Damon Hill went to Abu Dhabi to try to secure a deal to bring the British grand prix back to Silverstone. Photograph : David Davies/PA
The future of the British grand prix at Silverstone could be settled within days after Bernie Ecclestone, the formula one commercial rights holder, admitted offering concessions to the Northamptonshire circuit to help smooth the path of the deal.
Ecclestone, who in the past has made no secret of his impatience with Silverstone and its owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, in previous negotiations going back many years to secure the future of the race, also strongly hinted he wanted a decision promptly.
« As I’ve said many times before, there is a contract on the table in front of Silverstone, » said Ecclestone tonight. « Maybe I’ve backed off on a few little things that perhaps I shouldn’t have done to give them a helping hand, but that’s it. The contract is there. If they want to sign it, that’s fine. If not, then it’s up to them. »
Silverstone withdrew from negotiations to extend their British grand prix contract just before the 2008 race, after which Donington Park signed a 17-year deal with Ecclestone to stage this country’s round of the world championship. That plan collapsed last month after the track promoters, Donington Ventures Leisure, were unable to raise the necessary £153m to pay for the circuit improvements and race fees.
Since then Ecclestone and the Silverstone management have been talking to each other regularly, their most recent meeting taking place last weekend at the inaugural Abu Dhabi grand prix which was raced on the spectacular Yas Marina circuit in the United Arab Emirates.
There is no indication as to where Ecclestone might give ground in the negotiations, although most circuit promoters would like to earn a little more than simply the gate revenues, which are the only source of income for most tracks.
Earlier today, Damon Hill, the president of the BRDC, added further strength to the belief that a firm contract may now be in sight. But he also made it clear that there is no point in trying to hurry up the negotiating process.
« The groundwork has been done and it’s best to see what evolves now, » said the 1996 world champion. « There was a lot of excitement when the opportunity came back and Bernie said he was prepared to discuss the situation. »We did go over to Abu Dhabi to try and get a deal done, but the distraction of the weekend meant that it was not the right time. I’m not despondent, though. What will be will be. I’ve pretty much always taken that view. So we’ll let the dust settle and see what happens over the next week or so.« Hill added : »It will be a shame if Bernie does let it drag on. As a business Silverstone has kept itself primed and expecting to look at a renewal of its grand prix contract. So we would very much like to get something sorted as soon as possible, but clearly Bernie is not in a hurry, he can wait.
« We just have to be patient because there are some things beyond your control, and this is probably something beyond our control. All you can do is try your best and we’ll see what unfolds. Bernie has controlled this sport for years, and nothing has changed there. »
Alan Henry guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 3 November 2009