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Saturday 2 October 2004

The British F1 Grand Prix is dead

This week saw the sad news that there is to be no British GP in 2005. This is a huge disappointment for teams, drivers and fans alike but is not overly surprising.

There are many, many reasons why the British Grand Prix would not make it on to the 2005 calendar but equally many reasons why it should. The decision, in the end, is purely a commercial one but to many it will smack of double standards. The way in which it has been handled by Bernie Ecclestone is also disappointing.

Bernie Ecclestone has, lets face it, turned Formula 1 around. He's taken the sport by its boot laces and dragged it into the 21st Century. He's revitalised interest and opened new markets. At a time when the sport has been less than enthralling he has, none the less, increased its profile and, therefore, its ability to attract the sponsors that bankroll the teams.

F1's increased profile has attracted new countries wishing to host Grand Prix. Much like the Olympics, it's thought that hosting a Grand Prix will attract income, investment and act as a good advertisement for the country. The increased interest has inflated the price that Bernie Ecclestone can charge promoters for the privilege of holding a GP.

Unfortunately, this increased price appears to beyond the reach of the British Racing Drivers Club ("BDRC"), the owners of Silverstone Race track. Unlike many other promoters, the BDRC does not receive money from the British Government to help it pay the price set by Mr Ecclestone (although, it has received much in the way of assistance in renovating the track and the surrounding infrastructure to bring the track up to the standards of other F1 tracks, a project that still has some way to go).

In short, Grand Prix racing has been priced out of the reach of the UK. But to be honest, that's not what I personally have found most disappointing about this debacle.

I have been immensely disappointed by the way Bernie Ecclestone has treated the BDRC and Silverstone itself in the media.

In all the interviews I have seen with the BDRC and it's president Jackie Stewart they have remained polite, respectful and stoical whilst expressing their disappointment and regret. Jackie Stewart readily acknowledged Mr Ecclestone's position and the commercial reasons why Silverstone has lost next years race.

Bernie Ecclestone on the other hand has repeatedly insulted the BDRC, its member and Silverstone. He has called the BDRC and its members "a gentlemen's club which is a bit short of gentlemen. We're not dealing with businessmen. They should be running tennis." and frequently denigrated Silverstone 's facilities.

Silverstone, like many tracks, had fallen behind the times and as new tracks were added to the calendar it became obvious that improvements were needed. But huge improvements have already been made and many more are in the pipeline. Further, Silverstone is by no means the worst. Other "old" F1 tracks have far worse facilities but don't receive the same treatment from Ecclestone.

It would appear clear to this armchair spectator that the whole argument is about money. Bernie Ecclestone is prepared to though away decades of history and what is, for the majority of teams, the home Grand Prix in an argument about money.

I think, as with many people who have been given power for a prolonged period of time, Mr Ecclestone has lost touch with the grass roots of the sport. The old maxim, "Power Corrupts..." appears to hold true again and it's a huge let down. That the man who effectively saved the sport from itself should start to destroy it is regrettable. Maybe it's time he should bring in someone else to run it for him. A fresh pair of hands.

October 2, 2004 5:16 PM | Formula 1

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