by Rob Wilkins.


BRDC president, Damon Hill re-affirmed the clubs commitment to keep the British Grand Prix at Silverstone beyond 2009 on Tuesday. Radio caught up with him at the London Marriott Hotel near Waterloo and got the low-down on what steps forward have been made of late...
Damon, first, can you update us on what progress has been made recently on plans to keep the British GP at Silverstone and keep it of course on the Formula 1 calendar?

Damon Hill:
We are making progress. These things don't happen quickly though. It is like anything, with the planning permission there has to be satisfaction and people have to be convinced. They have to be involved in the discussions and the decision making too and that is happening. We are now going to hopefully get planning permission to develop a new pit-paddock complex and at the very least upgrade Silverstone, so that it is always at the top end of facilities.
The British government said recently that there will be no funds to help secure the British GP. How much of a blow was that?

Well it is not a blow at all. They have provided funding to develop the road network around Silverstone. We have had good help from the government over the years and they have done what they can to keep the British GP. Sports minister Richard Caborn came up and endorsed our plan to develop Silverstone [back in March]. Perhaps I should explain I am the president of the British Racing Drivers' Club [BRDC] and the club owns the circuit. But we have in place some very diligent and professional people working on the development programme in the commercial department of Silverstone. So, it is all in hand and underway and I think it should go smoothly.
When are we likely to see things start happening in accordance with the BRDC's 'Master Plan'?

It will happen gradually over the grand prix - and past the coming British GP up until the end of this year. We will see progress made. There already is progress and a good feeling amongst the members that it is going in the right direction. But inevitably they do have a say and they will want to make sure we are doing the right thing.

We cannot be putting the assets of Silverstone at risk, because other things happen at Silverstone other than the grand prix. There are other motor races that take place and it employs many people at Silverstone - there are nearly 200 odd people employed around Silverstone and many more beyond that. So, it has got other things other than the grand prix, although the grand prix is clearly a major ingredient and something historic that we want to keep.
How confident are you at the moment that there will still be a British GP post-2009?

I am confident it will be there. I think everyone wants it - Formula 1 wants it. Sense will prevail and we will go forward. Silverstone is a great historical venue and there is a tremendous amount of support for motor racing and now that we have got a real world title contender, in Lewis Hamilton, Silverstone is a good venue for the grand prix so that people can come and celebrate British sporting success.
Looking to this year's British GP, which takes place in under two weeks time on July 8, how much has Lewis Hamilton's success helped boost sales?

It is tremendous, but it is of course very difficult to put a figure on what someone like Lewis can do for the sport. The feeling though is very positive. He has just energised everything. I am excited about seeing him drive and many other people and all the world champions of the past have been saying fantastic things about him. To be honest everyone in Formula 1 wants to see what he does. It is incredible. He is such a great guy. I will be there and I am looking forward to seeing how he does.
What's your prediction for the British GP?

I don't make predictions. I have made predictions in the past and have got them wrong, but my hope is that we will see a fantastic race. Above all else Formula 1 needs racing - it needs people glued to their seats to see the combat between two drivers at the very top of their profession and that has been happening this year. We have been seeing some good racing.
Jenson Button has had a dismal year, due to the lack of competitiveness of the Honda, some people, such as Stirling Moss have said that his 'time has passed'. Do you think that is the case?

He has still got time, definitely. Formula 1 is constantly changing and there is always drivers' on the move and teams are always looking for someone with that extra special thing. I think perhaps Jenson is understandably a bit detuned at the moment, but he always looks cheerful and happy and I am sure he gives everything he can when he is driving. But it is just harder when you don't have that kind of clear track in front of you. Once you get close to the sharp end of any race, something else kicks in. It is difficult to define.

He really does have to show now though that he is not prepared to just sit where he is. I think he should also criticise the team more if they are not delivering the car he needs to win. It is fair to do that - you can do that within the team and you can say things publicly as long as you are reasonable about it. It is OK for him to say 'I want to win too and give me a McLaren-Honda and I can do it - we need to work it out here somehow!'
Final question, how do you see things developing post-Silverstone during the second half of the season?

That is going to be the thing that no one can predict. I think Fernando Alonso will dig deep and he will try and turn things around. He isn't going to take this lying down at all. But I think perhaps his motivation is more combative and he wants to challenge a rival and he finds it difficult to dislike Lewis. It is hard to race against someone you like. I think Lewis has almost charmed him a little bit!
Do you have any advice for Lewis and how he should deal with the rivalry with Fernando?

I would never presume to advise Lewis Hamilton. I think he needs to give me advice - that is the way I see it! I am watching him and learning. It is just brilliant.




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