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Three days to save Donington GP
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Three days to save Donington GP
Posted By:   |  03 May 2009   |  10:52 am GMT  |  0 comments

The would-be promoters of the 2010 British Grand Prix, face a crunch meeting with the local North West Leicestershire council on Tuesday which, if it goes wrong, could mean the end of plans for the race at Donington.

Already squeezed by a £2.5 million law suit from circuit owners the Wheatcroft family, Simon Gillett’s Donington Ventures group must persuade the council to give them more time to get the Wheatcrofts to sign a crucial section 106 spectator safety document, without which the race cannot go ahead.

According to the council leader, speaking in the News of the World today, either Gillett will get an extension until May 31st, or the planning consent will be thrown out and the race plans will be in tatters.

The council leader claims to be optimistic about the chances of the race being saved, but it looks like it will take payment of the outstanding £2.5 million of rent by Tuesday, or proof that it will be paid by May 31st for the council to move forward with granting planning consent.

Gillett is showing all the signs of having difficulty raising funds. Bernie Ecclestone, who appears to be giving Gillett every opportunity to come through said, “Donington’s problem is that it had a deal with a bank but then the credit crisis happened. Maybe the government can help.”

Gillett told me last December that he had a deal with Goldman Sachs for the debenture scheme. He was due to announce plans for the scheme by the end of March. Government funding of tens of millions for an F1 circuit at a time when the national debt is spiralling out of control is hard to imagine.

Bankers I spoke to at the time all said that the credit crunch was going to be very severe and that the bottom was going to drop out of everything. All the savvy business leaders were bracing themselves for the worst.

It’s all very surprising, then, that Gillett did this deal last July.

As to whether Bernie might relent and go back to Silverstone if Donington falls through, we’ll have to wait and see. He’s been negative about it lately, but he needs to leave himself some wriggle room. Just look at how many times he’s said we’re not going back to Magny Cours…

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  1. James says:

    That last paragraph there didnt fill me with confidence James…! This year, we really aren’t going back to Magny Cours…

    It would be insanity not to have a British GP, and given all the bad press that Donnington has, and how unlikely it seems to be that a race will happen there, Bernie should reconsider Silverstone.

    But this is where the issue lies. Bernie’s problem is that he’s to stubborn to admit he’s made a mistake, which could cost us, and the world, the British GP.

  2. GG says:

    Again Bernie, telling us that the Government should be funding the GP. :-(

    The Government doesn’t have the money; doesn’t Bernie get this!!! Even if it did, I wouldn’t be happy about it paying for the British GP.

    If we lose the British GP then so be it.

    What truth in this:-

    Expect a British GP at Silverstone in 2010! But only because Bernie has bought Donnington or Brand Hatch and is upgrading them to host the GP from 2011

  3. Jason C says:

    Well, I must say it’s hard to gauge this objectively being a Brit.

    I’m trying to imagine how much power Bernie actually has to stop a British GP going ahead. OK, so he’s the puppetmaster, but there will be massive pressure from the teams and the manufacturers to go ahead with it.

    After all, think of all the British-based teams. And think of the popularity of the GP in the UK, and then add on how important a market the UK is for the car manufacturers.

    I think I read a while ago that the British GP has special status along with France, Italy and Monaco as a(n) historic race. Can you verify this James? It didn’t stop France from temporarily dropping off the calendar though, did it, and that’s the most historic race of all. Le Grand Prix.

  4. Andrew says:

    Bernie is nuts. Just because other countries Governments pay for entertainment doesn’t mean ours should.

  5. Leo Allen says:

    Interesting little debate between Martin Brundle and Eddie Jordan on BBC Forum immediately after Sakhir.

    Jordan is known to be ‘fairly close’ to Ecclestone and has several times offered up the same little homily to the effect that his pal Bernie,

    ‘ Doesn’t like men in blazers who run the BRDC like a gentlemans club.’

    …to which Brundle immediately replied, ‘that’s nonsense Eddie, I’m a committee member of BRDC and I don’t wear a blazer, and neither do any of the others that I know of.
    I don’t speak for BRDC in any official capacity, but I do think that Bernie should put away his prejudices and just talk to them. I mean, this is important. Too important to let personalites get in the way of progress.’

    Brilliant put down !

    So it’s probably true that Ecclestone is calmly playing poker with BRDC and it’s just a case of who blinks first.

    Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be making any plans to buy tickets for a Donnington British Grand Prix next year, would you ?

  6. boysie says:

    This whole story is a farce. Couldn’t the bloody BRDC swallow their pride and invest a little in Donington in return for a stake in it. Not as a commercial venture but for the sake of British motor racing. After-all, that is what they are supposed to be representing.

  7. Northern Munkee says:

    I’m sure James has already seen this but some interesting recent attempt at news management by BE is reported on on pitpass, now that blaming HMG for not putting tax payer money in has failed,

    http://www.pitpass.com/fes_php/pitpass_news_item.php?fes_art_id=37726

    Guess he reckons on Bankers can be blamed, reasoning they are more unpopular than him, at the moment so it’ll get him off the hook. Still reading this and everything else, I’m left thinking that BE engineered this situation, that it is personal and financial, rather than a world class facility and car parks for the fans, and that he wouldn’t lose if/when Gillette’s plan failed, he’d still be quids in as he be able to free up a GP date, that he could hawk off to Korea or somewhere for an extra cash? Trouble is no one buying anything he has said and still laying it all at BE’s feet.

    Interesting comment from Damon, far from incompetent or snobby blazer brigade, BRDC’s British GP is possibly the only GP that makes a small profit, on ticket sales, while most others are subsidised, by government (tourists boards etc.), or sponsors. That to me says that the revenue generated by a gp is not correctly distributed and essentially in supporting the British gp, BE is effectively asking (if not directly) for money to be put in his (and his investors) pockets by the taxpayer. No wonder then he’ll never get any cash from HMG.

    As for Gillette his debenture scheme was optimistic even in the good times, and by the July, when he signed, the economic storm clouds were already gathering, I mean £5K for a corporate seat! When a nearly access all areas 3 corporate day F1 paddock club is just £2K (flogged by Bernie). No wonder the banks hit the chicken switch.

    Personally, having been to both Donny, Hatch, S Stone, including the paddock and media facilities, the best, the only, facility in the UK that can hold gp (and everything that entails off track) is Silverstone. Okay the garages aren’t great, but in terms of space, infastructure, and as a package its the best we have, and infinitely better than say Brazil.

  8. Robert McKay says:

    The Donington/Silverstone thing is just a small part of a larger growing problem of Bernie choking the life out of Grands Prix with the FOM fees and for some reason not believing that they should be allowed to turn a profit.

  9. Adam says:

    Ever since the announcment of moving the Grand Prix from Silverstone to Donnington I have been very sceptical. Not only where would they find the money to fund the Grand Prix but also to increase the standard of the facilities, which if anyone has been there in the past few years isnt the best around. But its also not just the facilities, its the space required for them.

    At what point did Bernie think that moving the Grand Prix would be a good idea. Maybe its because hes fed up after years of arguing with the circuit, they still havnt delivered on the ideas that have been put forward to increase the facilities upto modern standards, or is it that he wouldnt have to deal with the BRDC. It seems to be that there are 3 different points of view when developing Silverstone, the BRDC, Bernie and the circuit itself. But through his deal making Bernie seems to have dug himself an ever increasing hole with Donnington burying themselves in debt and the manufacturers kicking off if they dont have a British Grand Prix.

    After all this Silverstone seem to have come through smiling, if after Tuesdays meeting Donningtons hopes of hosting the Grand Prix have crumbled, not only have Silverstone gained the rights for the Moto GP but a possibility of hosting the Grand Prix not only where it belongs and where is most adequate, but possibly at a knockdown price.

  10. Daniel says:

    Hi James, could you possibly shed any light on why the government appear to be so against funding a Grand Prix in this country? Does it all stem back to the ‘cash for honours’ saga with Bernie a few years ago, or is there more to it than that? Clearly the government is currently short on funds, but even in previous years they have not offered or been interseted in funding the event…

  11. Leslie says:

    Daniel

    The government spends the taxpayers money not its own.

    Does the average taxpayer want his/her hard earned wages spent on a sport populated by billionaires, foreign car manufacturers, millionaire drivers living in tax havens, failing banks and power mad manipulators with strange leisure pursuits? I don’t think so.

    Added to which you would then have a bunch of politicians poking their unwanted noses into the sport we all love.

    Great! that’s just what we need.

    The British GP will continue to take place and probably at Silverstone…..

    Cheers.

  12. Silverstone Geezer says:

    James do you have any insight to the item printed by the Times (I think – it was certainly on Times Online), that the new concord agreement FOM is trying to persuade the teams to sign, has a clause in it, put in at the request of FOTA, that there will be 5 Grands Prix protected for the lifetime of the agreement, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy, for heritage reasons ?

    Also, big rumour here in the village is that BE is lending the outstanding rent to Donnington Ventures, which will mean they stand a good chance of getting the planning window extended.

  13. Northern Munkee says:

    Well now the ante appears to have upped again this morning in The Times, with an un named source, leaking an element of the new concord agreement and pointing that the fia constitution apparently, allegedly protects 5 GP, including the british and French(?).

    As the detail in the concord agreement being secret, it’s an interesting development, designed to make things trickier for BE, and begs the question who is the source, what is the motivation, to risk upsetting BE?

  14. alistairblevins says:

    Given the anniversary of his passing I spent some of my weekend trawling YouTube for archive footage of Aryton Senna. I happened across his opening lap at Donnington in 1993, as well as the post race press conference (indeed you can watch the entire race if you feel so inclined).

    What struck me, above Senna’s brilliance, was the tiny pit lane and garages, the unabated speeds (in said tiny pit lane), the shoddiness of the post race conference set-up (looks like the podium finishers were sat on pinic chairs), and the presence of Tom Wheatcroft – understandly thrilled to have a) witnessed and b) organised such an outstanding race (with a good measure of help from the weather Gods).

    A great race at a great circuit organised by a true enthusiast.

    I hope Simon Gillett can pull a rabbit out of his hat on this one, but as I’ve stated before I just can’t see this one happening, which would be a great shame as given Bernies intransigence I doubt there will be a British Grand Prix next year.

    Please let me be wrong

  15. Bernie Ecclestone is a business man, a very good businessman, as such he’s sensible to try to get Gordon Brown to put his hands in to our trousers to pay for the British GP.
    Now, we all know that Gordon isn’t averse to spending our money – he’s happy to spend our childrens’ childrens’ money – so I suspect we’ll get a British GP.
    The only question left is why isn’t our PM as clever as BE…

  16. Rob says:

    Let`s face it,we all now know what the outcome is going to be.Silverstone will retain the F1 Grand prix and will also now probably have to get prepared to host this years Moto GP as well.Just leaves the Download festival to move and game set and match to Silverstone.

  17. F1ice says:

    A bit of subject I know but here is ‘A Song for Felipe Baby’.

    http://allenonf1.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/three-days-to-save-donington-gp/#comments

  18. Adam says:

    Ive just found an interesting online video about Donnington and the Grand Prix on the BBC Sport website.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8017232.stm

    Also notice that towards the end of the video in which Lord Davies is saying that the Government will not be giving any financial support towards the Grand Prix, Lord Drayson is in the background. He is a huge motorsport fan and for you diehard motorsport fans would have known that he races and owns Drayson Racing which is running a bio-fuel aston martin in both the American Le Mans Series and the European Le Mans Series. He has vision in just one eye and is hoping to make his debut in Le Mans this June.

  19. Phil says:

    Wasn’t the big problem with Silverstone that, to get the funding and planning permission, they needed a commitment to keep the race there, whereas Bernie demanded those be in place before he’d give that?

    Classic catch-22.

  20. Gary says:

    Silverstone Hosting the British MotoGp, funny isn’t for 20 years Silverstone didn’t want anything to do with motorcycle racing and in 1987 Donington and Tom Wheatcroft had to save the British Grand Prix. Donington is a far better curcuit to spectate at than a flat airfield, last year I stood at Abbey Curve and struggled to see, at Donington if you stand at the top of the hugely spectaular Craner Craner curves you can see the majority of the curcuit. I believe after a few years this new Donington curcuit will become a classic and we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. So I am right behind Simon Gillet and Donington.

  21. That last paragraph there didnt fill me with confidence James…! This year, we really aren’t going back to Magny Cours…

    I think that was his point!

  22. Leo, we take a pretty close interest in this story, as you might imagine from a site with a focus on British motorsport, and your comment rang a bell with us.

    Hunting back through the pages and pages we have written over the last couple of weeks, we found the quote we wanted. Here it is, from Eddie Jordan, and it is almost certainly from the conversation you were quoting from:

    “Interesting to hear what Bernie Ecclestone had to say, that we would never go back to Silverstone, because that’s the clearest indication that we will be going back to Silverstone.

    “He’s the master of the curveball… he always works in reverse, everyone who has ever had to get money from him or plead with him knows the answer to that. I thought that was quite encouraging in some respects.

    “If he says it so emphatically… you know for sure it will happen.” Full piece here: http://tinyurl.com/dz2h9w

    Even if the finance sorts itself out, can the construction possibly be done on time? The goodwill recovered from the cancelled events – a major disincentive for people to invest in debentures? The transport strategy made to work?

    To many ifs. It needs to go back to Silverstone who, for all their cinderblock, hard plastic seats and dreadful burgers, at least have proved they know how to put the race on – in style, if last year was anything to go by. And this year is well on the way to selling out.

    Whereas Donington has literally proved that under Gillett’s management it couldn’t organise a p***-up at a rock festival (remember how they got done for selling booze to under-18s at Download?)

    Case closed.

  23. James says:

    I know, but for years we did keep going back, whereas it doesnt look like the case for Silverstone…

  24. monktonnik says:

    What about the thousands of jobs in F1 that are based in Britain, and the boost for the local economy when an F1 race is staged.

    On the face of it I can see your point, but it is not only the millionaires that benefit from F1, not to mention the fans.

    Also on a “green” footing they pretty much have to keep the British GP as I suspect it causes the least CO2 from air travel!

  25. James Allen says:

    I was there that day, Alistair, working in that very pit lane. In those days there was no pit lane speed limit and I, as a pit reporter for US network ESPN, was allowed to go wherever I wanted. But when someone pitted you had to get back against the garage wall, because they could be doing 120+ mph past you! You needed eyes in the back of your head. That was an unbelievable day. Senna was on another planet, but so was Rubens Barrichello who should have finished second in a Jordan but broke down a few laps from the finish. Prost made seven pit stops, as I recall. Senna made monkeys of almost everyone.

  26. Mattw says:

    And let’s not forgett Senna set fastest lap after driving through the pitlane!

    Possibly a unique achiement in F1

  27. Alistair Blevins says:

    I should have pointed out James that one of the videos of that day is part of the ESPN broadcast! You were interviewing Michael Schumacher about his early retirement.

    Didn’t Senna also set the fastest lap by virtue of him driving through the pit lane without stopping?

    It must have been mayhem.

  28. The Kitchen Cynic says:

    Did he break down? I thought the story was he’d run out of fuel because they’d underestimated the wastage that would apply due to the constant use of traction control in the wet.

    Rather like De Cesaris could have won in Spa the year before but they’d forgotten to top up the oil…

  29. rpaco says:

    Gordon Brown only ever handled political money, Bernie does it with real money.

  30. rpaco says:

    Phil
    “Classic catch-22.”
    Classic Bernie!

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