Track protest plays into the hands of Ecclestone

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone has been accused of trying to undermine Silverstone with his lambasting of the venue in the weeks leading up to Sunday's British Grand Prix, but the actions of a man of the cloth may have beaten him to it.

Yesterday the identity of the foolish spectator who ran on to the track in a religious protest was revealed as Father Neil Horan, an Irishman living in London. Horan was remanded in custody and is facing one count of aggravated trespass. No plea was entered and magistrates in Northampton adjourned the case for seven days.

The Motor Sports Association, the national governing body, has launched an investigation into how the 56 year-old was able to scale a 10-foot safety fence and then run against down Hangar Straight, the fastest part of the course, where cars peak close to 200 mph.

Three years ago a disgruntled employee of Mercedes-Benz, Robert Sehli, wandered up and down the side of the Hockenheim track during the German Grand Prix until he was removed. Rather than paying a fine, Hockenheim's owners were obliged to make significant changes to their track in order to stay in the championship. It is thought that Ecclestone may try to use a similar method either to make the British Racing Drivers' Club relinquish control of the race or to borrow up to £25m in order to carry out circuit improvements. He has threatened to switch the race to Turkey or India in the future.

On Sunday, however, Ecclestone said: "This is nothing to do with the BRDC. It is a matter for Octagon, which leases the circuit, and I will be speaking to them. We'll have to wait and see whether a fine will be imposed."

At least one team principal, BAR-Honda's David Richards, has called for a review of circuit security measures. "A procedure is needed to ensure it can't happen anywhere else," he said.

The organisers of next month's Hungarian Grand Prix have promised to avoid any repeat of the incident. "We won't allow this to happen here in Hungary," the Hungaroring race director, Laszlo Palik, said yesterday. "This kind of thing puts drivers' lives at risk and is simply unacceptable."