Ecclestone threat to Silverstone
Sunday 04 July 2004
Back to back on the calendar, the French and British Grands Prix are two of the oldest in the business, and two of the most beleaguered at a time when commercial issues take priority over tolerance and a sense of history.
Promoter Jacques Regis counted himself lucky to hit the 55,000-spectator target that made his troubled race at Magny-Cours break even and, he hopes, secured its future. Silverstone, meanwhile, is already a sell-out next weekend, but the race that kicked off the FIA Formula One World Championship back in 1950 is still not out of the woods yet.
Back in April, the ongoing war between Bernie Ecclestone and the British Racing Drivers' Club, who own Silverstone, appeared to be over. Ecclestone, the holder of Formula One's commercial rights, had become $93m richer after taking over the rights to the racefrom troubled US adver-tising giant Interpublic.
"The BRDC believe it is of paramount importance to the sport and industry in the UK that we retain the British Grand Prix at Silverstone," a cautious BRDC statement said. "We are continuing discussions with our partners, including Formula One Administration, the Interpublic Group and the British Government, and remain committed to playing our part in retaining the Grand Prix."
Ecclestone's enthusiasm for Silverstone has always been controlled. "It is an old house that claims to need only a few repairs," he has said. "Actually it needs major reconstruction. I don't see a future for it."
But he holds the rights to the race until 2015, and some see the "F1 for London" demonstration on Tuesday as a try-out for a possible city-based grand prix in the future. "Silverstone is a mess," Ecclestone said at Magny-Cours on Friday. "There is no contract, there is no promoter, but they know what they have to do."
The fashionable view within the sport's corridors of power portrays Sir Jackie Stewart, president of the club and a staunch defender of everything to do with circuit and race, as the scapegoat in the disharmony simply because he won't roll over and allow others to exploit the BRDC. "We have to fight to retain the British Grand Prix, because if we lose it we will lose the industry in a matter of six to 10 years, maximum," Stewart says trenchantly.
However much the idea is discussed, though, it is unlikely that Britain's biggest race will disappear, as Sir Frank Williams makes clear. "The British Grand Prix has been around for many, many years, it's a great circuit and it's getting better and better road connections now, and I believe that it has a rightful place in the world championship," he says. "Most of the guys in teams are from England and Scotland. Everyone would fight very hard if it came under real threat. The teams wouldn't stand for it falling off the calendar."
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