Silverstone risk is worth taking, says Hill

DAMON Hill believes Britain will need to keep producing a steady stream of world champions over the next few years if Silverstone is to meet its risky financial commitments.

The Northamptonshire circuit yesterday unveiled the first part of a redevelopment plan that will cost just under 40 million.

With HRH the Duke of York in attendance, the wraps were taken off the new Arena Grand Prix track that this year will play host to a triple crown of events – Formula 1, MotoGP and World Superbikes.

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The re-design has stretched its length to 3.66miles, cutting out Bridge and Priory, instead heading from Abbey, on to the newly-named Farm Curve, Village corner, The Loop, Aintree corner and Wellington Straight, before rejoining the old track at Brooklands.

That alone has cost 5m, with a new pit and paddock complex currently in development and due to open ahead of next season's British Grand Prix pushing the costs skywards.

Add in a 17-year contract to host the race, a deal that has an escape clause after ten years should Silverstone struggle to meet their financial commitments, and as British Racing Drivers' Club president Hill admits, they are "stretching things much further than they've been stretched before".

As far as Hill is concerned, the trail currently being blazed by the last two world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, has to continue.

"There was an understandable reluctance to take on too much risk, but event promotion and venue operating is a risk business," said 1996 world champion Hill. "It's a necessary risk. The alternative was that the British Grand Prix would have gone off the calendar.

"There is a justification to demand first-class facilities if you have a first-class event like Formula One, and others like MotoGP, but it has to make financial sense.

"Right now we are where we are, and it's full-steam ahead. There's no way back from here.

"We are relying a little on this country's tradition of producing world-class drivers who potentially drive people through the gate.

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"We've had them on a consistent basis, the whole time grand prix racing has been in existence. There was a lull between (James] Hunt and (Nigel] Mansell, but we're trusting we continue to be at the front of the sport and where we are at the moment with Hamilton and Button."

Prince Andrew, who is the United Kingdom's special representative for international trade and investment, effectively gave the new circuit the royal seal of approval.

Hill took His Royal Highness, who was also yesterday handed honorary membership of the BRDC, on four laps of the track in a two-seater, 600hp car, which was all part of the unveiling ceremony.

The Bishop of Brixworth, Rt Rev Frank White, had earlier conducted a blessing, followed by Prince Andrew cutting a ribbon, whilst at the same time David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Ron and Leon Haslam sprayed champagne.