London back on the F1 agenda?

MAY 5, 2008

London back on the F1 agenda?

For the last eight years London has been run by Ken Livingstone. In that period Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone tried to convince Livingstone that it would be a good idea for a London Grand Prix. Livingstone seemed keen on the idea, believing that that it would bring hundreds of thousands of people to the city. In 2004, working with impresario Harvey Goldsmith, the Crown Estate and Westminster Council, Formula One ran a demonstration of eight cars on the streets in the West End. Around 500,000 people attended. Livingstone reckoned that the best place to hold a race would be Hyde Park, as this would minimise the disruption of city life. However, he felt that F1's financial demands were too high.

Last week Livingstone was defeated in the local elections by Conservative candidate Boris Johnson. It is anticipated that Ecclestone and Goldsmith will once again try to convince the city to look at F1, either on a parkland circuit in the city, or at the 500-acre Olympic Park in Stratford.

The Mayor's job is to run the transportation, policing and promotion of the 600 square miles of Greater London. He shares power with the local councils but has strategic control over the city. His annual budget is $18bn.

One of the divisions he controls is the London Development Agency (LDA), which is tasked with developing infrastructure and sustainable business and promoting London on the international stage. It has an budget of around $60m for promotion and $200m for infrastructure, although with the 2012 Olympic Games this is currently four times that.

The LDA is currently working to decide what happens to the Olympic Park after the 2012 Olympic Games. It is intended that five stadia will remain and will continue to host big sporting events and be used to train new champions. The Olympic Village will be turned into 4000 new homes and there are plans for the International Broadcast Centre to be transformed into offices for high-tech, creative and media companies. A team of planners is currently working on other details of what happens after the Olympics and how visitors will be attracted to the venue. Their findings will go through a discussion process but that task should be completed by the end of next year. F1 could be part of that package.

Hyde Park remains an option for F1. There is also potential at Crystal Palace, in the south of the city, where a racing circuit operated between 1927 and 1974. The 200-acre park is probably too small for a modern Grand Prix and is surrounded by suburbs, which would complicate matters. The LDA has an option to take over the whole park in 2009 and there are various proposals for the facility but as yet no clear path for the future.

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