Stewart calls for Government funds to save Silverstone

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The Independent Online

The owners of Silverstone called on the Government yesterday to provide a multi-million-pound package to rescue the track and secure the future of the British Grand Prix.

The British Racing Drivers' Club said the world's oldest grand prix was in jeopardy unless further grants were provided to upgrade facilities at the Northamptonshire venue. Firing his latest salvo in the increasingly acrimonious battle over funding for the track, the BRDC president, Sir Jackie Stewart, said he feared that, without Government intervention, Britain could lose its grand prix, which might then be switched to India or Turkey .

He said: "Until the Government takes over there is going to be a lack of investment from rights holders and promoters. The Government needs to take over the track as has been the case in other countries because the costs of running it are too high. There has been Government backing for the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and there should be some recognition of the industrial, economic and sporting importance of Silverstone."

This week representatives of the BRDC have met the Government and Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One's commercial affairs,, who has tried to pressure motor racing's old guard to contribute more to the upgrading of the track, which he estimates will cost £40m-£50m.

As the sport's most powerful figure, Ecclestone has been the keenest critic of the venue's shortcomings, highlighted in the rain-affected 2000 Grand Prix, and claims that an existing £40m fund is being misspent.

A statement issued yesterday by Ecclestone's Formula One Management company said: "A proposal was put forward to secure the British Grand Prix until at least 2015. The proposal did not involve the BRDC raising money or taking any financial risks. Unfortunately, no progress was made with the BRDC representatives."

The BRDC yesterday offered to reduce its rent from £5m per year, but it came under pressure from the sport's world governing body, the FIA, to waive all charges for the next two years. The FIA president, Max Mosley, said: "If they receive £5m, that's an awful lot of money for a disused airfield which they got for free. Jackie may say that he would accept a reduced rent but he has not agreed to do that yet and that is a difference. The BRDC have got to take a greatly reduced rent and they should not monopolise half the facilities on the circuit as they do now."

Sources said that the meeting had gone well and suggested that Ecclestone was merely keeping up the pressure on other parties in the negotiations.

The Government has supported Silverstone by contributing a third to the £40m masterplan, which is also backed with equal shares by Ecclestone and the tenants, Brands Hatch Circuits, formerly known as Octagon Motorsports. The Department of Trade and Industry recently granted a further £16m to support the Northamptonshire motor sports industry spawned by Silverstone.

A source at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "No one wants to put more money in until Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone guarantee its future. Until these people and the owners can agree on what needs to be spent and how, we remain stuck in the middle. [Sports minister] Richard Caborn is committed to the track but at the moment he is acting as a negotiator."

Since the 2000 grand prix, upgrading to the 850-acre site has included 27 acres of parking and new roads to the site and within the venue. The delayed final phase aims to improve the pit, paddock and viewing galleries by the end of next year.