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'Forget Kyalami' says Ecclestone

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone would like to see Formula One return to South Africa after a ten year absence, but does not see Kyalami as a likely venue for a South African Grand Prix.

Ecclestone intends to welcome Turkey to Formula One in 2005 and sees Russia as a missing jewel in the crown. But he says Britain's Silverstone, the World War Two airfield where the biggest show in motor racing first hit the road on a track marked by straw bales in 1950, is an embarrassment.

"I hope it doesn't happen but we don't have to have a race in Britain," Ecclestone, himself a Briton, told Reuters in Canada at the weekend.

The Formula One supremo labelled the British Grand Prix last year as a "country fair masquerading as a world event", despite substantial road improvements to ease traffic jams. He has not changed his mind. With this year's race on July 20, and the sport's governing body likely to discuss the 2004 calendar at a regular FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on Tuesday, he warmed to a familiar theme.

"It's embarrassing for me when somebody wants a new circuit and they say 'We're coming to England to look at Silverstone,'" he said. "I say 'Don't do that whatever you do. If you want to come and look at what we don't want, go up to Silverstone and have a look'."

Germany's Nuerburgring, which hosts the next race on June 29, has had a substantial revamp, as has Hockenheim. Monaco also showed a new face this year after reclaiming land from the harbour.

Silverstone, owned by the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), is being redeveloped with funds from the BRDC, Ecclestone's Formula One Management and promoters Octagon, now restructured as Brands Hatch Leisure (BHL).

Ecclestone said the BRDC, whose chairman Martin Brundle earlier this year accused him of "trying hard to destabilise the grand prix", had wasted the money.

"We put in 20 million (dollars) each," he said. "The Octagon people let the BRDC manage the money and the BRDC spent two-thirds of the money on doing good things for them and their members and nothing for Octagon and nothing for us. The idea was that they were going to build the Taj Mahal. And that's why our money went in."

Two years ago the BRDC announced plans to turn the circuit into a world-class venue by 2003 with a revamped layout to include a new parabolic curve. There would be a new media centre and reconfigured track. That has not happened.

"I said you're never, ever going to do what you want to do for the amount of money you've got," said Ecclestone. "They said 'No, no we do'. I said good do it. And what have they done? Nothing. Put some roads in. Spent Christ knows how much on a car park. They've spent four-and-a-half-million pounds on architects' fees to do what? To build a car park," he said. "They should be building the place like they said they were going to."

The British Grand Prix's future has been uncertain since 2000, when Ecclestone brought it forward to April and spectators were left struggling in fields of mud as car parks turned into quagmires. The doubts intensified when BHL's parent, advertising giant Interpublic, said recently that it was looking for "exit strategies" from its motorsport interests.

While most of the teams are based in Britain, other nations are queuing up to join the championship and building state-of-the-art circuits with government funding.

China and Bahrain are due to make their Formula One debuts next year and Ecclestone said Turkey would be next in 2005 at an approved site to the east of Istanbul.

"We want to go to Moscow and after that I don't know where we're going. We'll see," he said. "We've then got more or less what we want."

Asked whether South Africa could make a return, ten years since the last grand prix at Kyalami, Ecclestone replied: "It would be nice because it's on the same time frame as us but... we'll see. If we could do it, it would be nice. But forget Kyalami, it will be down south."

In the meantime, some of the European circuits are waiting to hear their fate or hoping for reprieves.

Belgium, dropped this year, is hoping to return if a way can be found around the local anti-tobacco legislation that led to the demise of Spa.

Austria, informed by Ecclestone in January that this season would see the last grand prix at Spielberg, is quietly hoping that he has changed his mind.

Austrian magazine Autorevue reported that Formula One could return since Ecclestone had yet to formally revoke the contract with the circuit. It said the deadline was July 18.

© Reuters

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