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Virtual insanity

Chris Medland June 29, 2012

It's amazing what a good PR campaign can do.

A few weeks ago, Santander invited members of the press to "what promises to be a very special and unique experience" as the two McLaren drivers launched the London Grand Prix. At no point did it seem like a serious proposal, but add in some Bernie Ecclestone quotes on the morning of the event and suddenly there was increased interest.

Bernie is an old hand at getting the media talking about what he wants. He previously used the idea of a London Grand Prix to put pressure on Silverstone to improve its facilities in order to gain a new race contract. While there's a chance he's trying to create another potential race in order to drive up the hosting fees at other venues, there's another matter that Bernie would like to keep out of the papers.

Gerhard Gribkowsky's conviction for crimes including bribery will be of concern to Ecclestone. In the closing remarks before Gribkowsky was sentenced, the prosecution described Ecclestone as "a fellow participant" and as a result he is likely to face charges himself. Nothing has been brought against Ecclestone yet, but it's obviously not something that he wants in the limelight. Enter his diversion: a London Grand Prix.

Bernie's endorsement, and apparent willingness to waive the race fee - which Martin Williamson rightly points out would cause derision among the other circuits - clouded what the event was supposed to be. TV news crews were sent out ready to cover what they expected to be a press conference announcing plans for a race, while other outlets also reported that the race route would be announced.

If still in doubt, it didn't take much studying of the track to confirm that the race was pure fantasy. Exiting the final corner to return to The Mall, the track runs through Admiralty Arch. Anyone familiar with London will know that the arch has three single lanes between arches and is therefore not fit for one Formula One car to take at racing speed, let alone two during a grand prix.

Yes, the simulation was impressive. And yes, the deciding race between Hamilton and Button was genuinely entertaining as the lead changed hands numerous times over the lap and Jenson dived down the inside in to the final corner to win. But this was solely fun and games for those present or, if you look at it another way, a disappointment to those expecting something more substantial.

Less so for Ecclestone, who had hoped to be there but predictably didn't make it. It was most certainly a piece of opportunism to get involved - the event had been thoroughly planned for months - but the timing couldn't have been better. Not only did he ensure few were talking about events in the Munich courtroom, he also helped increase the exposure for Santander - partner of McLaren and Ferrari as well as sponsor of a number of races - at a time when Spanish banks need all the positive stories they can get.

The race won't happen, certainly not on the track shown on Thursday. But what a great bit of PR.