F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has dropped the British Grand Prix from next year's calendar after the owners of the Silverstone circuit and Formula One Management (FOM) failed to agree terms over the race sanctioning fee.
F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has dropped the British Grand Prix from next year's calendar after the owners of the Silverstone circuit and Formula One Management (FOM) failed to agree terms over the sanctioning fee.
Ecclestone effectively ended 54 years of Formula One racing in Britain after a letter from the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) had issued him with an ultimatum.
"They came to me with a letter which more or less said 'take it or leave it'. The obvious thing they should know is that when they say that to me, that is an opportunity to leave it," Ecclestone was quoted as saying in the .
"Obviously I regret that we can't have a British Grand Prix, but this is a commercial deal and I have to be fair to everyone, not just Silverstone," Ecclestone said after turning down the offer believed to be R34,6 million short of his demands.
A former World War II airfield in central England, Silverstone hosted the first Formula One grand prix in 1950 and only Britain and Italy have hosted a race every year since then.
F1 sources said the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, which earned a late reprieve this year, could also be dropped to trim the provisional calendar to 17 races. China and Bahrain will be retained and Turkey is due to be included for the first time in 2005.
Ecclestone, who has called the British race a “country fair masquerading as a world event', had set Thursday as a deadline for offers to promote the event. The BRDC made an offer to Ecclestone's FOM to promote the race for the next three years, despite the likelihood that they would lose money.
"I try to be fair and honest with everybody but I cannot give Silverstone what they want because it isn't fair to the other circuits around the world,” he added. "The deal I offered them was already on the old terms and the cheapest in Europe and the rest of the world. It was a really super deal. We have gone along with them for a long time but I couldn't do any more.
"You can't go around the world asking people to build these terrific facilities (such as in Shanghai) and then we have this thing back in England called Silverstone that we are ashamed of," he added.
’A real disaster’ – Jackie Stewart
“Frankly the economics at this level are uneconomic and we have gone as far as we can to try to sustain the Grand Prix in this country. It is a real disaster that this has happened,” F1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Stewart said the BRDC had done everything they could to try and save the race for 2005, 2006 and 2007. However, the BRDC simply could not find the finances to ensure the race remained on the calendar next year. With a gap between the funding the BRDC had available and FOM’s sanctioning fees, the BRDC had hoped that the Government would intervene to make up the shortfall.
“Unlike any other governments, our government has made the decision they do not wish to do that,” Stewart continued. “He (Ecclestone) wants money from us that we simply cannot afford. The BRDC cannot afford the British Grand Prix at any price. We believe the government should be involved in this as here we have the biggest sporting event in the country.
However, in an interview aired on ITN news on Thursday, Ecclestone said there was still a slim chance that Silverstone could host a race next season if the teams agreed an 18-race season.
Meanwhile, Toyota Racing confirmed on Friday that Jarno Trulli, whom the Cologne-based team recruited for the 2005 season, will participate in the last two races of the season. In Suzuka, Trulli will race alongside Olivier Panis, who will be the team's third driver next season. After the Japanese Grand Prix, Panis will hand over his driving duties to team-mate Ricardo Zonta, allowing him to race at his home Grand Prix in Brazil.
Ryan Briscoe will retain his role as third driver on Friday at the final two grands prix of this season.
"I understand how important it is for the team to start working with Jarno as soon as possible," said Panis. "Toyota asked me to help this process and to leave Ricardo the possibility to race at his home Grand Prix in Brazil. In consideration of the positive work achieved with Toyota over the last two years, I am willing to give my team-mate Ricardo this opportunity. This means that the Japanese Grand Prix will be my last F1 race, but I look forward to the work which lies ahead of us in the next two years."
Zonta was drafted into the team for the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards after the team fired former CART champion Cristiano da Matta. Zonta has yet to score points for Toyota but is non-the-less pleased to get the nod for Interlagos.
"Although I am disappointed not to be able to race at Toyota's home grand prix in Suzuka, I understand the importance of bringing Jarno into the race team when we have the opportunity to do so," Zonta stated. "On the other hand, I am excited that I will be able to participate in my own home Grand Prix in Brazil."
For Trulli, who tested for the team this week at Jerez, Suzuka will mark his racing return after just an absence of one grand prix after hastily departing from Renault a month ago.
"It will be nice for me to be back in Japan because I have a lot of Japanese supporters and I'm sure they will give me a huge welcome," said Trulli. "The Japanese Grand Prix weekend will help me put together a general impression of how things work at Toyota. Overall the experience will give me a head start with some input to the way I have to work over the winter."