Silverstone critic Bernie Ecclestone has emerged as a surprise candidate to promote next year's British Grand Prix, despite twice axing it from the calendar in recent months.

Ecclestone, who suffered a blow to his rule over F1 when London's High Court decided that a hearing brought by the sport's three shareholder banks could not be heard under Swiss law [see separate story], has been tipped as a possible promoter for the event having agreed a deal with nine of the ten F1 teams to cut testing and increase the number of races in 2005. The commitment will see the teams - including Ferrari, which was not present at the meeting - effectively subsidising both the French and British races by racing for a share of the promotional fund.

"The deal is done - there is nothing stopping the French and British Grands Prix from going ahead," Minardi boss, and engineer of the talks, Paul Stoddart told Reuters in the week, "There is a commercial agreement in place with Bernie for both races, with the agreement of nine of the ten teams. All ten teams will get paid an equal amount - and each and every team will lose money - but we did it for the interests of the sport."

British Racing Drivers' Club CEO Alex Hooton confirmed that Ecclestone could indeed take on promotional responsibility for the race - something that he had originally said he would not be willing to do.

"It's a suggestion that has been made," Hooton told Reuters, "It was made within the context of the team principals' meeting, but we have no direct confirmation. We are still waiting for a formal approach. It is something which has a lot of merit on the surface, and we will certainly have a constructive and very energetic look at it.

"The one solid thing that has come out of this is that nine of the ten teams have agreed a mechanism whereby there can be 19 races next year. That creates a credible platform to negotiate a deal for the British Grand Prix and removes one caveat -- that you could do a deal and still not get on the calendar."

Ecclestone currently holds the rights to the British Grand Prix, having seen previous incumbent Interpublic buy itself out of a multi-year deal in order to stem losses being incurred by its ailing motorsport division. Irritated initially by what he felt was the dilapidated infrastructure at Silverstone, Ecclestone then cited a shortfall in the amount required of the BRDC to promote the race, followed by protracted wrangling over the length of a contract, as reasons for dropping the event from an expanded schedule.

Silverstone, despite apparently having been axed from the last schedule published by Ecclestone's FOM operation, has been allocated an early July date for its race, although this may yet change as it clashes with the finals of the Wimbledon tennis championships. The final calendar of events is due for publication on 10 December.



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