The 1996 F1 World Champion was at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to negotiate with Bernie Ecclestone over the hosting of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, following the failure of Donington to meet its financial deadlines. He discussed where things stand with Will Buxton
GPWEEK: How are negotiations going with Mr Ecclestone following everything that's happened with Donington?
DAMON HILL: They're progressing and I think they're progressing well. I think Mr Ecclestone has been very helpful and understanding and we're making progress.
How much of a challenge will it be for you guys to get the race up and running next year as you already stated a few months ago that the longer this went on, the harder it would be to prepare everything in time?
It is a difficult situation and we'd much prefer to get something settled so we can get on with selling tickets for next year. But we'll deal with whatever situation occurs. We have to say at this point that still there is no definite deal that has been done yet and we still have to consider the possibility that the deal will be too rich for Silverstone and what we can do after that I don't know. We are trying to do the best we can but we have to think of the business. It has to sign contracts that make sense and our first obligation is the viability of the business.
How viable is the business of Silverstone without the British Grand Prix as its centrepiece?
Well it would be a much smaller business. It would have to cut down massively. There's really only one show in town. We've got the MotoGP, but in motorsport there is only really one show and we cannot sign up to something that would jeopardise the security of Silverstone otherwise we could end up with a second Donington situation.
In this day and age do you think that the amount of money that is required to host a race that Bernie asks for from tracks is unreasonable?
No, I think it makes [sense] for each individual country that Formula One visits. I think that some deals are private promoters and some events are state sponsored and in the UK it's very much private. We have support from local government and encouragement from central government but we do not have a state sponsored event in the same way that the Olympics is a state-sponsored event.
There's only so much that encouragement can do, whereas sponsorship would help hugely. Obviously the current government has been held back by the tobacco advertising scandal, but let's say there's a new government this time next year whose leader David Cameron is an MP for the area in which a number of F1 employees live. Are you hopeful of being able to talk to a new government about state sponsorship?
We only have a limited involvement. It's not our responsibility. Silverstone, the BRDC, it's not our responsibility to find a solution to the British Grand Prix. It's not our responsibility to provide a Grand Prix for the country. If Formula One is looking for a partner to put their case then I think we'd be absolutely delighted to put a case to government for F1, but I think it's a difficult call because first of all the country has spent most of its money on bailing us out of the credit crisis so there's not a lot of money there, and when you stack up the issues that have a call on public money, then I think a lot of things come ahead in the queue before you get to going to a grand prix.
But it is the centre-piece of a motor industry that employs tens of thousands of people and brings in billions of pounds to the economy, and without a centrepiece those people's jobs are potentially in jeopardy.
Correct. And that is one of the arguments you might put forward for there being state support for Formula 1, yes.
How optimistic are you that we'll see a British Grand Prix at Silverstone next year and beyond?
I'm optimistic. I think something will be sorted out and I am very hopeful. But our position is very clear - Silverstone as a business simply cannot sign up to a contract which is in any way beyond the risk level which we feel comfortable with.
This article originally appeared in GP Week on November 2, 2009. Click here to sign up to GP Week. .