Ecclestone gives 'his word' on Silverstone

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone has set the British Racing Drivers' Club a 48-hour deadline to agree final terms for a British Grand Prix in 2005. "If it [the deal] is done before Thursday, they are on the calendar. If it's not, they're not," he said. The FIA world motorsport council meet in Monaco on Thursday, when the Silverstone date needs to be ratified.

Bernie Ecclestone has set the British Racing Drivers' Club a 48-hour deadline to agree final terms for a British Grand Prix in 2005. "If it [the deal] is done before Thursday, they are on the calendar. If it's not, they're not," he said. The FIA world motorsport council meet in Monaco on Thursday, when the Silverstone date needs to be ratified.

Ecclestone is confident. "I guarantee there will be Silverstone. Bernie's word," the sport's commercial rights holder said. Though nine of the 10 teams agreed in Brazil to do two extra races, the French and British grands prix, for a loss-making £10m each, team principal Sir Frank Williams was less optimistic, and said: "There won't be a race next year."

But McLaren's Ron Dennis said: "Everybody believes it will be done." Alex Hooten, chief executive officer of the BRDC, said: "We are currently looking at a fresh proposal and we are very aware of the desirability of trying to resolve things before the next FIA world motorsport council meeting.

"The teams have provided us with a platform, with the certainty of the two extra races, and that has enabled us to find a way forward in our negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone. Things are at a delicate stage at the moment. I can't divulge any of the details, except to say that things are very much ongoing. My gut feeling is that there will be a British Grand Prix."

Ferrari and Sauber team principals Jean Todt and Peter Sauber did not attend yesterday's meeting, but are expected to follow their eight counterparts in signing a commercial agreement for the extra races. "The difference in opinion between Bernie and the BRDC is not that big," said Dennis. "All of the teams feel it's not an insurmountable problem." The San Marino Grand Prix at Imola will also go ahead, Ecclestone confirmed.

Even if the BRDC do not reach agreement in time for Thursday's deadline all may not be lost. Last year the Canadians were unable to guarantee their race by the world motorsport council meeting deadline, but were given a provisional date so that they could continue negotiations. Eventually they sourced the funding in February and their race went ahead as scheduled in June. However, running a grand prix requires plenty of preparation. "Even a few weeks' delay can seriously jeopardise the chances of making it a success," Hooten said.

Mischievous sources suggest that the deadline was an Ecclestone smokescreen designed to draw fire from his defeat in court yesterday.

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