Q & A with Damon Hill
Q: Where are we up to with Silverstone, Bernie and the contract situation?
Damon Hill: "I think it's as it always is. We're definitely making progress. We've got the planning consent for our pit and paddock complex. It's one step at a time; the negotiations typically will be ongoing and I expect won't come to a conclusion until the final hour, whenever that is.
"If we're going to fulfil the building requirements then ideally we have to get going on it before the end of this year. So it's situation normal."
Q: Do you see Donington Park as a real threat?
DH: "I would never discount any other option. It's the nature of this free market that there's always another option to go to and we have to compete.
"A tremendous amount of work has gone in to placing Silverstone, and getting it to the position where it's teed up to become a leading centre for world motorsport. I think it's ideally placed for Formula One and for all motorsport, and we also have ambitions to fulfil the objectives of the government, which are to provide education, vocational training and also promote the UK.
"We think we've got everything in place there to make us a very strong candidate for either investment or for Grand Prix contracts."
Q: Where has Bernie's renewed push come from? Is the planning running late or is it just Bernie's impatience?
DH: "I don't think there's anything new in that. I think we get the same treatment as most venues; we may even get better treatment than some.
"Without getting personal, Bernie drives the marketing of Formula One and he knows he's got a product which has a market value in the world, and he doesn't see any reason why that can't be matched wherever you go - especially when it comes to a country which is one of the world's leading economies.
"But equally you can say, hang on a minute, this is one of the best places that Formula One can come to, so it has a value in that regard. We will be sold out all five days and that will be great for Formula One.
"The reason is that the UK has such a history - we're celebrating 60 years of Silverstone - success in motorsport in drivers, teams and technology; and a knowledgeable fan base who are prepared to come to Silverstone and support the event. So, how valuable is that? That's also an argument."
Q: Are you still on schedule with your redevelopment plans?
DH: "Applications for planning consent have to go through a detailed process, it's quite time-consuming. But we have got some excellent people, Spencer Canning is the guy who has really been excellent on working on our estate planning and working with the two local authorities.
"It's a big job, and we've had plans that have been kicked into touch because they were rejected by the BRDC membership who didn't like aspects of them, so we've had to review that. That was before my time, but it's a slow and long-winded process.
"But it's going inch by inch in the right direction. In fact, I'd say we're now making good progress to create foundations for a fantastic realignment of the assets of Silverstone, so that they are reinvested in Silverstone to provide the best facility, the best track and also educational facilities which may appeal to the national government, if they feel inclined to support us in what we're doing.
"We're certainly not making any demands, but I think Silverstone is the UK's premier venue and I think it's right that we don't lose it and that it represents the best of what the UK can offer."
Q: Is the biggest hurdle to a new deal still Bernie's race fee as opposed to all the redevelopment costs?
DH: "I liken it to the Aladdin's cave: the genie says give me the lamp and Aladdin says get me out of the cave and I'll give you the lamp. You're in this constant cycle whereby in order to get our plans implemented we need to have a Grand Prix contract, and in order to get the Grand Prix contract we have to have our planning. So it's going round in circles, but the circles are getting smaller and we're getting closer to the final stage I think."
Q: Can you elaborate on the costs as much as you can? How much is the rebuilding costing and how much is the race fee?
DH: "One of the requirements was that Silverstone had a redeveloped pit and paddock complex. We have the plans to do that and we can fulfil that part of it because we have the assets at Silverstone. Part of the master plan involves selling off land and creating a revenue stream from that which would enable us to do the building work."
Q: Which would cost how much?
DH: "I can only give you a ballpark figure, because land values and property prices are always in a state of flux. If I was to say £30 million, that's the ballpark figure for the pit and paddock complex. That's to develop Silverstone and keep it as a premier motorsport venue, and also to fulfil one of the requests from FOM that we upgrade the circuit.
"So that puts us in a position to say, 'well, that bit's done'. The contract is also going to be an area of negotiation and is constantly being discussed."
Q: Just how difficult is it to negotiate with Bernie on the contract when he knows that emerging venues like Abu Dhabi are willing to pay top whack, whereas you guys can't match that?
DH: "I don't get involved in the negotiation with Bernie myself; I don't sit down across the table with Bernie. The BRDC are the asset holders - they own Silverstone. We act as trustees and our objective is to protect Silverstone for motorsport. The professional commercial body is Silverstone Holdings. It's split into two camps, one is the estate and the other is the circuits.
"So circuits basically are in charge of promoted events, one of which is the Grand Prix. Neil England has been our negotiator and his history is with Gallahers, and also he was also involved with Benson & Hedges when I was driving with Jordan. He has been also on one of the Formula One commissions, so he knows the sport. He is the man who is charged with the day-to-day negotiating with Bernie. It is better it is done that way. That has been going on for three years really.
"Bernie is very straightforward really. He says it is that much, and we say we have got this much. We have to act rationally and we cannot over extend ourselves because Silverstone is held in trust by the BRDC and we have to act as trustees and we can only go to a certain point.
"Beyond that point, then I am sorry there is no more leeway. It is a commercial operation and it cannot project into the future and hope that Lewis Hamilton is going to be around for another five years and leading the world championship. We have to give ourselves a margin as well.
Q. So even if the redevelopment is self-funding through the sell off of capital, you are still going to have a short fall because of the fees for the race. So are you going to need external funding, perhaps from the government?
DH: "No, we won't need that. We hope to be able to achieve an agreement that is to everyone's satisfaction, which will provide F1 with what it wants, and us with what we want. If there is an ambitious target and it gets to the point where there is no way to retain a grand prix, then there may be an appeal to the government.
"I can only say what my feelings are. I would argue the case for Silverstone to receive investment for the things we are trying to achieve here, as I think it would be good for the country and I think traditionally it has been a venue that does the UK good. It would put us in a strong position to retain the grand prix.
"But the argument that could the government conceivably make direct payments to an organisation that is apparently as well off as Formula One, and a private equity company, would seem to me to be a prickly pear to say the list."
Q. The FIA has made it clear in the last week or so that there are contracts in place between it and FOM to secure the place of the 'traditional races' - one of which is the British Grand Prix. Has there been any contact with the FIA on how strong this protection is, and is it something you can fall back on and rely on against Bernie?
DH: "We have to deal with the FIA through Silverstone holdings. We have to be an FIA homologated event. We have a new pit wall that was demanded by the FIA - so there is always a relationship with the FIA. The FIA is respected as the governing body of F1 and world motorsport and we are very interested in the concept of events being protected events.
"We certainly regard the British Grand Prix as an event that has been linked with Formula One since its inception and is historically devoted to motor sport and has a very strong relationship with F1 and the FIA.
"So we would regard ourselves as stakeholders in that sport. The politics are quite interesting at the moment, so that means that we have to avoid becoming embroiled in that, and tread carefully in getting engaged in a bit of a dispute at the moment about the ownership and running of F1. We would like to avoid the taking of sides in that one.
"The British GP is an important event globally. It is conceived as being an intrinsic part of F1, but things can change and I can see that too. But, if there was a way of it becoming a protected event that would be of interest - but we are certainly not relying on it."
Q. What is the deadline for sorting out a deal? The 2009 calendar was announced yesterday, so can it wait until this time next year?
DH: "I think realistically something has to be agreed before then. It is an interesting phase but it may well go down to this time next year. I cannot say."
Q. If you were putting a figure on it, could you say it was 50/50, 60/40?
DH: "I would say 50/50 was probably about right. I am not going to assume anything when it comes to F1. My experience is you should never make some presumptions, so it would be prudent to consider it in a 50/50 figure.
"But, I am 100 per cent confident that we have got what it will take and we can deliver what F1 will be proud of and the UK will be proud of."
Q. How important is Lewis Hamilton to the future of the race?
DH: "Very important. You cannot deny that, and for any grand prix to have a homegrown hero leading the championship is going to make a difference to the event. But I would not presume that because we have got Lewis Hamilton contending for the world championship, that that guarantees the future of the British Grand Prix."
Q. On that issue of uncertainty, is there a risk of you doing the development plans and Bernie then saying no to a deal?
DH: "I think we have to give him credit for something. He is someone who pushes hard for the best he can for the sport, and he is ready to accept when we have delivered. In the past he has said good things about Silverstone, and last year he said it had never looked better and he said some very positive things.
"Yes, he is a hard taskmaster but that gets the best out of people. So I think we do need sometimes to be shown an ambition, which actually we will feel better for when we achieve it. I don't think he will continually move the goalposts. It is always going to go up."
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