Silverstone fights for Grand Prix

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH Racing Drivers Club, an illustrious group of motor sport's most famous names, is preparing a counter bid to keep the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Brands Hatch Leisure, the quoted company which owns the Kent track, declared on Friday that it had signed an "exclusive" contract to host the event from 2002.

However the BRDC, which owns the Northamptonshire track, may top Brands Hatch's bid for the event - which generates pounds 30m a year in turnstile receipts, corporate events and merchandising. While Brands Hatch is not revealing the size of its bid, reports that the BRDC would have to offer Formula One at least pounds 11.5m a year to top it are understood to be exaggerated.

Meanwhile, Brands Hatch Leisure's chief executive Nicola Foulston yesterday denied speculation that the Kent track would not be ready to host the Grand Prix when its contract comes into force in 2002.

"I have said that it will take six months to do the necessary work, and the latest we will start is at the beginning of winter in 2001," she said.

The BRDC, whose members include Jackie Stewart, Damon Hill and Murray Walker, is also aware that it could forego valuable testing revenue if it lost the British Grand Prix. Motor racing teams currently pay up to pounds 30,000 a day to hire the circuit for practice.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said on Friday that the BRDC had turned down the opportunity to bid for a renewal of its contract. However, some observers believe that his snap decision to switch the race to Brands Hatch is part of a plan to start a bidding war.

Some believe that Mr Ecclestone is eager to maximise the value of Formula One as part of his attempt to raise up to $2bn (pounds 1.23bn) from a bond issue. There have been persistent rumours that Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, the US investment bank organising the issue, has struggled to attract investors, who have been put off by the European Commission's investigation of the running of Formula One.

Mr Ecclestone, who is this weekend attending the Monaco Grand Prix, was unavailable for comment.

However, BRDC sources remain confident that Brands Hatch will not be ready to host the event when its contract comes into force in 2002. Unlike Silverstone, Brands Hatch is in a heavily populated residential area where many locals are implacably opposed to any increase in noise levels.

One source said: "I will be staggered if there is no public inquiry. The acoustic footprint of Formula One has changed out of all recognition since Brands Hatch last hosted the race [18 years ago]."

However, Miss Foulston said she was confident that planning permission would not be a problem. "I think that the BRDC is scraping the barrel by telling its members they are relying on us not getting planning permission," she said.