The British Grand Prix looks likely to be saved with suggestions doing the rounds that Bernie Ecclestone has purchased the promoting rights off Simon Gillett's troubled Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company - with help from the UK government.

The future of the race - set to switch from traditional home Silverstone to Donington Park from 2010 onwards in what now appears to be a 17 rather than ten-year deal - was plunged into fresh doubt last week when it was announced that Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft was taking Gillett to court over an alleged ?2.47 million in unpaid rent, and in an effort to regain the 150-year lease on the track that he awarded DVLL back in 2007.

The ?100 million redevelopment of the Derbyshire venue - which has only once before welcomed the top flight, when it played host to the rain-lashed European Grand Prix back in 1993, so famously won by the late, great triple F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna - in order to bring it up to the required F1 standard has been dogged by cynicism and doubt about just where the money was coming from.

The scepticism intensified after Gillett's business partner Lee Gill departed the fray late last year, the bank financing the project pulled out, planning permission was delayed and the circuit's national racing licence was revoked on safety grounds. The debenture scheme by which Gillett had hoped to raise funding - offering corporate seats for sale at a cost of ?5,000, and underwritten by investment bank Goldman Sachs - is also believed to have been withdrawn.

The most recent blow delivered by Wheatcroft looked to be a fatal one, and redoubled the pressure on Ecclestone to ensure that the British Grand Prix does not become the latest victim of an increasingly international F1 calendar. Though Silverstone insists it is waiting patiently in the wings and contends that it is not out of play whatever the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive may suggest - 'there is no question of us going back to Silverstone - they have had enough chances and have not delivered what they promised' - it now appears the race will be held, and will be held at Donington...only without Gillett and DVLL.

With rumours gathering speed that Ecclestone has bought the British Grand Prix rights - and associated debt - from Gillett, it is now also suggested that the government has stepped in as it fears the disappearance of the blue riband event on the UK motorsport calendar, and one that has been held every year since the official inception of the F1 World Championship all the way back in 1950.

According to The Guardian, business secretary Peter Mandelson is in talks with Ecclestone in a bid to save the race, and though the latter's desire for direct funding is unlikely to be accommodated, the government has previously offered to financially support infrastructure improvements at Silverstone via regional development agency cash.

Chairman of the Motorsport Industry Association Lord Astor of Hever is understood to be pressing for the government to fund a return to Silverstone should Donington prove incapable of holding the grand prix - pointing out that a great deal of public money is spent on the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and football and rugby world cups...but not Formula 1.

"The relationship between the annual British Grand Prix and the Motorsport Valley business cluster is vital," Lord Astor is quoted as having said by grandprix.com. "The loss of one undoubtedly affects the other. Businesses in Motorsport Valley are fighting very hard to retain their dominant position as motorsport becomes more globalised. Any damage to our international credibility, such as the failure to host our own grand prix, would have devastating economic effects.

"Mr. Ecclestone has made it clear in a letter that I have seen that should Donington fail to meet its obligations, the grand prix would be lost to the UK. With pressure from other countries to join the F1 calendar, South Korea hosting its first race next year and India the year after, it would not be relocated elsewhere here. There would be no British Grand Prix, which would be a disaster.

"[The government needs to give] a clear, positive statement of support for the British Grand Prix at Donington and to use all their influence to bring together resources from the regions, central and local government and the respective tourist boards to ensure that Britain hosts for years to come the world's most prestigious motorsport competition."

"Ministers and officials across Whitehall have done all that they can to support Silverstone in its attempts to retain the British Grand Prix," countered Lord Davies of Oldham, speaking for the government. "We helped through the East Midlands Development Agency because we were anxious about the future of the grand prix. There has been significant investment, not just from the motor industry; there was also substantial investment in the road that facilitated access to the grand prix at Silverstone. We stand ready to assist in that area.

"We are aware that there are some reservations about Donington. The track looks fine, but there are reservations about facilities. There is still the question of raising capital, although our intelligence is that we can be optimistic that the investment in Donington will make it a huge success. However, should anything go wrong on that front, it is important that Silverstone is available to resume its position, because the essential thing is that we must not lose a British Grand Prix.

"Donington will and must succeed. We are putting all our support into it. My right honourable friend Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Transport, visited Donington recently. He is also an East Midlands Member of Parliament, which is no disadvantage when one is talking about an event that has such a significant impact on the local economy.

"We certainly stand by to help, [though] not directly financially. Motorsport is an independent operation in this country, as most sports are. The government can give degrees of support and help, as with Silverstone in the past. However, no-one in this debate or in the industry argues for direct state support. We do not want a state-sponsored motor industry, but the government can give necessary assistance and support in judicious ways, particularly by emphasising how important the industry is to the development of our society and economy. We want to see the continuation of the proud tradition of the British Grand Prix in this country.

"The decision on the grand prix was taken by those with private interests in the sport, but they should not have the slightest doubt that the government regards the grand prix as a very important part of the sporting calendar. It is part of our decade of sport and we trust that it will continue to be a feature of the British sporting landscape over the next decade and beyond."