Home Featured Taking racing cars in and out of the UK – Then and now

Taking racing cars in and out of the UK – Then and now

by Elliot Wood
The transition period for the UK’s departure from the European Union has come to an end, and British racing must adapt. The biggest change is the end to freedom of movement; what will the impact be?

While to some it may feel like 2021 is just a nasty continuation of 2020, the new year did in fact arrive with a plethora of major and immediate changes that is going to be felt by many businesses; particularly those in European motorsport.

The starting point of this is the United Kingdom’s referendum on European Union membership on 23 June 2016, which resulted in the public voting to leave the continent’s major economic and political block.

It wasn’t for another nine months that the process of withdrawing membership began, meaning the UK should have left on March 29 2019 once the two-year period of negotiations with the EU was set to expire. That was delayed to January 31 2020, and a transition period where regulations on trade and travel remained mostly unchanged then ran to the end of 2020.

So we arrive at today, January 2021, which for all intents and purposes is a different world for racing than December 2020.

Seven of Formula 1’s 10 constructors are based in Britain (although not all of them trade in British Pounds), three of Formula 2’s 11 teams are British and two of those are also FIA Formula 3 Championship entrants. Formula E is a firmly Britain-based series still, two of Euroformula’s five teams are from southern England and the Formula Regional European Championship has Arden as a new entry for 2021. And that’s just looking at international single-seater series. Rallying, sportscars and touring cars all have strong British contingents competing abroad, but the combination of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic – especially now a new variant has emerged from London – has put up some barriers on that continuing.

Let’s say all the British teams in the above series have the funding to continue racing (which Formula Scout knows is not the case), and they want to take their cars into the EU? How is it now done?

Photo: Fotospeedy

The short answer is it’s similar to the process that’s already used for racing in countries outside of the EU, and what continental teams will be facing when they race in Britain this year, as teams will most likely require an ATA Carnet.

The ATA Carnet is an internationally recognised customs document that declares all the important info about any freight, no matter how large or small, you intend to take into a country that does not have open borders. While there is freedom of movement for goods and people within the EU (although checks are still made when using public transport), the border for transportation into is your point of entry – whether that be by train to France, by plane to Czechia or by foot to Hungary.

Normally, all incoming goods are taxed in countries with closed borders – hence there is ‘free trade’ within the EU where those borders do not exist. Now as a racing car is usually not sold on when moved internationally, and it will usually only be in any given country for a handful of days before returning to its place of origin, then a carnet is incredibly useful as it tells border controls that you don’t need to pay additional taxes and duties on your freight.

To ease matters further down the ladder, you’ll find most FIA Grade 1 and 2 circuits have an on-site supply of various racing fuels and other essential materials, while series with spec suppliers will have a spares lorry and a supply of tyres that they bring to the race weekends rather than the teams. Not all of these items can be covered by a carnet due to their use.

And given the big suppliers of chassis, engines and tyres are all based on the continent, this is going to reduce the escalation of paperwork for British businesses to complete. But that paperwork has to be word-for-word perfect. If customs officers suspect a carnet has been misused or incorrectly filed, then you could be stuck at a border for several hours or more.

Of course ease comes at a cost, and won’t cancel out border queues being longer than they were previously, and the standard fee plus value added tax for a single carnet for the shortest time period is £330. An arrangement has already been made that members of the UK’s motorsport governing body can get a £90 discount on that base price. But the premium added on to that is 40% of the vehicle’s value, and so the longer you need a carnet for in a year, the higher the price.

Photo: Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

British teams will potentially have a chassis going in-and-out of the UK over nine months of the year, meaning they could require a six-month premium and then two additional two-month carnets to cover the movement of their vehicle. At the prices being offered by Motorsport UK, that will come in at over £1000. The cost of that will likely be pushed onto whoever’s spending the money to drive the car.

Now if a driver totally wrecks a car and another chassis has to be bought, then another carnet is needed to cover it. The Macau Grand Prix, which in the past attracted teams from across Europe, is well known for being a car wrecker, and so the cost of bringing cars (which are taxed heavily) into the country to be driven for just a few days was seen as an organisational headache given the additional complexity of the state’s paperwork – the ATA Carnet only becoming applicable there in the last decade and was a totally non-digital process until recently.

What complicates things further here is if you don’t leave the country with the car you entered it with, you’ve technically imported it. And that will cost you tax. Even if it’s in pieces beside a barrier in the Styrian Alps or by the South China Sea.

And buying a new car from a manufacturer in Italy will now require a carnet too if it’s to be taken back to the UK.

In summary, things will get pricier and longer, but not too complicated now we’re in a fully digital world. It won’t just be the truckies who will be checked up on the borders though, as the freedom of movement ends for UK citizens too. There will be longer queues for passport checks at airports, and that realistically means there will be more of a rush to leave the paddock on a Sunday evening for the British teams and drivers.

For a taste of what ‘carnet life’ was like in the past for junior single-seaters, Formula Scout spoke to Frits van Amersfoort, boss of the Van Amersfoort Racing team that competes in Euroformula and Formula 4 and is based in the Netherlands.

Photo: Van Amersfoort Racing

“I started in 1975. The days when a race driver worked together with one mechanic. The mechanic and the driver were the truckies and everything in those days, that was normal,” van Amersfoort reminisces, pointing to a time when the scale of teams was far smaller than today and so an effective way of minimising the stress of the customs arrangements of the time.

Van Amersfoort started off running Royale chassis in Dutch Formula Ford, at a time when FFord and the country’s single-seater scene was thriving when it came to grid and spectator sizes, and later ran Delta, Reynard and Van Diemen designs.

“We did the FFord Festival a couple of times, and in those days Dan Patel was running his EFDA [European FF2000] programme. I remember we were at the Red Bull Ring when Formula 1 was racing – the famous Keke Rosberg, Elio de Angelis race where it was so close [in 1982]. But at the same time a certain Ayrton Senna da Silva won the support race for FFord. In those days, FFord is racing as it should be.”

While there was a thrill of going up against the best in Austria and Britain, getting to the circuits proved quite difficult.

“It won’t affect us that much anymore, but we used to go to England at least once or twice a year, and it was easy [in recent years]. But I remember the days when you had to wait a complete day in the Dover harbours to get into the UK. You need 100 stamps to get in and 100 stamps to get out. Buying a car was extremely difficult, because you had to carry the VAT as cash. Pay it to the customers, it was a nightmare.

“We went to John Uprichard, who was the salesman of Van Diemen in those days, and you could transfer the money [via a bank], which lasted quite long before the money was in. And of course John never let a car go if he couldn’t touch the money.

“Then you loaded up the car and you went to the harbour and to the Dover docks. And there you had to tell them we’re a company on the continent, together with freight for customs, it was a nightmare!

“The UK was always a bit difficult because it’s an island. Geographical, it’s normal [to be hard]. But even going to Belgium was a nightmare. Because first you needed a document, and with the document in Holland you needed to go the customs to get it stamped before you could even start travelling.

“You needed paperwork, paperwork, paperwork – the same as when you go to Macau these days. For Macau you also need an ATA carnet. But in those days you needed an ATA carnet for all countries you were visiting. And there were always too difficult points: UK, and Austria, to get in. It was hard. That’s why I don’t understand Brexit.”

Van Amersfoort has a further point on the difference between then and now, and how easy border crossing and trade has underpinned the expansion of motorsport to the point it’s at today.

“Brexit has to do with the fact that: are you in a position to deal with these people, are you in a position to speak with those people, are you in a position that you do business with abroad?

“In all honesty, the world – through all our communications – is just smaller and we can’t change that back.

“It all has effects on our complete society, and also on motor racing. And that’s one of the reasons, coming back to your starting question. In the 1960s and ’70s, beginning of the ‘80s, a Dutch driver never looked abroad for his team. He looked at the inside market. He looked at what he could do on a national level.

“Nowadays the boys in go-karts already start in Italy. So there is no drive anymore to start in a national programme because they’re already international before they are up to racing cars. Because they’re already made international through their kart career. That’s a big difference.”

Photo: Fotospeedy

The privateer driver-and-family relation/mate/series old-hand dynamic that underpinned a huge number of entries by young drivers in the 20th century doesn’t exist anymore, with professionalism seeping down from F1 all the way to karting.

Rather than an international karting event featuring 100 separate ‘teams’ who are all self-organised and do their customs documentation themselves, you’ve now got huge operations that can run 10 or more drivers under the same banner and employ enough people that everyone’s logistics can be managed by one individual.

It’s the same in junior single-seaters, where the best way to stay afloat is to benefit from economies of scale by bringing in revenue from running in multiple series. And it’s where you need at least five people to run a car at any level above FFord.

Carlin and Hitech GP have three international programmes each in addition to their domestic commitments, and their cost of participation will fly up now that not only both are based outside of the EU, but as F2, FIA F3 and Euroformula plan to expand their calendars to include events that will require even more customs paperwork and are spread even further apart.

More on the changes motorsport faces today
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Opinion: Revisiting the racing versus education argument
Opinion: What junior single-seaters can teach F1 on reversed grids
How W Series plans to rebound ‘bigger and better’ in 2021
What we really know about the future of Formula Regional Europe
Opinion: Why junior series should embrace Esports again this winter