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Motor Racing

Hill backs Silverstone to deliver

Damon Hill has described Silverstone's new 17-year deal to host the British Grand Prix as tough but manageable.

The oldest race on the Formula One calendar was today officially saved following two months of hard bargaining by circuit chiefs with the sport's supremo, Bernie Ecclestone.

Should the agreement run its course, it will eventually cost the British Racing Drivers' Club, who own the venue, and Silverstone Circuits Ltd, who run it, more than £300million.

However, Ecclestone has taken a considerable financial hit on that figure, estimated to be at least £60million, as he has been talked down from an original seven per cent escalator clause on the initial £12million starting fee.

On one hand it represents a considerable coup for Silverstone but on the other it seems to suggest a personal desire of Ecclestone to ensure Britain continues to have a place in F1, despite his many withering criticisms over the years.

That was recognised by BRDC president Hill, who said: "Bernie is very satisfied this is finally concluded and that Silverstone has fulfilled his requests - I won't call them demands.

"He has always wanted Silverstone to play the game, and you can respect that.

"He wants the best for his product and, if you look at it like that, you can understand why he wanted us to make a commitment."

Asked whether 79-year-old Ecclestone had personally invested, Hill added: "Indirectly, you could say.

"He is absolutely entitled to go for the best price he can get, and he can get a better price elsewhere, so we were told.

"But, without going into the absolute detail, Silverstone is getting a chance to show what it can do.

"The team have been negotiating, and there are clearly fine margins we are working on, so small differences make big differences over a 17-year contract.

"It does look mind-blowing when you add it all up but, if you look back over the history of Formula One, the progression has been inexorable.

"We fervently hope it will continue to be inexorable, that the sport will continue to grow and attract people."

There is an escape clause should Silverstone struggle to meet its obligations, which will kick in after 10 years.

Hill, though, feels that will be unnecessary and is confident Silverstone will avoid the financial minefield that crushed Donington Park's bid to stage the race and saw leasing company DVLL go into administration.

"I want to make the point the BRDC and Silverstone are absolutely mindful of the effect of the British Grand Prix on the industry in this country," added the 1996 Formula One world champion.

"But, placed in a very difficult situation, they also had to think of their obligations to their property and their business.

"So it had to be a deal that was doable. It's a tough deal to fulfil, there's no question of that.

"But it's very important to make clear Silverstone had to sign up to a deal which was manageable, and not something that was pie in the sky.

"It's also a commitment and now we're very committed to developing Silverstone and making big investments in the circuit, not just for keeping the grand prix but for the fans and the competitors."

That will include a new pit and paddock complex by 2011 as, from next year, the track will play host to both the British Grand Prix and the British round of the MotoGP.

As you can expect, it is the fans who will ultimately pay, yet, in quantifying that, Hill added: "If you look at what it costs to have a season ticket at one of the top football clubs in the UK, the British Grand Prix is still very affordable as an event.

"It's not out of reach to expect that, as we get better facilities, people will pay higher prices for that."

At least there is now what Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips, a key player in the negotiations with Ecclestone, has described as "peace in our time".

It will hopefully mean an end to Ecclestone's derisory comments, as Phillips said: "The relationship with Formula One Management has been improving.

"There's a good working relationship with him now and we don't have any issues."

That appeared clear in Ecclestone's own remarks on the deal, as he noted: "I am pleased to have reached an agreement with Silverstone for the retention of the British Grand Prix.

"This will ensure Great Britain will remain on the Formula One calendar for many years to come, which is something I have personally always wanted to see happen.

"The team at Silverstone already know how to organise a good event and now everyone can look forward to next summer at Silverstone."