Ecclestone never said he would waive fee for London Grand Prix


When The Times floated the idea of a Grand Prix taking place on the streets of London we all knew it would never happen. Now, courtesy of another cover story, this time written by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt in the CityAM business newspaper, we find that the race has indeed reached a roadblock. Although this isn't a surprise, the reason that the brakes are on is a bit of an eye-opener.

As part of its report, The Times' crew drove around a possible race route which snaked past some of the capital's most famous monuments such as Big Ben and Nelson's Column. As many news outlets pointed out from the start, there seemed to be little chance that London's residents would allow a Grand Prix to go ahead due to the noise, pollution and inconvenience alone. Then there was the cost.

Race fees now run up to around 30m annually and whilst governments of nations such as Singapore and South Korea are prepared to bankroll them in return for promotion to Formula One's 515m television viewers, London has no need to advertise itself in this way. Unlike Singapore and South Korea, it is already one of the world's most-visited tourist destinations and doesn't need a helping hand from F1.

This raised the question of who would fund a London Grand Prix but The Times had an answer as it claimed Bernie Ecclestone has "broke the habit of a lifetime and offered to pay for what could be the biggest and richest motor race in the world." It added that London mayor "Boris Johnson might believe that a race paid for and promoted by Mr Ecclestone would be too good to miss."

The story was anchored on a vague quote from Ecclestone saying "with the way things are, maybe we would front it and put the money up for it. If we got the okay and everything was fine, I think we could do that." It is unclear if Ecclestone was asked directly whether he would indeed waive the fee for the race but, given that the paper claimed he had offered to pay for it it seems reasonable to assume that this question must have been on the agenda. However, Ecclestone is adamant that he never said he would waive the fee.

"I said we would make a large contribution towards the race. That is whatever it takes to get it done with all the permissions. We could help the government and council with their costs," he says adding "I never said I would waive the fee."

In fact, he says that getting a Grand Prix in London off the ground would require financial support from the government and this is not likely to be forthcoming. "I don't think the government would be prepared to put the required amount of money behind it," he says.

Ecclestone also revealed that if a London Grand Prix were to ever take place it would be in the city centre and not on a track involving Stratford's Olympic stadium which is one of four plans currently being considered for the future of the venue. "We wouldn't go to the Olympic park," he says.

In July, Sylt revealed that Ecclestone was indeed giving serious consideration to hosting a Grand Prix in London and he said "we are getting on with it. It is no joke. 100% completely no joke." He maintains that although he is still serious about the plan "I don't think anybody [else] is serious about a Grand Prix in London."

Ecclestone insists that after giving serious consideration to hosting a race in London, he has hit two hurdles: getting the necessary permissions and investment from the government.

"I think they did a good job with the Olympics. It is the first time I have been proud of England. They showed that England can do it if they have to. The population was behind it. We won a lot of medals but I think that Formula 1 could do the same job for a lot less. Let's look at the worse case scenario, which they wouldn't need to, and say a race in London costs them $50m a year. Over ten years that is $500m. What is that as a percentage of the 10bn they spent on the Olympics? And you are going to get good coverage for 10 years."

He adds that F1 has just as much right to government funding as the Olympics. "When you think really and truly, the F1 industry is British. We have won more world championships [than the foreign teams] and it is not government supported at all. The Olympics got incredible coverage in England. They got 28 million viewers for the opening, which is bloody near half the population so it was good. And even that guy who ran very quickly, 22 million watched him. It is unbelievable."

F1 is the world's most-watched annual sport and had 515 million viewers last year but this pales in comparison to the Olympics opening ceremony and the men's 100 metre sprint race which attract an estimated 900 million and 2 billion viewers respectively.

However, Ecclestone says that this coverage is not spread evenly because although London 2012 got large home audiences "the problem is that was in England. The coverage in the rest of the world wasn't that massive. Overall the coverage was not as good as it was here by miles but I think with Formula 1 you really don't find a country that is massively behind a particular driver. They obviously support drivers but in the Olympics you find countries only support their athletes so it is not very balanced."

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Published: 17/10/2012
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