Lord Hesketh, chairman of the 800-strong British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), which owns Silverstone, confirmed to The Independent yesterday that a pounds 41m bid for the track had been received.
The drivers will be told today by letter. The bid has been tabled by John Lewis, until recently chairman of Silverstone Estates, the management company. He is backed by HSBC Private Equity.
Speculation that BSkyB had also bid, which would give Rupert Murdoch another key prize in televised sport, was denied by BSkyB and Lord Hesketh, though he did say: "There may well be other offers in the future. The explosion in sport on television is driving people to look at sports assets." He added: "Silverstone is the Manchester United of motor racing."
It is the latest example of the wave of big-money purchases - or attempted purchases - of the icons of British sport. Manchester United could be sold to BSkyB, Celtic faces a bid from a group led by Kenny Dalglish, and several of the country's most famous rugby clubs have been sold to businessmen. In some cases, like Richmond and Saracens, this has meant a move many miles from their original homes.
The decision to sell is likely to prove as tortuous as the recent sale of the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London. Battle lines are being drawn between the multi-millionaire team owners and less wealthy former drivers.
Murray Walker, broadcasting's voice of motor racing, and an associate BRDC member, said: "I would imagine most members would be less happy for it to be bought out than most members of the RAC were. Members of the RAC just belong to a London club; the BRDC people are different.
"All the members are fiercely proud of the club. There are very stringent membership requirements. This means they are not likely to be too keen on it becoming a commercial organisation. Unless they thought they were going to make a bundle of dough. That tends to alter people's attitudes."
Ken Tyrrell, a former racing team owner who led the campaign to fight off a previous bid, said: "My understanding is that 75 per cent of the members have to approve [the bid] and I would have thought that extremely unlikely. I feel it is my responsibility to hand it on to the racing drivers of the future."
But John Watson, 1981 British Grand Prix winner and a former BRDC board member, said that the possibility of gaining large sums from the sale could be attractive to drivers.
"Silverstone is the motor- racing version of a golf club. The sale of the club is inevitable ... I'm sure this will create a bit of a firestorm among the membership, which has tended to go to sleep from time to time."
r Fans can watch the British Grand Prix on terrestrial television until at least 2002, when a deal with ITV runs out. Two years ago, ITV landed a body-blow to BBC sports coverage by wresting Formula One coverage in a pounds 70m bid for the rights.
While Bernie Ecclestone,who controls the television rights to Formula One, previously spoke up for free coverage, analysts point to his increasing involvement with digital camera technology as hints at a global pay-per- view television empire.
t Silverstone staged the first race in World Championship history - the British Grand Prix of 1950. It was won by the Italian Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo.
The 800-acre Silverstone estate was a Second World War RAF training airfield.
Silverstone's average track width is 15 metres. Overall length 3.194 miles.
Silverstone employs 1,000 police, at a cost of more than pounds 500,000,
and pays out pounds 350,000 on parking staff to avoid the snarl-ups which left spectators boxed in at midnight when "Mansell-mania" was at its peak.
At a British Grand Prix some 210,000 people drink 15,000 pints of lager. They munch their way through 200,000 hamburgers and 21,000 fresh salmon, and spend pounds 5,000 on bacon rolls.
Some 350 million fans watch the Grand Prix worldwide.Reuse content