Analysis: What Hope for the British Grand Prix?

Britain hosted the first Formula One World Championship race in 1950 and has been on the Championship calendar ever since.

Analysis: What Hope for the British Grand Prix?

Britain hosted the first Formula One World Championship race in 1950 and has been on the Championship calendar ever since.

It is a record that only Italy, home of Ferrari, can match, but how much longer that continues to be the case remains to be seen.

"I don't want to dump the British Grand Prix. I want a British Grand Prix but I want it to be the best," said Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the weekend, giving Silverstone a month to agree a multi-million pound upgrade.

That the Grand Prix should appear threatened is ironic, given that Ecclestone is British and compatriot Max Mosley runs the governing body, while most of the 10 teams are based in England.

Indeed, some people suspect that any threat should not be taken at face value and is more to do with bargaining positions.

"This race has enormous emotional content," Frank Williams said last month. "I explained to dear old Bernie that if he does remove it from the calendar it will cause a great deal of upset among the teams.

"It is a great event and there is no doubt it will survive."

But the fact is that the various parties involved have yet to agree a deal that will enable Silverstone to rival other facilities rather than be branded an embarrassment.

There are hidden and not-so-hidden agendas at work - personal, commercial and political battles apparently being fought out - but there are also some strong market forces at play as well.

India, Turkey, China and Bahrain - countries without a Formula One driver or heritage but ready to pay heavily for the prestige of hosting a Grand Prix - are queuing up to take races away from Europe.

Other Options

That loads pressure on Silverstone and Martin Brundle, former Grand Prix driver and chairman of the circuit's owners the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), put his finger on the problem this week.

"Clearly, Bernie is offered Grands Prix all the time," he declared. "And he's been right to complain about some of our facilities.

"If another country will offer him the same or better promoters' fees and fantastic new facilities and they don't have the complications of cigarette advertising etc ... then you can't blame him at all for considering other options."

Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite race for drivers and one rich in tradition, went this year in a row over tobacco and Austria has been struck off next year's calendar.

Silverstone, a former wartime airfield, is owned by a private members club with a 3.375 million pound ($5.44 million) overdraft and annual net profits in 2002 of 1.4 million. There is no government help - yet.

The BRDC leases the circuit to Brands Hatch Circuits, who are in turn owned by American advertising giant Interpublic and can only recoup a fraction of their costs from ticket sales and want a rent reduction to limit losses.

Former champion Jackie Stewart, the BRDC president, said this week that he was not about to play the 'blame game' but he did point a finger at Ecclestone.

"The fee levels have become so high that it is almost impossible for any promoter or rights owner to make money. It is for that reason that governments around the world are now the owners or promoters of those racetracks," he said.

Mosley said it would be wrong to expect Ecclestone to give Britain special treatment, however.

"There's a certain price for a Grand Prix and you can't expect Bernie and the banks to run for less money in the UK than at the other 16 races," he said.

Stewart felt the BRDC were being squeezed in a David and Goliath battle by negotiating partners with far greater resources.

The traffic problems that made access to Silverstone a nightmare for decades have been sorted out and the car parks no longer resemble muddy fields. Yet the criticism continues.

"We are confused that the BRDC is constantly being targeted. For what reason? Max and Bernie are members, we made them members," said Stewart.

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