the only one, can I?