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There has been so much talk recently about plans for a Grand Prix in London that it makes you wonder whether there is any fire behind all the smoke.
First it came to light that a group is bidding to host a race on the Olympic park despite numerous obstacles not least of which being the fact that F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has not endorsed the plan.
Then came the media storm when Ferrari sponsor Santander held a glitzy event to unveil a hypothetical route for a race through central London with F1 cars zipping past Big Ben and Nelson's Column and through Admiralty Arch (above).
It clearly stated in the press material that "the London Grand Prix by Santander is a fantasy" but much of the UK press was happy to overlook this. Although both of these plans are the stuff of dreams it doesn't mean that there won't be a race in London. As is often the case in F1, when you are told to look in one direction (or two in this case) then you would be best off looking in another as revealed in an article in today's Guardian by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt.
So far Ecclestone has given his support to a London Grand Prix and he told Santander that "the idea of an F1 street-race in London is something I have had for many years. It would be magnificent." He even agreed to cover the running costs and waive the estimated £35m hosting fee if a race takes place. However, he has never said that his team is actually at work on any plans for a race in London. Until now.
Sylt reveals that Ecclestone is indeed at work on plans for a race in London. "We are getting on with it. It is no joke. 100% completely no joke," he says.
It was widely seen that Ecclestone's support of a Grand Prix in London was a diversionary tactic to take media attention away from the recent conviction in Munich of F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky. He claims that Ecclestone and his family trust paid him a £27.5m bribe to wave through the sale of F1 to current owner, the private equity firm CVC, in 2006. It was reported that this allegation could open the door for prosecutors to charge Ecclestone although he denies Gribkowsky's version of events and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
After Gribkowsky was convicted his lawyers lodged an appeal and, as Pitpass has reported, the German court is not likely to come to a verdict until next year. This makes it much harder for the prosecutors to charge Ecclestone and there is no indication that they want to do this. In turn it makes it less likely that Ecclestone's talk of a London Grand Prix is a pretence.
Last week Ecclestone admitted that although Santander's plans began purely as promotion for the sponsor, his offer of covering the costs of a London Grand Prix is serious. "They showed me their idea two or three months ago and said, "It looks good. It looks exciting. It's good publicity for the British Grand Prix and Santander." I said "you're bloody right it is." And before I knew it I was apparently the one who was behind it. I didn't know about it to be honest, but I accepted the credit. I did say - not in relation to that [plan] - that if we could have a race in London, we would be prepared to pay £35m to make it happen."
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