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The British Grand Prix was last night on the brink of being saved, less than a week after being dropped from the Formula One calendar for the first time in 50 years.

Negotiations involving F1 bosses and the British Racing Drivers' Club, which owns Silverstone, the Northamptonshire track where the race is held, were said to be making headway with the funding gap that had precipitated last week's announcement narrowing significantly.

Some were optimistic that the talks, understood to have been facilitated by Richard Caborn, sports minister, might reach a successful conclusion before this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

A deal would certainly need to be struck by October 13, the date when next year's provisional F1 calendar is due to be approved by the Fédération Internationale de L'Automobile, the sport's governing body.

"Everybody understands the seriousness of the situation now for the future of the development of F1 and high-performance car development in this country," Mr Caborn said on Wednesday night.

"There are now serious negotiations going on. The quicker negotiations are concluded, the quicker certainty can return to the marketplace."

Alex Hooton, chief executive of the British Racing Drivers' Club, on Wednesday night described the latest moves as "very positive steps". But he said the BRDC had no knowledge or expectation of an agreement being announced ahead of the Japanese race.

Retention of an F1 race is seen as essential for a planned technology "centre of excellence" based at Silverstone, designed to strengthen the UK's currently world-leading motor sport industry, which generates revenues of £5bn a year and employs 50,000.

Several F1 teams are based within easy reach of the circuit. The proposed development would include a state-of-the-art wind tunnel - an essential piece of equipment for serious motor racing organisations.

The event was dropped from the provisional F1 calendar for next year after Formula One Management, the F1 rights-holding company controlled by promoter Bernie Ecclestone, turned down as inadequate the BRDC's offer of a £6m payment to stage next year's grand prix.

Mr Ecclestone is understood to have sought £9m. The gap now appears on the point of being reduced by at least £500,000.

Significant complications will arise unless Silverstone is reinstated to the provisional calendar by October 13, when it is submitted to motor sport's governing body, the FIA, for approval.

To add it afterwards would mean creating an 18th round of the championship, which would involve large compensation payments to the F1 teams.

Or it would mean another grand prix having to be dropped.

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