Damon Hill has refused to confirm that the British Grand Prix will be on the Formula One schedule in 2010, but admitted that talks are reaching a stage where there is only a little ground to be covered between Silverstone and Bernie Ecclestone.
Speaking to the BBC
before qualifying at the hi-tech Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, the 1996 F1 world champion - now British Racing Drivers' Club president - revealed that Silverstone was getting close to agreeing terms with FOM to take back the contract to stage the race after Donington Park's audacious bid to prise it away foundered on financial grounds.
"I'm not involved in the discussions, but I've been keeping abreast, and we are very close," Hill conceded, "Until it's done, there's nervousness that it's achievable, but we are doing everything we possibly can. It comes down to a little bit of give on the negotiation, and I think we're there. We are doing everything we can to get the grand prix."
While Hill remains cautiously optimistic, he knows that, if a deal cannot be struck with Ecclestone, the race will disappear from the calendar. F1's commercial supremo has said that there is no leeway on the deal that has been tabled to Silverstone, which stands to take over the 17-year race contract previously offered to Donington promoter Simon Gillett. Ecclestone, who has admitted that it would be sad to see the UK drop off the schedule, has also said that there would be no pressure on Silverstone to sign the contract.
"It's not just a case of [Silverstone] signing the contract and paying, they must raise their standard," he said earlier in the weekend, "They have a contract if they want to sign it. [If they do], I'd be delighted, but, if they don't want to sign it, it's okay."
The contract offered by Ecclestone is thought to start at £12m for 2010, with an escalator of seven per cent each year after that, and Hill admitted that the figures have to make sense for Silverstone before anyone puts pen to paper - particularly in light of what could become of Donington following its struggle to raise the finance to make the F1 dream come true.
"Silverstone is a private entity and it has to cut it cloth accordingly," Hill insisted, "If you don't, you end up with wreckage on your hands and we don't want that. It's important to distinguish between Silverstone itself - a venue that has been nurtured - and the fans. They have made F1 what it is today, [and] we need a good venue for the British GP - Silverstone has been going to the end of the earth to provide a venue.
"We want it to be better, [but] it's really a question for the sport itself, whether it regards venues as key elements and stakeholders in the sport. We're doing everything we can to get the grand prix. The team has gone through the numbers, and it has been non-stop trying to work out how we deliver on the demands for a grand prix."
Richard Phillips, who oversees the operation of the venue for Silverstone Holdings, confirmed that a long-term deal such as that offered to Donington Park was key for Silverstone to be able to make good on plans to upgrade its facilities.
"These five-year deals we've had in the past are no good," he maintained, "We need a longer term deal - that is key to securing the investment we need in the circuit. We're not there yet, but we're optimistic we will be. We're getting a lot closer and we are hopeful. We have to try to secure this for the UK."