Here is the on board lap of the imaginary F1 track around London which was such a talking point yesterday.
The launch event last night was an interesting affair; Bernie Ecclestone, predictably, did not show up. It was his intervention with the Times newspaper that turned this from a light hearted PR stunt by Santander UK with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button ahead of the British Grand Prix, which the bank also sponsors, into something of a monster; with TV networks, radio stations and other media clamouring to cover it.
Last night’s event went from being a champagne and canapés evening to release a tongue in cheek CGI film, to a “launch of ambitious plans, by Bernie Ecclestone”.
As he has done before, putting an eye catching number on it, like the £35 million he said he would personally invest to see it happen, gave the thing its legs. This echoes the £1 million cash prize fund he promised in 1993 for a head to head between F1 and IndyCar when he was concerned about the impact Nigel Mansell was making in IndyCar.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson, had to tread cautiously yesterday. He wasn’t at the launch but said that he was “broadly positive” about the idea, but that London would need to assess whether the economic impact would match up with the disruption to the city.
“The question of air quality and noise impact will have to be looked at,” said the Mayor. “I am broadly positive providing we can satisfy the air quality and noise issues.”
Much of the talk last night was of how this story had happened and there are clearly a number of dimensions to it.
It was lost on no-one that the Times front page splash on the London GP story diverted attention away from the sentencing of Gerhard Gribkowsky in Munich on corruption charges relating to $44 million payments from Ecclestone. That story was covered on Wednesday night but by Thursday the London GP story had ensured the Gribkowsky headlines were brief.
Ecclestone now waits to see if the prosecutors in Munich will try to mount a case against him and much of the talk last night was about that and what would happen if a prosecution were to be launched.
Ecclestone also took the opportunity to give one of F1’s leading sponsors a boost at a time when Spanish banks are under serious pressure due to the Euro crisis. With Santander having its credit rating lowered earlier this month and Santander having a very large investment in the sport via McLaren, Ferrari and several GP sponsorships, Ecclestone gave the bank a media splash worth tens of millions.
It’s easy to be cynical and dismiss it out of hand, but as always with Ecclestone there is a kernel of truth to it; there is no doubt that Ecclestone has always liked the idea of a street race around his home city, which is why this keeps coming up in one form or another, but the truth is that it’s probably as far off today as it has ever been.
The word is that Silverstone has been rather underwhelmed by the story, coming a week ahead of the British Grand Prix. But the noise will have well and truly died down by next weekend and Silverstone with its large, passionate crowd will put on a great show and underline why it has a 17 year contract to host the event and why a London Grand Prix makes a nice film, but not a reality.