Formula One's ubiquitous impresario, Bernie Ecclestone, yesterday warned of a threat to the British Grand Prix and the motor racing industry in England from the Labour government's tobacco sponsorship legislation.
Ecclestone said he may have to take his circus further and further east, leaving behind a European programme of perhaps of only four races, which might not include Silverstone, the original and spiritual home of the world championship. Within the Formula One paddock, knowing smiles and shrugs suggested this was just a means of applying pressure yet essentially a bluff. But he had no shortage of listeners.
Cars running at the British Grand Prix - which launched the world championship in 1950 - have already been stripped of brand names. Ecclestone fears, however, that the new legislation would remove all recognised sponsors' liveries and logos, and force the market elsewhere. Silverstone has a contract until 2006, but a get-out clause would cover such eventualities.
Ecclestone said: "If we have a total ban on logos then action would be taken. That would put a question mark around several venues in Europe, including Britain. It seems silly to me that we have the possibility to lose something in England which we have had for 45 years or more.
"Suddenly they're going to shift people elsewhere. It's an English business and that would be a tragedy, not just for Formula One but for England. I don't believe, when people look at this legislation, they are going to approve doing anything that will damage industries in Britain. If they think it through there could be big advantages by using Formula One."
Spanish Grand Prix, page 24