Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that work on a grand prix in London is progressing following the unveiling last month of plans for a track which would snake past some of the capital's most famous landmarks.
The plans, revealed at a glitzy event sponsored by the Spanish bank Santander, were for a race route through Piccadilly, The Mall and Trafalgar Square. It was widely seen to be a publicity stunt and considered impractical due to the disruption it would cause.
However, speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the Formula One commercial rights holder Ecclestone has confirmed for the first time that he is indeed working on a race in the capital. "We are getting on with it. It is no joke, 100% completely no joke," he said.
On the day that the plans for the race were unveiled Ecclestone, 81, said that Formula One would cover the running costs and would waive the usual £35m hosting fee. "With the way things are, maybe we would front it and put the money up for it. If we got the OK and everything was fine, I think we could do that," he said.
Some insiders thought this was a diversionary tactic to take media attention away from the conviction one day earlier of Formula One'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 Formula One to the 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.
Since Gribkowsky was convicted his lawyers have lodged an appeal and it will reportedly take a year for the court to come to a verdict on it. This takes the heat off Ecclestone, making it less likely that his talk of a London Grand Prix is now a pretence. Last week Ecclestone admitted that although Santander's plans began purely as promotion for the bank, 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."
It is unknown whether Ecclestone is working on a variant of the route in Santander's plans or one at another location in London since a bid to host a grand prix on the Olympic Park has already come to light. When pressed further about his race plan, Ecclestone simply says "we will see if we can make it happen". He does not deny that the race would make a unique legacy for him and this seems to be the driving force behind it.
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image: © Nick Webb