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Formula One could hit London by 2006


Story: Jack Foley

THE sight of Formula One cars speeding around the capital could become an annual occurrence, if £20m plans to bring Grand Prix racing to London are realised.

Following Tuesday’s hugely successful Formula One demonstration in Regent Street, which attracted an estimated half a million people, London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, announced that he would throw his support fully behind any plan to bring the sport to the capital.

In an interview with the BBC, he stated: "We started talking to F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone, and his people about a year ago about putting on a proper F1 race.

"It would probably bring two million people to London and we're really up for it."

Stressing that such a prospect was not hype, Mayor Ken went on to predict that such a sporting event could bring huge economic benefits to London, even if it comes at the expense of losing the Silverstone circuit (the traditional home of the British Grand Prix).

Tuesday’s demonstration saw eight F1 cars drive on a course laid out between Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus. It attracted many more enthusiasts than had first been imagined.

But despite some reservations over crowd safety, which were exacerbated by the popularity of this week’s event, Mr Livingstone maintained that with careful planning, a London showpiece event could be added to the F1 calendar - making it the second street-based circuit, after Monaco.

What’s more, a possible route has even been ‘pencilled in’ by the Mayor and his team, which is believed to centre around Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane.

And given that talks have already started, a race could be arranged as quickly as two years’ time, especially since it has the backing of the sport’s leading figures, including, most notably, Mr Ecclestone.

The drivers, themselves, also savoured the prospect, particularly after putting the cars through their paces on the Regent Street circuit.

Williams driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, described such a prospect as ‘awesome’, while team boss, Sir Frank Williams, agreed, stating that a Grand Prix of London could be a major sporting event for the capital on the scale of Monaco.

"I'm a strong supporter, otherwise we wouldn't have sent a car. I think it would work for us," he added.

However, while many view the prospect of a London Grand Prix as sounding the death knell for the much-maligned Silverstone circuit, current British favourite, Jenson Button, believes there could still be room for both on the F1 calendar.

Citing the fact that both Germany and Italy currently host two GPs a year, he maintained that England could do the same, and wholeheartedly backed the idea, having been overwhelmed by the support for the event on the day (July 6, 2004).

Silverstone currently has a contract to host the British Grand Prix until 2006, but has consistently been placed under threat, in recent years, due to its facilities.

But while the hype builds around news of a possible London circuit, Harvey Goldsmith, the organiser of this week’s event, did sound a word of caution, by pointing out that there would be a number of bureaucratic obstacles to overcome before a London GP could get off the ground.

F1 fans and Londoners themselves will be watching developments with much curiosity.

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