x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

London proposal just a sleight of hand from Bernie Ecclestone

Gary Meenaghan wants us to get one thing straight: London will not be hosting a Formula One grand prix. Not next year, not the year after, possibly not ever.

Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights holder to Formula One, is again espousing a London Grand Prix even.
Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights holder to Formula One, is again espousing a London Grand Prix even.

Let's get one thing straight: London will not be hosting a Formula One grand prix. Not next year, not the year after, possibly not ever.

Why? Because there are more obstacles in its way than there are speed bumps on the city's streets. Reports in many corners of the British media yesterday appeared to indicate Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights owner of F1, is ready to provide £35 million (Dh199m) to stage a street race weaving around some of the English capital's many landmarks, including Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.

"With the way things are, maybe we would front it and put the money up for it," Ecclestone told The Times. "If we got the OK and everything was fine, I think we could do that."

Certainly, such an event would see the fulfilment of one of Ecclestone's long-term dreams: to stage the grandest grand prix - both in terms of spectacular surroundings and spectator numbers - in the city in which he has lived the majority of his 81 years. Last night in London, at a promotional event for Santander, the Spanish bank sponsoring next week's British Grand Prix, a feasibility study and computer-generated circuit were unveiled. The plans included grandstands capable of seating 120,000 spectators.

But who would such a race benefit? And why would Ecclestone, a man shrewder than a serpent, offer to pay for it?

Undoubtedly, a race through the streets of London would be majestic, further enhancing F1's global image as a breathtaking form of sporting entertainment. For this reason, it has been floated several times over the years. In 2004 the sport even held an exhibition run along Regent Street. However, every race proposal so far has shared two common bonds: the plans are always made public at a timely moment and the race never comes to fruition. This week's latest marketing stunt will be no different.

With the British Grand Prix at Silverstone just around the corner and London counting down the days until the opening ceremony of its Olympics, the sport and the city are perfectly matched to share the spotlight.

Yet add to the mix Wednesday's news that Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former banker, has been jailed for more than eight years for taking US$44 million (Dh161.6m) in bribes from Ecclestone, and the timing appears a convenient diversion from a less positive tale.

It was revealed last week that an official bid was made by Intelligent Transport Services Ltd, a London-based company hoping to utilise the city's Olympic Stadium as part of a Formula One race after this summer. Another fanciful proposal.

Forget the issue of mammoth logistics and costs, Silverstone has a contract that runs until 2027, and during a period when the door to Ecclestone's Knightsbridge office is being constantly rattled - New Jersey, Thailand, France, South Africa, Argentina, Russia and Mexico are all eyeing access to the calendar - it seems nonsensical to stage two races in England.

Additionally, be it Australia or Abu Dhabi, the primary reason why governments pay vast amounts of money to host a grand prix is to bolster their public image and improve tourism. London, fresh from a royal wedding and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, is already one of the world's top travel destinations. It certainly does not lack when it comes to public awareness, being named the Sports Business Group's Ultimate Sports City. (Melbourne was second; Dubai 14th).

London needs F1 as much as it needs traffic congestion.

Which leads to a more frivolous concluding point: in a city that so actively discourages the use of personal vehicles, might it not also seem a tad incongruous to close the streets, disrupt the traffic flow and host a multi-million-pound car race?

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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