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A capital idea ...but the devil is in the detail

Martin Williamson June 28, 2012
Jenson Button takes his BAR round Piccadilly Circus in 2004. But the disruption of a major race weekend might be too much for London to accept © Getty Images
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Bernie Ecclestone has long harboured a desire to stage a grand prix in his home city and so today's announcement should surprise few. But while on paper the idea seems sound, it is fraught with so many problems that it will probably never get off the drawing board.

The first is the one closest to his heart - money. All around the world new circuits are hit with draconian hosting fees which too often prove impossible to meet, as organisers in South Korea have found. And yet while F1 seeks to squeeze every last drop out of wannabe hosts of races, this plan seems to centre on Ecclestone paying rather than charging to stage the race. It is inconceivable other circuits would take this lying down.

A second race in England within a month or two of the British Grand Prix - and any event in London would have to be in the summer months - would impact on Silverstone which has a hosting deal in place that will outlast even Ecclestone. And is a second grand prix - both within 100 miles of each other and appealing to almost exactly the same market - sustainable, especially when the Formula One calendar is already creaking at the seams with new events planned for New Jersey and Russia, aside from the other possible locations Ecclestone floats from time to time?

Perhaps the key is London itself. Ecclestone operates so successfully because of what Formula One brings to hosts venues, but in this instance it needs London more than London needs it. A feasibility study claims that up to £100 million of income would be generated around a race. But as a major tourist centre - and one which dwarfs Monaco or Singapore in terms of numbers - what is not mentioned is how much would also be lost by those not in love with the sport or the noise it brings.

Millions flock to London in the summer to see the sights and to shop. But the very things they come to the city for are at the heart of the planned circuit, so there would also be a considerable and uncosted negative impact.

London is also a vibrant, packed centre where millions live, and millions more visit daily for work or leisure. The idea of closing down large areas of the West End with the immense disruption which will result will provoke an angry reaction from many, and whatever Ecclestone might like to think most people which this will adversely affect are not F1 fans.

The disruption the Olympics will cause is already a headache to many Londoners but one that brings unquestioned benefits. It is also a once-in-a-lifetime event that focusses the world on the city. Overall, most would accept it is a price worth paying. The same is unlikely to be the case for a grand prix. And that's before the environmental lobby even starts to get involved.

Ecclestone seems to make announcements about new destinations for his roadshow every few weeks. If it's not Rome it's New York or South Africa. London is in the news with the Olympics and he is aware the eyes of the world are on the city. You have to suspect today's leaked plans are just another clever ruse to keep Formula One at the forefront of the headlines.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo