Bernie Ecclestone has turned up the wick as the pressure mounts on Silverstone to agree to his offer to secure the future of the blue riband event on the annual UK motorsport calendar - by asserting that 'at the moment, there is no British Grand Prix'.

Having audaciously claimed yesterday that Donington Park - whose lease-holder Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) last week went into administration - is not altogether out of the running to stage the race 'if someone comes along with the right ideas and funding' [see separate story - click here], the pressure on traditional host Silverstone to meet Ecclestone's financial terms is rising.

The Northants circuit - the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing', and a much-loved venue that has welcomed F1 on 43 occasions out of 60 since the official inception of the world championship all the way back in 1950, and annually since 1987 - has been given a final deadline of 9 December to sign the same 17-year contract originally offered to Simon Gillett and Donington, before the F1 Commission meets to rubber-stamp the sport's 2010 schedule.

Silverstone's owners the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) have repeatedly insisted that they are not willing to risk bankrupting the circuit and going the same way as DVLL in order to meet Ecclestone's exacting demands - understood to be a flat race-hosting fee of ?12 million, rising at a rate of seven per cent per annum - and the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive warns time is fast running out.

"At the moment there is no British Grand Prix," the 79-year-old told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme. "The meeting on 9 December is when it would be taken off the calendar. If there's no contract in place, there won't be a British Grand Prix. There is no change with the British Grand Prix - they had a contract in place which they could have signed, and they haven't."

Meanwhile, the F1 commercial rights-holder has admitted that he was 'surprised' at recently-crowned 2009 world champion Jenson Button's decision to jump ship from the safe, familiar environment of Brawn GP - now Mercedes Grand Prix - for McLaren-Mercedes, where some fear he will be entering the lion's den in pitting himself head-to-head next season against title-winning predecessor and compatriot Lewis Hamilton.

"He obviously knows what he's doing and must be satisfied with the arrangements he's got in-hand," Ecclestone opined. "I was a little surprised to see it happening, but there you go. I suppose he feels he is confident enough to take on Lewis. It's a bit of a task to take on, that's all.

"Lewis is the sort of guy that needs pushing, and the number one will be the guy that's the quickest. During the year it will become obvious who that is."

When asked about the possibility of a mooted Michael Schumacher F1 return at Mercedes, finally [see separate story - click here], the British billionaire was rather more sceptical, suggesting that 'it's most unlikely' and adding: "I don't see any reason why he should and I have not heard anything at all. I would be very doubtful."

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