Despite his assertion that there is no way the British Grand Prix will remain at Silverstone beyond this season's event, Bernie Ecclestone has nonetheless held 'discussions' with the circuit, former Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill has revealed.
Silverstone's contract to host the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar expires this year, but rather than renew it, Ecclestone elected to instead take the race to Donington Park, a track that – following myriad problems and setbacks in its ambitious £100 redevelopment project to bring its facilities up to F1-standard – looks increasingly like falling significantly short of the grade.
The latest blow to befall the Leicestershire venue – circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft suing Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd chief executive Simon Gillett for an alleged £2.47 million in unpaid rent [see separate story – click here
] – threatens to be the final nail in the coffin, with Gillett potentially facing the loss of the 150-year lease Wheatcroft granted him in 2007...and therefore also the loss of the grand prix.
Amidst such uncertainties, Silverstone has maintained a dignified silence, with Hill insisting that owners the British Racing Drivers' Club – of which he is president, and with whom Ecclestone has rarely seen eye-to-eye – are ready and prepared to re-initiate negotiations should the Formula One Management chief executive decide to play ball. The self-styled 'Home of British Motor Racing' has hosted the British Grand Prix on 42 occasions since the official inception of the world championship all the way back in 1950.
Ecclestone has repeatedly insisted that if the race is not held at Donington, it will simply fall off the calendar, underlining that 'there is no question of us going back – they (Silverstone) have had enough chances and have not delivered what they promised'. Hill, however, believes it may not be quite that straight-cut, and clearly retains hope of saving the country's most prestigious motor racing event.
“We've had communications,” the 48-year-old told BBC Radio Five Live
. “There's always been an open line of communication between ourselves and Bernie. We're very keen on Formula 1 and Silverstone has a long history with Formula 1, so we've always tried to keep the door open.”
Ecclestone has also hit out at the British Government for failing to adequately support the grand prix, branding Labour 'a disgrace' for not doing more to try to secure the event's future and accusing the UK of 'not making the effort' that other countries do, with the majority of F1 races now state-funded. Hill countered that in a situation in which the sport's ringmaster is essentially selling grands prix to the highest bidders, the government should not be expected to contribute.
“The issue is whether Formula 1 is the kind of event which merits government and taxpayers' money,” the 22-time grand prix-winner urged. “Some countries are very happy to pay as a national government for a Formula 1 event, because they believe it provides benefits for their country and economy.
“In a free market, if you're arguing that there's a market out there for grands prix and that his (Ecclestone's) job is to get the best price he possibly can, if he's doing his job properly he would take the highest bidder – and therefore that's the criteria for getting grands prix.
“On the other hand, if it's a proper free market then the business should run on proper free-market principles – which would not require it to receive government investment.”