Formula One – the future of the British Grand Prix

Posted: October 26, 2009 in Sport
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In July 2008 Bernie Eccleston agreed a contract with Donington Park to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 for seventeen years. Plans were drawn up and put together to build facilities that would meet the F1 supremo’s stringent standards, and costs were estimated at around £100 million. Chief Executive of Donington, Simon Gillett, said at the time that he was confident of raising the necessary funds to ensure the go-ahead of the race.

Even then, there were rumblings of worry that it wasn’t going to be possible to ensure that investment was secured, and Silverstone remained on high alert to the possibility of stepping into the breach. Bernie Ecclestone isn’t the biggest fan of Siverstone, he believes it to be too far away from a major city and transport links to be viable on a world-wide stage, and at one point the possibility of a London City GP was raised. This, of course, would be a logistical nightmare because huge sections of London would need to be closed off and businesses would suffer greatly. Which is why Donington became a good option. It has hosted Formula One in the past, still hosts a wide range of national motorsports including the British Touring Car Championship. It is located directly next door to East Midlands Airport, and lies between three large cities (Derby, Nottingham, Leicester). Looking at the proposed plans for Donington to make it a venue worthy of Bernie’s Circus, massive redevelopments were conceived, including moving the pit lane to the Dunlop Straight (removing the iconic Dunlop Bridge) and extending the track to cover more areas of the infield.  It certainly looks interesting, with a mix of old and new sections of the circuit. Racing was stopped at Donington in September to allow building work to begin on the new layout, designed by Tilke, the German company that is the world leader in circuit design.

Donington were given a deadline in their original contract to show that the necessary investment was in place, and have had 14 months in which to secure those funds. As we reach the day of the final deadline (after the original date limit, a clause in the contract allowed 14 days in which to avoid breaking the contract) there is nothing but silence from Donington and its management. We have to take this as meaning that they failed, and Ecclestone will have to look at the alternatives. But just what are the alternatives?

1: Return to Silverstone

The most likely option, but the sticking point here is that Silverstone want the same contract length that was agreed with Donington, of 17 years. There is also the issue of funding for redevelopment as well, as Ecclestone will insist on major redevelopment plans being put in place to return to the circuit.

2: Go to another circuit

Very unlikely, as there are no other circuits in this country that have either the facilities or the funds to host a British GP. Brands Hatch is probably the closest but it is very out of date, and cannot afford the required funding payments to Bernie Ecclestone.

3: No British GP

This is another probable outcome, one that the British motor racing industry and British-based F1 teams will go to great lengths to avoid. Bernie has no loyalty to this country though, and will not show favouritism to Britain, he will insist on dealing with Silverstone and Donington on exactly the same level he uses for other GPs. He will not be afraid to take F1 out of Britain, as there are plenty of other countries willing and able to meet his terms.

But how have Donington allowed themselves to get into this mess? Surely they should not have been able to sign that contract originally without having proof of funds, so what happened? Did investors pull out? There was a mystery benefactor who supposedly put up the £100m needed to convince Ecclestone that Donington was the right location, so where did that money go? Donington were forced into trying a high-risk bond scheme in order to raise the necessary £135m (the full figure needed for works to finish), which fell well short. What on Earth has gone wrong? Of course, having the GP taken away from them could leave Donington staring into the abyss, and we could lose one of our most iconic racing venues, although I’m sure the site will still continue to be used for the Download festivals. Whatever happens, I can see Simon Gillett being made to fall on his sword, as head of the company that owns Donington Park. He took a big risk in trying to bring F1 to Donington, and it’s fallen short.

In my view, the race should go back to Silverstone, but not under the 17-year agreement with Donington. I don’t think I could handle 17 years more racing at that boring old circuit. I’m surprised the Government haven’t stepped in to try and sort this out, it’s the sort of thing they normally like to stick their oar in about. Come on, Gormless Gordon, or is it too boring for your bunch?

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