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APRIL 17, 2000

British Grand Prix for Donington?

THE battle over the 2002 British Grand Prix remains a lively one with Donington Park now saying that it would step in if BrandsÊHatch cannot complete it upgrading work in time and Silverstone is unable to agree terms with the Formula 1 authorities. Donington says it has been approached by Brands Hatch, which owns the rights to the race, and asked if it could host the event if planning permission fails to be sorted out in time. Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has said that he would support such a move if Donington can be brought up to standard in the time available.

Silverstone sources say that the Donington plan is just a way of keeping up the pressure on Silverstone to agree to unfavorable terms. Silverstone was unwilling to pay the asking price for the race because the fees payable had more than doubled and it would have meant that Silverstone would be unable to make the event profitable. Silverstone Circuits chief executive Denys Rohan says that the circuit would still love to host the event "but only if we get the right commercial terms".

It remains to be seen whether the owners of Donington Park - the giant American entertainment company SFX - will agree to pay for the upgrading work. SFX acquired a 25-year lease on Donington when it bought the Midlands Concert Promotions Group last year. The deal only makes sense if SFX is paid enough to make upgrading work at Donington Park viable - and that is very unlikely to happen.

The various companies squabbling over the event need to bear in mind that there are more and more countries around the world with well-advanced and well-funded plans to host F1 races in the years ahead. The latest to come to light is the StateÊofÊBahrain which has plans to hold a race as early as 2002. The Emir of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, led a delegation to visit F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone at Monza last year. The Emir only recently took power after the death of his father and hopes to improve the image of Bahrain which is seen as a totalitarian state because it disbanded the national assembly 25 years ago and has over 1000 Shi'ite Muslims in prison without trial. Bahrain is in competition with Dubai to be the banking center of the Middle East.

Incidentally, another young ruler with a taste for speed is Morocco's King Mohammed VI who succeeded his father KingÊHassan II last year. Mohammed visited Maranello last week to test a Ferrari 360 Modena under the guidance of Ferrari test driver Dario Benuzzi. A study in 1997 concluded that the country should try to boost its international tourist trade with a Grand Prix in Marrakesh, in an effort to boost its image as "The Paris of the Sahara".