Huge cloud over future of race at Silverstone

Timothy Collings

A 56-year-old Irishman, dressed in a green kilt and waving religious protests written on cardboard, interrupts the race by cavorting on Hangar Straight as the cars accelerate towards him at 145 mph. -- Pic. GETTY IMAGES-

The future of the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, was thrown into serious doubt again after a 56-year-old Irishman, dressed in a green kilt and waving religious protests written on cardboard, interrupted the race by cavorting on Hangar Straight as the cars accelerated towards him at 145mph.

This incident, on the 12th lap of the 60-lap contest won by Rubens Barrichello, for Ferrari, came only hours after the sport's commercial ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, had issued an ultimatum to the circuit's owners — the British Racing Drivers' Club, and the Government — that they have just one month in which to put Silverstone in order or risk being omitted from the 2004 calendar.

Ecclestone, whose companies hold long-term agreements to exploit the commercial rights of the sport and organise the calendar, said: "They could make up their minds, if necessary, if Jackie (Stewart, president of the BRDC) says, 'We can do it', and the Government come on board. When both of those things happen, then we're in business.

"We've said then that we will confirm, in writing, that the FIA Formula One World Championship will remain at Silverstone until 2015. We will guarantee the Government that. But if we haven't got a firm commitment from those people by the middle of August, then we'll be able to make an agreement with Octagon (the race promoters) to say 'bye-bye'. Simple as that."

Ecclestone, who is poised to introduce Bahrain and Shanghai to his 17-race calendar next year, said he is in detailed talks with Turkey, a country with a vastly inferior economy to Britain's.

He said that the interruption of the race by the kilted Irishman proved that Silverstone's security had failed abysmally, but stressed that this incident would not be mixed up in his mind with the BRDC's need to commit to the required improvements.

Ecclestone said he wanted to see the owners, the BRDC, raise �40 million, by borrowing if necessary, to build a 'Taj Mahal' facility close to Hangar Straight.

If they did not, it was possible that the Grand Prix might return to Brands Hatch.

"If the BRDC hadn't got together to campaign for two years against Brands, Octagon would have got planning consent there and this race would have been at Brands Hatch — and a fantastic circuit would have been built because Octagon would have spent the �8 million a year they now pay in rent on a great new facility.

"The BRDC can't say they can't afford to borrow money. They get �8 million a year in rent from Octagon and they don't spend anything. I have never seen any money out of the BRDC.

"If he (Stewart) can't afford the Grand Prix, he should go without it because there are plenty of people out there who can afford it."

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003