Donington hoping to wrest British Grand Prix away from Silverstone

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The Independent Online

Donington Park, which last hosted a Formula One grand prix in 1993, wants to take over as the country's premier circuit BBC Radio Five Live reported yesterday.

The Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft, a multi-millionaire building magnate, has told the F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone he will give his Leicestershire track a £50m makeover if he is given the grand prix. But Wheatcroft, 81, an old friend of Ecclestone, said he would need the fee for the race to be cut dramatically.

That is also one of the contentious issues in the row over Silverstone, which Ecclestone has told to upgrade its facilities to his wishes or lose the British GP. Ecclestone and Max Mosley, the president of motorsport's governing body the FIA, have both been to look round Donington's facilities.

Wheatcroft has already lodged a planning application with the local district council for a new pits and paddock area, some grandstands, and extended run-off areas.

Donington officials have played down the claims, saying plans for a multi-million pound upgrade were initially submitted two years ago. It is likely that the track, scene of one of Ayrton Senna's greatest victories in 1993, would have to be lengthened to fit F1 specifications.

The Belgian Grand Prix will return to the F1 calendar next season after a ban on tobacco advertising was postponed, according to a leading politician in Belgium's Wallonia region.

On Thursday, Belgium's lower house voted to push back the date of the ban from this month to 31 July, 2005, when a European Union ban comes into force.

"I can formally confirm that the grand prix in Francorchamps will take place in 2004," the Economy Minister Serge Kubla said. The Minister said he had spoken with Ecclestone at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and had been assured the race would take place. However, the return of the classic event at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is only provisional and has not been confirmed by Ecclestone.

Ecclestone, whose company Formula One Management runs the commercial business of the sport including organising the calendar, has not confirmed the schedule, or any of the races on it, for 2004.

The Swede Bjorn Wirdheim will make his F1 debut next month after being given a testing opportunity with Jordan. The Formula 3000 champion will drive the team's EJ13 car around the Monza circuit in a test in early September.

He will also take part in the two-hour private testing session on 12 September, the Friday of the Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza.