Formula One 'governor' Bernie Ecclestone has renewed his attack on what he feels are the sub-standard venues in grand prix racing, notifying Imola and Silverstone amongst others that their days on the calendar could be numbered.

In the case of the San Marino venue, this year's European season opener looks set to be circuit's last as, with new opportunities in Asia and the Middle East continuing to put pressure on the traditional schedule. Bahrain and China join the championship trail this season, at the expense of Austria and the addition of an 18th round, and Turkey and India wait in the wings for future campaigns.

Ecclestone has confirmed that Imola will be axed next year, while Silverstone is being warned that still more upgrading will be required to keep its place on the calendar.

"This year is Imola's last," Ecclestone announced in Saturday's edition of Italian sports 'paper La Gazzetta dello Sport, "From 2005, it will vanish from the calendar and Italy will have only one race."

The news came as a shock to the local residents - most of them fanatical tifosi - and the town mayor has vowed to do what he can to keep the race an annual fixture on an already crowded schedule.

"The contract runs out this year, but it's not the first time it's happened," Massimo Marchignoli was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA, "We'll see what happens. What we need to do to reopen talks with Mr Ecclestone."

Ecclestone has long appeared to have a vendetta against his 'home' circuit, although matters quietened down somewhat following a comparatively successful 2003 event. However, with the pressure on to allow tobacco sponsorship one last throw of the dice, Silverstone's soon-to-be-revamped facilities have again come under fire.

"I don't see a future for Silverstone, which is like an old house that says it only needs a few renovations," Ecclestone said, "Believe me, in the next ten years, Europe will slide down to the level of the third world in economic terms. It doesn't have the slightest chance of competing with China, South Korea, India.

"The only problem with more races in Asia is the time zone because of European television rights, but we will have a race in Turkey from 2005."

The only possible saving grace comes in spite of the currently restrictive Concorde Agreement, which has seen contingency payments sourced to allow an 18th round in 2004. Ecclestone insists that more races could become the norm.

"We could easily get to 20," he said, "All we'd need to do is reduce private practice days from 40 to 30 and that would create room for two more races."

Imola's final act in Formula One now appears set to be a poignant tenth anniversary of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna's at the circuit in 1994.

 

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