Ecclestone adds sting to deal on grand prix

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The Independent Online

No sooner had the ink dried yesterday on a new five-year deal that has cemented the future of the beleaguered British Grand Prix, than the Formula One powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone added a sting in the tail by threatening the Silverstone circuit with long-term extinction if the British Racing Drivers' Club does not use the period to make heavy investment in bringing the track up to the standards of new venues.

No sooner had the ink dried yesterday on a new five-year deal that has cemented the future of the beleaguered British Grand Prix, than the Formula One powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone added a sting in the tail by threatening the Silverstone circuit with long-term extinction if the British Racing Drivers' Club does not use the period to make heavy investment in bringing the track up to the standards of new venues.

"If there is no improvement when the contract runs out in 2009, we will not renew it," Ecclestone threatened. "But we've given them plenty of time to do what they should have done years ago. If they want to improve it, that is up to them."

The new deal, signed only 24 hours before the FIA world motorsport council meets in Monte Carlo to ratify the proposed 19-race calendar for 2005, ended months of argument between Ecclestone and the BRDC.

The Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, who has worked behind the scenes to resolve the problems between the two parties ever since the race was left off the provisional Formula One calendar in October, said: "This is a great day for the future of the motor industry in the UK. We have been working with the East Midlands Development Agency and the local authority to develop this industrial cluster at Silverstone and this should not only secure the long-term future of all the teams operating out of the UK but will give the opportunity for others to join. This is consistent with the Government's policy of developing world-beating centres of excellence for manufacturing."

The arguments centred on Ecclestone's accusations that Silverstone is a third-rate venue, and the BRDC's reluctance to agree to his initial demand for a seven-year deal with a 10 per cent annual escalator. The BRDC held out for a two-year deal. During the course of the arguments Ecclestone even instructed his lawyers to issue a libel writ against the BRDC president Sir Jackie Stewart. Observers believe many of the problems which have arisen have their roots in the implacable enmity between the two men.

Yesterday's agreement represents a compromise between the warring factions and the path has been smoothed by the East Midlands Development Agency offering incentives to the BRDC as part of its plan to develop a state-of-the-art business park at Silverstone.

Caborn added: "This gives Silverstone the real opportunity to become the world's leading centre for Formula One development."

Ecclestone said at one stage during the argument that he liked going to Silverstone because "it reminds me of going racing in the Fifties. It is like an old house that requires more than just a repaint." And he warned that Britain had no more right to a grand prix than any other country, even though the British Grand Prix in May 1950 inaugurated the official world championship and has been a fixture every year since.

Reacting to events, the BRDC chairman Ray Bellm said: "Securing the promoters' rights to the Grand Prix will enable the BRDC to plan its future and future development of the circuit in an orderly and well thought-out and planned basis.

"The terms of the agreement will remain confidential, but the agreement entered into is in the best interests of the club, the circuit, its businesses and its future. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to achieve a solution that maintains the oldest grand prix in history on the calendar for the future."

The race is expected to be held on 10 July, a week after the French Grand Prix, which has also been saved, and during a period in which four races will fall within a five-week period in the busy calendar.

Team owner Eddie Jordan, whose factory is literally across the road from the circuit, said he was "overjoyed" at the news. He is one of the nine team principals who, at the Brazilian Grand Prix in October, agreed to participate in two extra races - the French and British grands prix - for a total cost of £20m, even though that would entail each team operating at a loss for the two events.

"It will cost us money to do it but I think it is a justified case," Jordan said, "not just because most of the teams are based within that area but because it's important for our staff and the history of grand prix racing, so I'm overjoyed that this has happened.

"It's important, not just for me personally, but also for the people who have put so much into this for years. The emphasis is changing, with grands prix in the centre of major cities, but the investment is guaranteed and we have to make sure the five years becomes a further five years.

"The future of Silverstone is on a much better footing today."

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