JANUARY 11, 2001
Stewart goes for cross-party support
Stewart is anxious that the whole question of UK government support should not simply be seen in context of Formula 1 and Silverstone's urgent need for upgrading to match the best of the world's Grand Prix circuits. He is equally concerned about nurturing driving, engineering and managerial talent from within the motorsport business which is now the third most important export industry in the country.
To that end, the former triple World Champion has not only had meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair, but has also taken his message to the Leader of the Opposition, Tory leader William Hague, and will be meeting with Liberal Democrat party leader Charles Kennedy within the next week.
Stewart also sounded a stark warning. "What you've got to realize is that virtually every circuit in Britain is effectively bankrupt," he said. "Silverstone could not survive without the Grand Prix; Brands Hatch only continues through clever exploitation of its commercial possibilities.
"Elsewhere, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Thruxton, Castle Combe, Pembrey and the others are all minnows. They are nothing. So we have to have a (state-of-the-art) facility to start with, somewhere from which we can branch out to regional centres."
Stewart reiterated that he was not asking the government for something for nothing, making the point that a partnership between the BRDC (Silverstone's owners), Octagon (the British GP promoters) and Bernie Ecclestone were ready with £40 million (pounds) to back the project.
"But you can easily lose that sort of sum in an area of 800 acres," he acknowledged. "We have to make Silverstone into a leisure destination in addition to making it a centre of excellence (for training) with technical facilities there linked to a University."
Stewart is also adamant that Silverstone's facilities could be evolved to offer as much value to the motor industry as the motorsport business. And that it is vital to develop this side of the business in order to prevent engineering talent from being dissipated overseas.
In particular, he believes that crucial data for NVH - noise/vibration/harshness testing - could be accumulated for road car engineers simply by varying the surfaces of the internal roadways at Silverstone. In that connection, Stewart sounds another warning chord.
"In road car development, the most sophisticated piece of equipment for monitoring NVH is called an 'Aachen head' which reflects the fact that it was developed by a group at Aachen university working under one professor.
"In future, we cannot allow that (sort of development) not to happen here (in the UK). If Benetton should now go to France because they are owned by Renault, it would mean that part of the cottage industry which is the British motorsports industry would go with it.
"Thankfully, I don't believe it will, because Benetton has one of the most up-to-the-minute technical facilities in the country. That is why it is so important than Ron Dennis and McLaren should be building their Paragon technical centre near Woking - because it is important to keep the Mercedes-Benz F1 involvement in Britain."
Stewart continued to emphasis the "strength in depth" theme by adding that Silverstone should also build a world-class karting facility - and develop a youth programme link which would be important for the Government.
"All this is quite feasible and achievable," he added.