As the ongoing saga regarding the fate of the British Grand Prix rumbles on with still seemingly no immediate end in sight, McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has argued that were the event to fall off the annual calendar, it would be 'massively damaging to the sport'.
There have been contradictory noises in recent days to the effect that Donington Park's invariably troubled bid to host the blue riband
meeting on the British motorsport calendar had finally run aground for good, and shortly afterwards that Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) CEO Simon Gillett had somehow miraculously found the £12 million he needed to stave off F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone – at least until the next deadline.
This morning, it was then reported that the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive had at last run out of patience with the Leicestershire circuit's quest to come up with the necessary £135 redevelopment funding to fulfil its 17-year contract with him, and that he was ready to ramp up negotiations with Silverstone [see separate story – click here
Whatever the current state of play regarding the race's future or otherwise, Whitmarsh contends that were the British Grand Prix to become a victim of politics and rival countries who can afford to pay far more – but where there is comparatively little interest for the sport – it would be a crying shame, highlighting the passion of the spectators as a reason in itself to retain the prestigious and historical event.
The race is one of only four – along with the Monaco, Belgian and Italian Grands Prix – to have featured on the very first F1 World Championship schedule all the way back in 1950, and on 43 of the intervening 60 occasions it has taken place at Silverstone, the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing'.
“I don't think it's just McLaren – every team in F1 knows the importance of the British Grand Prix,” the Englishman stated, in a special pre-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session. “The world championship is 18, 19 or potentially even 20 races, and you couldn't say any of them is absolutely vital, but I think to lose the British Grand Prix would be massively damaging to the sport, from the point-of-view of the quality of the fan base we experience there.
“For any of us who go around the world attending grands prix, one of the remarkable feelings you get is to walk past the campsites full of fans at Silverstone. They are such fantastic fans, with real grass-roots enthusiasm. I'm sure McLaren, all the other teams and FOTA (the Formula One Teams' Association) will do everything they can to preserve the British Grand Prix on the calendar.”
“It looks like the future of F1 is where the money is,” mused BMW-Sauber star Nick Heidfeld. “I hope that, as it is a world championship, we will go to many different countries. I'm also happy to see more races – I think 20 races for me would not be a problem if we go to new and different venues – but definitely, from a driver's view, we have to stay in England for example... I think there must be a race in Britain; most of the teams are based there, and it's where the home of motorsport is.”
Whilst refusing to discuss McLaren's driver line-up in 2010 – save to acknowledge that 'a number of drivers are interested' in the team and that there remains 'some chance' of newly-crowned F1 World Champion Jenson Button jumping ship from Brackley to Woking, 'even with Ross [Brawn's] analysis' of the situation, and insisting that 'we are supporting Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton to do the best job possible' – Whitmarsh also mused over the legacy that outgoing FIA President Max Mosley is set to leave the sport.
“I think Max has got a range of colourful stories and anecdotes,” recognised the 51-year-old, “but aside from that I think he drove safety very well and I think he was a significant contributor to pragmatically getting costs down in F1. Max was a powerful catalyst for the process of saving money in F1; he provided the energy and the impetus, and FOTA provided the detail.”