Tue, Dec 08, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Formula One cuts deal to preserve sport’s oldest race

AFP , LONDON

The British Grand Prix was saved by a deal that will allow the oldest race on the Formula One calendar to carry on being staged at its traditional venue Silverstone, organizers announced yesterday.

Silverstone Circuits Limited said it had reached agreement with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone on a contract that gives the Northamptonshire, England, track the right to host the race for the next 17 years.

Ecclestone announced last year that the British Grand Prix would be transferred from Silverstone to rival venue Donington Park from next year.

But Donington failed to raise the development funds it needed to be able to stage the race and, after missing a series of financial deadlines set by Ecclestone, fell out of the running in October.

That left F1 organizers with a choice between going back to Silverstone or the more lucrative option of moving the race to another country.

After weeks of negotiations over the terms and length of the contract, a deal was finally struck with Silverstone, two days before a deadline for next year’s race to be included in the Formula One calendar.

Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips said the length of the hosting contract had been crucial and that the undivulged cost of the concession would be manageable for the circuit.

“We’ve always had five-year deals and never been able to get the investment we needed to redevelop,” Phillips said. But 17 years gives us the ability to invest and move forward. We’ve always had the belief the British Grand Prix was an important cornerstone of Formula One but, with Bernie, you’re never quite sure.”

According to media reports, Ecclestone had been seeking a payment of £12 million (US$17.7 million) for the rights to next year’s race, with an annual increment of 7 percent used to calculate the cost of future races.

Damon Hill, the 1996 F1 driver’s champion and the President of The British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), which owns Silverstone, welcomed the deal but admitted the venue would have to work hard.

“It’s a big commitment,” Hill said. “But the BRDC felt we wanted this relationship to continue, and we were prepared to back the negotiating team, with the level of risk satisfactory for the deal to go ahead.”

The first world championship British Grand Prix was held at Silverstone in 1950 and the venue has hosted most races since including all of them since 1987 when interchanging with Brands Hatch ended.

Ecclestone has, in the past, been severely critical of the venue, once claiming it was good it existed because it reminded fans “what watching motor racing was like in the old days.”

But he said he was happy with yesterday’s deal.

“This will ensure the British Grand Prix is included on the Formula 1 calendar for many years to come, which is something I’ve always wanted to happen,” he said.

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