by Rob Wilkins


Former British Racing Drivers Club board director, Tony Jardine was on hand to hear 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 in London and got the latest on that and on his thoughts on Formula 1 in general this season...
Tony, first up: give us an update on how things are going with regard to keeping the British GP at Silverstone beyond 2009?

Tony Jardine:
Things are going very well - as well as can be expected at the moment. The current situation is that we have got a planning application in for the initial development at Silverstone and we are expecting to get planning permission back before the end of the year. That is what we have been told and we are hoping that is all positive.

There are a series of, shall we say, 'teachings' and forums going on with the members [of the BDRC], just the final forums to make sure everybody knows exactly what the plan is. As Damon explained it is a question of how we manage our assets and sell some of our assets to get the finance to do the initial part of the development. But the long term vision remains the same of developing Silverstone into a fantastic centre where we can have education, where you would be able to have a conference, where you can have retail, as well as sport and everybody knows you cannot make a living just from motorsport alone these days.

Silverstone is representative of the whole region in terms of automotive, in terms of motor sport and we do lead the world in terms of technology. So, that whole motorsport valley, of which there are well over 30,000 highly qualified engineers, of all sorts of different types, representing software companies in racing, engine manufacturers, chassis designers, chassis manufacturers, you have got Lola, you have got Mercedes in Northampton and the grand prix of course at Silverstone circuit itself, is the epicentre. So in terms of that development and that plan you can understand what we want to develop into and it is almost a duty that the BRDC has as the flag ship carrier for motorsport in this country and for the motoring industry.
When are we going to see some action with regard to the BRDC's 'Master Plan' because it has been talked about for a while?

Well that is down to the planners and I would say that the local authorities, of which there are quite a few, are very, very keen to see our plans come to fruition, because for them it is employment and for them, Silverstone is very, very important - almost important as it is to us and the motorsport industry. So they are very, very supportive and they have been very, very helpful - as is the national government. So, we are going through the processes. You have to patiently wait until planners come back. We also have to take into consideration that the members themselves through the EGM, have to finally rubber-stamp the plan, the 'Master Plan'. But I would say we are at a very advanced stage and hopefully you will start to see next year the plan in action. Those are the aims, but it is really down to the members to finally rubber-stamp it and then it is down to the planners to give us the permission we require. All the plans are in place. We are fed up talking about it too. We'd love action but we have got to hang on.
F1 ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone will ultimately be the man to say whether or not Silverstone continues to hold the British GP post-2009. Is he happy with everything that is in place and is going to take place?

Well we don't know how happy Berne is. But certainly Bernie wants what we want. Both parties agree on that and in the past it hasn't happened quickly enough and Bernie has seen the plans and simply said: 'Look, I don't want to hear any more about it, get on with it' and that is fine and that is what we are doing. But of course the processes take time and that is what we are waiting for. This is not 'pie in the sky', a drawing up on a board or some architects plans. These are concrete plans that have been put in to the local councils for all the necessary planning permissions. These are plans that are all being laid out to realise the assets and finance this. You can go back to the original St Modwen deal, which the members didn't like and which was rejected and to this deal, which is more about us doing it ourselves without any outside support and using what we have got inside Silverstone. I have never seen so much cohesion and so many members behind a plan and behind the president, Damon Hill and behind the chairman, Robert Brooks. People are working very, very hard now and I don't think I have ever seen so much unity.
Changing the focus slightly, this year's British GP is very near now. Are you happy with how things are proceeding, with regard to ticket sales and so on?

You are never happy until you have sold out and as we speak now [on Tuesday June 26] we are not sold out, we have between 5000-6000 tickets left and we are hoping they will go before the race starts. There has been a big push since February with the 'Back the Brits' campaign and we must not forget as well as Lewis [Hamilton], we have DC [David Coulthard], we do have Jenson [Button] and we do have Anthony [Davidson], who is doing a fantastic job with Super Aguri - and they will all have there own different levels of support this year. It is the first time we have had four British drivers' for four seasons now, so we are looking forward to that.

Preparations in terms of the circuit and preparations in terms of all the racing and so on are well, well underway. We are very happy that corporate sales have gone much, much better this year. We are very happy to have a new sponsor on board in terms of Santander and I want to welcome them for the first time. It is great to have them onboard and they are also a big sponsor of McLaren, so we are happy with that.

But we want to have a sell-out grand prix. That is our aim. We want to have a great race. We want all the fans to really enjoy themselves and if we could get rid of the rain and have a lovely sunny week that would be even better!
What have you made of Formula 1 this year?

It has been very, very exciting. I think we are seeing a new era coming in, where the young drivers' are taking over and where a degree of the old guard is certainly very much on the back-foot. It is a post-Michael Schumacher era. It is not just the Lewis factor, it is the Rosberg factor, the Sutil factor - it is this young generation of drivers' that have come through karting, Euro F3 and they are refreshingly different and refreshingly professional.

Then you go up to the battle at the front itself. It is fascinating. The Lewis and Alonso factor is fascinating and behind that it is a mystery what is happening at Ferrari. It is unbelievable how Kimi Raikkonen so far seems to have gone off the rails and how Ferrari has taken a wrong turn. But as always in Formula 1 it always surprises you. There are always changes and just when you think it could be predictable, something else happens, whether it is politics, whether it is espionage, whether it is soap opera - Formula 1 has it all and that is why it is a great story and it is still bubbles under, even during the winter months.
Of course one of the big stories late last week and this week concerns Ferrari and Nigel Stepney. Have you been surprised by that and what has been alleged?

I have been very surprised by it. Nigel Stepney and I worked together at Lotus for many years, so he is a chum of mine. I have got enormous respect for him and it is very, very difficult from the UK to understand what is going on over there. One can only assume that, having followed what is in the media and I haven't spoken directly to Nigel, is that at a certain point he became disgruntled with what was going on. He was trying to obtain a certain position within Ferrari and it seems to have been then, that he was put on 'gardening leave' and now these charges have been laid against him. Just speaking personally and speaking to some of his ex-Lotus colleagues over the weekend at Goodwood, including Clive Chapman, it is incredulous to us. We know him very well and it is certainly out of character for him to be involved in any sort of espionage. But of course there are two sides to every story and if Ferrari have some sort of proof that is what he has been doing and I am sure they will bring it to court. But I really hope that it is proved to be unfounded and that he can get through this and then get on with the rest of his racing career.
Going back to the British GP - have you got any predictions for Silverstone?

No, other than I hope it is going to be a real electric race and I really hope it is like one of the ones we had formerly when we had that great battle with Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen, when they swapped places several times. Normally the Silverstone circuit produces some great battles because it is a fantastic drivers' circuit and I am looking forward to seeing Lewis and potentially his mastery of the track and him re-producing the sort of overtaking form he did in the GP2 race last year. I think it will bring the best out of the rest of the British drivers' too. I'd love to see DC in the points and I am predicting he will be there or there-abouts. I'd love to see Anthony get his first points of the season at the British GP with seventh or eighth place - that would give me enormous pleasure and the rest of the British crowd. Of course what I would love is a Lewis Hamilton-McLaren-Mercedes win. Wouldn't we all if you are a Brit? But you know what? I am going to predict, that Fernando Alonso will win the British Grand Prix.
Can Fernando go all the way again and take the title - or can Lewis do it?

I would say that Fernando Alonso is going to come back stronger and stronger - and as you have seen seven races in a lot with the older, wiser drivers', they are really waking up to Lewis' massive talents. I think, as Carlos Sainz said to me, twice world rally champion and Spaniard, he said: 'You watch, Fernando Alonso is really, really going to dig deep'. I mean he is a really talented driver and of course we do love Fernando in the UK, but he is against a Brit, so it is a huge battle.

But we are the ones who are going to be entertained by this great battle, as we were at Monte Carlo and as we have been in Canada and the US and it is going to be tremendous entertainment and a great battle up front between the McLaren drivers. Lets hope Ferrari can get there act together and they can mix it with them too.
Jenson Button has had a difficult year. Will things turn around for him in the second half of the season?

Well they have to, because they cannot continue with the car as it is and they are hoping to bring out a B-spec of that car. Whether it is an all-new chassis or not we don't know, we will have to wait and see - but they are all working over time to try and address things and turn things around. One thing is for certain Jenson Button is a very, very talented driver. He is top five in the world for me. He always has been and he has unfortunately been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have had those issues with team changes and the fight to keep him between Williams and BAR as it was then - and Honda as it is now. The team love him and the public still love him. He is smooth and a very, very quick driver. He is [Alain] Prost like. Just remind everybody that in the year 2000, as a young 20-year-old, he out-qualified Michael Schumacher at Spa in his first grand prix there. You don't do that unless you have got enormous talent. He has got great talent and lets hope Honda can come back and step up to the plate and give him a car that he deserves.