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Donington, the fightback begins
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Donington, the fightback begins
Posted By:   |  11 Feb 2009   |  6:32 pm GMT  |  9 comments

Donington CEO Simon Gillett went on a charm offensive today, responding to what he sees as a barrage of negativity about Donington’s claims to host the GP in 2010. It’s been quite an emotional day, what with Grandprix.com’s Joe Saward making a passionate defence of the project this morning.

Gillett had been well coached in what line to take today. He went for the ‘I’m just an honest guy trying to make a buck’ approach, and reminded everyone that so far, everything he said he would do he has done. The problem for him is that from relative obscurity he has done those things, but now he’s in the spotlight, everyone’s watching and he’s climbing up onto the tightrope. He’s into the really expensive phase of the project and no-one can see where the money is coming from. So he’s run into some negativity. Making an oblique reference to Damon Hill president of the BRDC which owns Silverstone, he said,

“I guess it would help if I was born into a racing family or I was an ex-driver – but I’m not. If you cut me open I don’t ooze petrol. Instead, I ooze business – and I think that’s frowned upon a little. I’m not one of the old guard, so people ask why I’ve got one of the crown jewels when they don’t think I’ve the right to have it.

“Remember, we didn’t steal the grand prix from Silverstone – it was dead. They refused to pick up the contract on the table, and there was no future for grand prix racing in Britain,” he added. “So we picked up the contract; we took the risk, are doing all the work – yet we’re still seen as the perceived threat to the British grand prix. Realistically, we’re the only lifeboat it has got.”

The reference to ‘picking up the contract’ is just that. There were contracts on a table in Bernie’s motorhome during the Grand Prix weekend last year and he did litterally pick it up.

There are plenty of people around the sport who like to play politics and the British Grand Prix is one of the favourite games, as Gillett is now finding. There’s no doubt that there is an element who are exactly as Gillett sees it, just out to get the knife in. But equally there are a lot of neutrals who don’t mind too much if it’s Silverstone or Donington as long as it happens and is a credit to the UK. I fall into that camp and so do many of the professionals in F1.

I posted a relatively positive piece earlier this year, when Gillett explained the debenture scheme to me, I was rather less positive once I’d seen the 2007 accounts. Now I’m waiting to hear exactly how he’s going to fund it and how much of the debenture scheme is already in the bag.

I was at Donington in 1993, working in the pit lane for ESPN TV of America and it is one of my most special racing memories; Prost pitting seven times for tyres, Rubens almost getting a podium before running out of fuel and Senna’s utterly majestic drive in the McLaren and a fascinating interview with him afterwards.

A Donington GP would be great. It has the history from pre-war days and a good brand to build on. But despite today’s pr offensive, the question remains, will it happen?

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9 Comments
  1. Daniel Hoyes says:

    Good post again. Really enjoying this blog…

    Yeah, Gillet’s got a good point about the Damon Hill factor. I’m starting to really like the guy – although he has to understand why we may be a little cautious about the chances of a Donnington 2010 grand prix?

  2. ... there are a lot of neutrals who don’t mind too much if it’s Silverstone or Donington as long as it happens and is a credit to the UK. I fall into that camp and so do many of the professionals in F1.

    Couldn’t have put it better ourselves – this is exactly how we feel at Brits on Pole and if we sometimes seem to be negative it’s the result of being really, really worried that Britain is going to lose an incredible piece of its motor racing heritage. And receiving precious little in the way of concrete reassurances from Mr Gillett that we can believe in.

    A word on the planning permission. It was *conditional* – a fact that has maybe not been given the consideration it should have been. The track and circuit buildings were never going to be the main bone of contention – transport and planning were always the big issues.

    By delaying the decision on these matters the planning authority has been very astute – retaining control over the most controversial aspects of the scheme while distancing itself from any possible allegation of being the people who scuppered the British Grand Prix.

    This remains one to watch as it is far from a done deal. In the meantime, can anyone recall whether those 20 luxury dwellings were in the original planning application or not? Do they have permission, or do they need it?

  3. Jason C says:

    What I find incredible is the time-frame Gillett has got for the project. British planning regs being what they are, it’s unheard of for a project like this to be completed within such a short space of time.

    What else is worrying me is the transport arrangements; Gillett has stated that he doesn’t want punters’ cars parked on site. I keep having visions of worse chaos than 2000 when the GP was in April.

    As you mention James, I just want it to go off without a hitch, although the actual track will have to be good to beat Silverstone.

  4. Al27 says:

    Any news on what you’re up to this year James? I thought you were going to announce something in the New Year?

  5. john g says:

    i really really hope this is going to work. i can’t see all the speculative negativity helping matters although hopefully it won’t have much of an impact.

    donny was always a massively ambitious project from the start, whereas silverstone was a fantastic circuit and a great facility. it made such little sense to change venue. i think this is what so many people have the problem with. however, it’s either donnington or nothing for the UK. it’s not donningtons doing that there is no silverstone GP, they didn’t exactly wrestle it from their hands. bernie doesn’t like the owners of silverstone, he doesn’t seem to be that fussed about great circuits – he likes money. he knows how ambitious and risky donnington is. he’ll lose no sleep to see the british GP slot go to russia or india (both obviously powerhouses of automotive engineering and racing heritage with a passionate fan base) as long as they pay him enough. governments will stump up the cash for the prestige of holding a round of F1 and getting a few VIP’s over, and in three years they’ll all be like china, bahrain and malaysia, concrete computer generated tilke-dromes with no atmosphere – empty grandstands until the afternoon of race day.

    donnington now, along with hockenheim, spa, suzuka etc these great classic tracks, that the drivers and fans alike love, are the lifeline of F1, something that the sport desperately needs to cling to as bernie bleeds it dry. i just hope it survives beyond max and bernie’s time…

  6. rpaco says:

    john g hit the nail squarely on the head with his comment.

    Bernie’s primary objective is money. He is used to being able to manipulate more out of the various organisations he deals with, he cannot handle the BRDC/Silverstone owners, so he needs to bypass them.

    There are now a large number of F1 capable GP circuits in the world, many new ones have been built in the last few years, so Bernie can play them against each other and get the most benefit for his companies. (Its almost beautiful to watch)
    As audience figures fall it is important that he has expanded his number of potential sources of income to areas which will pay more to stage a GP.

    Mr Gillett having committed so much debt into the improved Donnie, Bernie will have him over a barrel.

    Never mind drivers or footballers income, what is Bernie’s? We could probably add the whole lot together and not come near Bernie’s.

  7. rpaco says:

    Quote from a site on another planet: “Work continues to get Donington Park ready to host the 2010 British GP with the iconic Dunlop Bridge being dismantled on Thursday.”

    Oh dear its 3pm they must have it half down by now. A great shame that such a memorable feature has to go in the name of progress. But then if you look at most famous circuits they have been changed over recent years in favour of new kinks and chicanes to spoil the flow and slow things down. I hope they are not interfering with the Kraner curves

  8. Joe says:

    I read yesterday about the changes planned for the Silverstone circuit in time for the MotoGP there in 2010. Can you tell me whether or not Silverstone are still planning on making the other changes they’ve said all along they will make by the summer of 2010 (re-locating the pits and paddock to between Club and Abbey and a general overhaul of the facilities there)? When it was announced that Donington would be hosting the Grand Prix from 2010, Silverstone said they would still be pressing ahead with their plans for the new pits straight and paddock area in case Donington failed and Bernie decided to give the race back to Silverstone. In several articles yesterday though about MotoGP, I saw no mention of this despite it being announced how Club and Abbey would be changing and how the Woodcote grandstand would be removed, etc. If Donington does fail financially and they can’t make it happen, do you feel Bernie will stick by his word and say “no” to Silverstone even if they have done all the work they promised all along? Would be really grateful if you let me know. Thanks.

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