The British Grand Prix has been saved following a new deal agreed between Silverstone chiefs and the Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone. The news was confirmed today by Silverstone Circuits Limited, with the contract to run for the next 17 years. It ensures the oldest race on the F1 calendar retains its place in motor sport history, with Silverstone able to step into the breach following Donington Park's failure to meet its obligations. Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips said: "We've always had five-year deals and never been able to get the investment we needed to redevelop. "But 17 years gives us the ability to invest and move forward.
"We've always had the belief the British Grand Prix was an important cornerstone of Formula One but, with Bernie, you're never quite sure. "At the end of the day, though, you have to have a British Grand Prix. "We've now got to sell a lot of tickets, to get out there and do similar sorts of numbers as we did this year when we had 230,000 people there over the three days, and promote the event." Phillips described the deal as "peace in our time" between the circuit's owners, the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), and Ecclestone. "The relationship with Formula One Management has been improving," added Phillips. "There's a good working relationship with him now and we don't have any issues."
Concerns had initially been raised with regards to the terms of the contract as it was understood Ecclestone was looking for a seven per cent annual increase on an initial £12million (Dh72.73m) starting fee. But Silverstone Circuits Ltd and the BRDC are adamant they have not agreed a deal that would ultimately bankrupt the track. Phillips remarked: "The details have been much better negotiated than previously. This one is well thought through." Applauding the negotiating team, the BRDC president and 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill said: "It's not easy to enter into an agreement of this magnitude. It's a big commitment.
"But the BRDC felt we wanted this relationship to continue, and we were prepared to back the negotiating team, with the level of risk satisfactory for the deal to go ahead." Hill added: "This announcement is tremendous news. "It really does cement Silverstone as a motor sport venue and is incredibly satisfying for the BRDC to cement its relationship with F1. "We want Silverstone to be retained as a place for motor sport, for motor racing of all sorts, but significantly the British Grand Prix. "We're also looking forward to the bike grand prix (Moto GP), on top of the British Grand Prix."
Ecclestone, who has long derided Silverstone as a venue, has played his part in the deal as he will take a financial hit of more than £60million over the course of the 17 years. The escalator clause is understood to be set at five per cent rather than seven, although Ecclestone's FOM still stand to collect £310million over the duration. However, there is another clause inserted into the deal that allows Silverstone to pull out after 10 years, appreciably should they reach a point when they cannot afford to pay. Reflecting on the new deal, Ecclestone said: "I am pleased to have reached an agreement with Silverstone for the retention of the British Grand Prix.
"This will ensure Great Britain will remain on the Formula One calendar for many years to come which is something I have personally always wanted to see happen. "The team at Silverstone already know how to organise a good event, and now everyone can look forward to next summer at Silverstone." * PA Sport