The future of the British Grand Prix could be set to play a bigger part in the commercial future of Formula One than previously envisaged, after it emerged that the event is a key component in the Concorde Agreement that Bernie Ecclestone is demanding that the teams sign in order to receive payments from FOM.
According to reports over the weekend, the British GP - whether it be held at Donington Park or Silverstone - is one of five 'traditional' events that should form a basis for the world championship - along with others in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium - and its absence from the calendar could be in direct contravention of the Concorde Agreement.
The matters of Britain's place on the schedule and the distribution of prize money and other F1 income look set to collide as Ecclestone insists that the teams sign up to a new version of the lapsed Concorde Agreement in order to receive their payments, in particular a share of the £20m earned by Honda in 2008 that he is now saying will not
be paid to the Brawn team [see separate story HERE
. Ecclestone wants the teams to commit to the revised Concorde Agreement - the previous version having expired in 2007 - for five years, even if he is not necessarily offering them a bigger share of the sport's income, but it is now feasible that the teams will find a bargaining position on grounds other than money.
Ecclestone is currently insisting that, if Donington is not ready to host the race next season, then there will be no British round on the schedule, with the inherent risk that it may not return as new venues around the globe continue to clamour for a place in F1. That would anger the majority of teams, which are based in the UK and argue that reinstating Silverstone - which apparently has '£40 million of financing ready for release' - should be the alternative to losing the race altogether.
“The first grand prix of the modern era was held at Silverstone and this country has been loyal to the championship throughout," British Racing Drivers' Club chairman and 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill agrees, “Everybody was sceptical about Donington from the start, yet we have funds here to improve our circuit and we are improving all the time.
"But we have to do it with our own means and with our own money. We have new countries wanting to stage grands prix and governments willing to put up the money for them, but there is no government money for a British Grand Prix and Bernie needs to recognise this. It will not happen. The FIA should also act responsibly for the health and well-being of the sport. Britain is a protected race and they should look after it.”
Donington landed a ten-year contract to hold the British Grand Prix from 2010 but, despite some rather obvious earthworks having been started, is beginning to show signs of being unable to live up to the promises issued by Donington Ventures, the company charged with running the circuit and bringing it up to F1 standards.
The work to create a new access tunnel under the track has already seen high-profile race meetings cancelled or rearranged amid safety fears and, late last month, it emerged that Donington Ventures was being taken to court by circuit land owner Tom Wheatcroft, who claims that he is still waiting for unpaid rent amounting to almost £2.5m.
The latest twist has led to suggestions that Ecclestone himself may take up the lease on the venue in order to ensure that it is ready to host the 2010 British GP, although he was unwilling to confirm the speculation during last weekend's Bahrain round. He continues to claim, however, that Silverstone - despite £7m worth of improvements to accommodate MotoGP from 2010 and more investment on tap - remains unsuitable for F1.
Ironically, Ecclestone has suggested that cutting back on the amount of money paid to the teams could help circuits wanting to host grands prix because the sport's income could be used to reduce the fees needed to secure a slot on the F1 calendar.