Hill sounds British GP alarm

Silverstone chiefs remain locked in negotiations with Ecclestone over race's future
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The Independent Online

Damon Hill, the former world champion, has warned of the real threat of there being no British Grand Prix next year.

Silverstone chiefs Neil England and Richard Phillips remained locked in talks with Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone last night with regard to the race remaining at the Northamptonshire circuit.

With Donington Park's bid "over" according to Ecclestone, attention has naturally reverted towards Silverstone again playing host, as the home of the event for the last 23 years.

After failing last week to secure the £135m bond required to revamp the east Midlands track, Ecclestone and Silverstone are back at the negotiating table.

Ecclestone, however, has wasted no time in applying the pressure by insisting there will be no cut-price deal for Silverstone. It is understood England and Phillips are dismayed the contract on the table from Ecclestone is the one they stalled on signing last year, which allowed Donington to step in and agree a 17-year deal.

An apparent percentage increase year on year of the £12m fee demanded by Ecclestone to stage the race was the stumbling block then, and remains the case now.

Although Ecclestone has stated he is "optimistic" Silverstone will accept, it is not at any cost as far as the circuit is concerned.

Hill, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club that owns Silverstone, said: "I think negotiations are ongoing, although I'm not actually involved in them. We're keeping our fingers crossed. The BRDC have to sign a contract which makes sense and can't sign up to a contract which could get them into the same dangers as Donington.

"Silverstone is not responsible to provide a grand prix, and it's not Bernie Ecclestone's job to give a discounted race to Britain."

Asked on BBC Radio 5 Live as to the prospects of there being no British Grand Prix in 2010, Hill replied: "It's a possibility – absolutely. We shouldn't assume it will happen just because in the last two years we've had British drivers winning championships, dominating races and the BBC signing up a deal.

"There are a whole load of reasons why it should happen, but you are competing against countries which are able to inject money into it, and that seems to be a stumbling block here. My own view is there's a tradition Formula One has – look at it as an export business.

"The appeal and mystique of F1 is very much European, exported to countries who'd like to have some of that, and if you turn your back on that you may end up uprooting it."

Hill's comments, though, are appealing to Ecclestone's sense of history rather than business acumen, with the 78-year-old having already made clear his position. Over the weekend Ecclestone stated F1 does not need a British Grand Prix, and that it was up to Silverstone to make the contract work.