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The future of the British Grand Prix

THE likelihood of Brands Hatch securing the British GP faded dramatically last week when Britain's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions announced that it is to hold a public inquiry to establish whether or not planning permission should be granted to the Kentish racing facility so that it can be upgraded into a Formula 1 standard facility. The circuit owners Brands Hatch Leisure - which is owned by the giant American entertainment company Interpublic - has a contract to run the British Grand Prix in 2002 but a public inquiry could take a year or more before the question is settled and that would mean that the necessary upgrading work could probably not be done in time for the first event.

The Planning Minister Nick Raynsford said that the government was concerned about developments taking place in the Green Belt area and the possible impact of the Brands Hatch development on the nearby Kent Downs, which is classified by the government as an area of outstanding natural beauty. There are also questions over the problems which would be caused by trying to get people into and out of the circuit with the existing roads.

"Brands Hatch is a non-event now," said F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

The announcement leaves Interpublic with the choice of trying to do a deal with another circuit and there are only really two choices: Donington Park and Silverstone.

"Silverstone just needs to spend some money," said Ecclestone. "It is like an old house. It's not a case of a repaint job any more. It needs pulling down and rebuilding."

There are changes happening at Silverstone at the moment. The British Racing Drivers' Club, which owns the facility, has been under new management since June and work is due to start soon on the long-awaited Silverstone village by-pass which will greatly reduce traffic problems at the circuit. The BRDC is planning a new phase of investment which, we hear, will include the construction of a vast new Formula 1 pit complex on the inside of what is currently Hangar Straight. These would be used only for F1 teams and would be available for them during their regular tests at Silverstone. The existing pits would remain where they are and would be used for all other races.

With better road access and more investment in infrastructure Silverstone would be able to increase the number of spectators (which has been capped at 90,000 in recent years) and so increase the income. The construction of new grandstands along Hangar Straight would mean that there would be seating available to cope with the additional people.

But while the BRDC is quietly working towards doing a deal with Ecclestone, we continue to hear very strong rumors suggesting that a deal has been done between Interpublic and SFX for the race to move to Donington Park and that plans are being drawn up for a race at the Leicestershire circuit. This will involve a considerable amount of upgrading work at Donington but this is not a problem as the track lies close to the East Midlands Airport, which will also help to provide car parking space for the circuit while a planned rail link to the airport can also be used to move people in and out of the track.

"I've seen the Donington plans and heard what they want to do," said Ecclestone. "If they do what they say, it would be fantastic for us."

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