DECEMBER 3, 2000

Brands Hatch gives up British GP

IT will be some time before the financial details of the deal between Brands Hatch and Silverstone come to light but there is little doubt that Octagon, a subsidiary of the Interpublic Group and the owner of Brands Hatch, has taken agreed to a settlement which will see the British Grand Prix transferred to the Northamptonshire circuit for the next 15 years. Octagon says that it will continue to invest in Brands Hatch to build the Kent circuit into a major racing facility once again but it is hard to imagine that the US company will actually carry through the plan. Without a Grand Prix the Brands Hatch facility is never going to make a lot of money and Interpublic would be better served by selling the site for development and investing the money elsewhere. There have been rumors of such plans for years and planning permission would not be a problem.

Whatever the case, Silverstone is going to get the British GP until the year 2017, having leased the rights to hold the event from Brands Hatch. As part of the deal Octagon and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone have agreed to invest in the redevelopment of the Silverstone track which is expected to include a completely new start-finish straight and pits along Hangar Straight. The long-term aim will be to make Silverstone an all-seating motor racing stadium.

What is also clear is that all those involved have decided to put pressure on the government to help fund the rebuilding work. We expect that there will soon be a report from the Motor Industry Association which will reveal new figures claiming that the sport in Britain now generates as much as $2.5bn a year and employs many more people than the 50,000 previously stated to be active in the motor sport industry.

The deal between Silverstone and Brands Hatch still has to be ratified by the members of the British Racing Drivers Club at an emergency general meeting on December 18 but the club would be mad not to accept the deal.

Whether or not the government will come up with money is another matter. The current British government does not have the most cordial relationship with the motor racing authorities because of an embarrassing scandal over party funding a couple of years ago. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Tony Blair and his men to block assistance the sport as its continued growth means it has more and more political influence.

"We want to get the support of the Government," said BRDC chairman Jackie Stewart (a man who is believed to be in favour with the government and is tipped to be in line for knighthood at the end of the month). "The Melbourne track in Australia was paid for by government money and the French government built the Magny-Cours circuit. The Spanish created a sporting arena for the 1992 Olympics that included the Barcelona track and we want similar funding."

The obvious source of funding is the National Lottery which has raised nearly $40bn in the last six years. Eleven billion of this has been distributed to "good causes" but motor racing has received nothing. Since 1998 there has been a fund specifically designed to support technology programmes and if motorsport is to get backing from the government we would expect the money to come from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, a Lottery-funded grant-making body.