Silverstone investment has been wasted, says Ecclestone

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The Independent Online

The British Grand Prix is not a race that the country would want to lose, Bernie Ecclestone said in Magny-Cours over the weekend, but equally it does not have a God-given right to be on the annual calendar.

That was the message Formula One's powerbroker imparted as Silverstone and the British Racing Drivers' Club prepare to host the race in a fortnight's time.

Ecclestone has recently invested £20m of his own money in improvements to the circuit, but he is disappointed with the way in which the money, and the BRDC's own significant funding, has been spent.

"I signed up for the vision of a new pit complex at Stowe corner," Ecclestone said, "and instead the money has been spent on a car park for maybe 5,000 cars when one for 20,000 is needed. I understand that BRDC members have somewhere nice to put their cars, though."

Baiting Silverstone and the BRDC has become something of a sport in recent years for Ecclestone, who has been highly critical of circuit access and the manner in which the BRDC has run its race.

He has often been accused of trying to destabilise the situation in an attempt to gain control himself. It has also been pointed out to him that circuits in other countries, such as Brazil's Interlagos, have lam-entable facilities in comparison with Silverstone, the self-styled home of British motorsport.

"That's right," Ecclestone responds. "The facilities in Brazil are terrible. But I want to be able to bring people to Silverstone who want to run their own race in their own country, and say to them: 'This is what you should aspire to.' How can I do that now?"

Sir Jackie Stewart, the president of the BRDC, believes that Britain could lose its lead in Formula One technology if it were to lose the British Grand Prix.

"If we lose our major event," the former champion says, "we could lose that lead. Every nation sees how a region within a country can benefit economically from staging a major event such as a grand prix that is televised in 202 countries, that flashes them on to the screens of the world to 360 million people.

"It says: 'We are Malaysia. We are a modern country. We are not under-developed. Look at us.' Bahrain is saying, 'We are a nation.' China is saying, 'We are the biggest nation, and therefore we've got to have a grand prix.' Turkey is saying, 'We spend more in tourism advertising than almost any other country, so we've got to have a grand prix.' And these nations and their governments are prepared to pay to have a grand prix."

Stewart has been lobbying the government for a high level of financial support for the race - around £24.5m - but Ecclestone does not agree that is the way to go.

"It would be better for the BRDC to take out an $80m (£49m) loan which it could repay out of the $8m lease fee it gets annually from Octagon," he said, referring to the company that runs the race on behalf of the BRDC.

"They could use that money to make all the changes that are necessary. If there is going to be any money from the government, it should be $5m or so a year given to Octagon, on the basis that what it does boosts British prestige."

Sir Frank Williams, who is well known for his chauvinistic character, said: "The British Grand Prix has been around for many, many years. Silverstone is a great circuit and it's getting better and better road connections now. I believe strongly that it has a rightful place in the world championship."