Ecclestone backs London grand prix

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has offered to stump up £35 million ($54.5 million) to stage a grand prix around London's famous streets, the Times reported Thursday.

The 3.2 mile (5.1 km) route will be unveiled when the full plan is presented later Thursday, but it would take in landmarks including Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, the report said.

Organisers estimate 120,000 spectators would flock to the showpiece event -- making it the biggest race on the tour -- and hope the money they would spend would more than cover Formula One's investment.

"Think what it would do for tourism," Ecclestone told the paper.

"It would be fantastic, good for London, good for England -- a lot better than the Olympics," he added.

British F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, the former world champion, declared himself an enthusiastic supporter of a London 'street race'.

"A grand prix here would be the best thing in the world, the biggest event, sensational," Hamilton said in London on Thursday.

"They (track designers) never approach drivers to have any input into the design of circuits.

"But I would be very, very open to help in any way if they are planning to do it, to give advice on curves and corners and parts we should be going through. It would be insane."

Hamilton added the impact of a Grand Prix in the British capital itself could be immense.

"How many people in London? How many would turn up to this grand prix if you had it in the summer?

"The turnout would be phenomenal. It would be millions."

However, Hamilton's compatriot and McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, himself a former world champion, was more sceptical about the race ever being staged.

"Personally, do I like the idea of having a London Grand Prix? Yes, the more grands prix in the UK the better.

"I'm not sure you would be able to close down London for a grand prix, but it's a nice idea though."

Eight years ago F1 staged a demonstration run down London's Regent Street that attracted nearly 500,000 people.

However, the then London Mayor Ken Livingstone played down talk of a race through the capital on cost grounds.

But Boris Johnson, the current mayor, was "broadly positive" provided environmental concerns could be addressed.

"I am always interested in projects that attract jobs and bring growth," said Johnson. "But the question of air quality and noise impact will have to be looked at. I am broadly positive providing we can satisfy the air quality and noise issues."

A map of the proposed race route published by The Times indicated the event could start on the The Mall before a sprint past some of the city's most iconic streets and landmarks.

John Rhodes, the assistant principal of Populous, the architectural group which drew up the plans for the proposed circuit, said it would take around five days to set up the circuit and three to dismantle it.

However he also said London could follow the example of other street races held around the world by allowing traffic to use the circuit at the end of each day's racing.

"Roads in Singapore and Monaco close down for the events and then open again each evening," he told The Times. "The route is fairly enclosed so it would not affect London too much."

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