Silverstone to stay home of British Grand Prix

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Silverstone expects to be told at a meeting in Monaco today that it has retained its place on the Formula One world championship calendar for next year.

The venue for the British Grand Prix, along with Melbourne, Imola and Monza, must satisfy the 24-strong world council of the FIA, motor sports' governing body, that it meets its stipulated requirements. All four were given provisional dates in the 17-race season.

Officials of the RAC MSA, guardians of the sport in this country, have to satisfy the council about traffic arrangements if the race is to go ahead at the Northamptonshire circuit, as scheduled, on 7 July.

Octagon, organisers of the event, announced earlier this week that work on road and access improvements, at a cost of £10.6m, will take place earlier than planned, following apparent leaks by the FIA that a verdict on Silverstone still hung in the balance.

However, Max Mosley, president of the FIA, responded by indicating his belief that Silverstone, Britain's only viable host, would keep the grand prix. Mosley has been chief among Silverstone's critics, putting pressure on the circuit to upgrade facilities and organisation. In the aftermath of the mud bath fiasco over Easter 2000, he described the track as "an embarrassment''.

Formula One's commercial head, Bernie Ecclestone, like Mosley an Englishman, weighed in with his own condemnation and warned that no nation or circuit had an automatic right to a grand prix. Silverstone's cause has always been undermined by an image problem. It is one of grand prix racing's least-loved venues. It is perceived as a windswept wasteland, devoid of character and atmosphere.

But on the plus side, is its history. It staged the inaugural world championship grand prix in 1950, while Britain likes to tell the world it is the heartland of motor sport. Only four of the 12 teams entered for next year's world championship are based wholly outside this country. But perhaps most significantly, the Britain Racing Drivers' Club, Silverstone's owners, and its cohorts have come up with a £60m plan to rebuild and regenerate the circuit.

Melbourne, due to open the championship on 3 March, has been the subject of an enquiry following a fatal accident this year, while the two Italian circuits are required to give commercial guarantees.

The Belgian Grand Prix could be axed from 2003 if the government imposes a national ban on tobacco advertising, according to Ecclestone. "We will not necessarily hold a Belgian GP in 2003," he said. "Belgium must adopt the same stance as the rest of Europe, where tobacco advertisement is permitted until 2006. We cannot make exceptions for certain organisers."