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Why Donington might well work
Why Donington might well work
Posted By:   |  04 Jan 2009   |  7:43 am GMT  |  13 comments

This is a big week for Donington and its bid to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 onwards.

On Thursday Simon Gillett and his team will learn whether the planning application they have submitted to develop the track has been approved by the local council. It was at the planning stage a few years back, if you recall, that the Brands Hatch bid to host the Grand Prix fell apart and they had to go, cap in hand, back to Silverstone.

Gillett is confident that the same fate will not befall him. He was at the F1 Business Forum in Monaco last month. He cut a slightly odd figure in those circles, very much a wheeler dealer Geezer, with square jaw and stubble, among the studious Continental marketeers in muted suits.

He’s had to weather a lot of scepticism and has not had much to say about the Donington project publicly because it is waiting for the planning decision. If and when that goes through, he will have a lot more to say. Many people are sceptical about Donington’s chances of being ready in time for a Grand Prix in Summer 2010, but I spoke to Gillett at length in Monaco and he said that everything is pointing in the right direction.

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Hi James,

Thanks for the article. As a British F1 fan I have been keeping a close eye on news from Donington - but there has been very little of it so far.

Since the summer I have been stunned by negative and sceptical attitude of both the press and F1 fans in the UK so far. I agree it all seems rather ambitious, updating Silverstone is the more obvious choice, but that opportunity has now passed.

You have to assume that anyone who is confident enough to sign a contract with Bernie Ecclestone must at least have a plan. And as much as Bernie has complained about Silverstone, surely he has no business interest in Donington failing – especially at a time when other circuits are pulling out of F1.

There are bound to be some teething problems – especially with transport to the circuit, but will it be a disaster? I say let’s wait and see. Let’s not wallow in that big puddle of British self-defeatism until we need to!


I will be stunned if all this goes ahead.

The planning permission required is monumental, this for a circuit which has zero infrastructure surrounding it i.e. access roads and hotels. The idea of busing people in is unwelcoming in the least (I wouldn't do it), then you have this idiot Bernie pulling the strings with the possibility of taking everything away if he doesn't like the quality of the public loo's.

James, why is it that with all the money saving schemes being brought up and supposedly implemented by the teams and threats by the FIA, why are the circuit owners not being helped? The fee's charged by Bernie make the circuit bosses totally unable to make a penny, only government intervention allowing them to scrape by. Shouldn't the FIA be forcing Bernie to charge less for holding the races? Am I missing something here?

Thanks for your insightful blog. I look forward to a reply of sorts.


"And given that he also claims to have negotiated very good terms with Bernie for the five years, in other words he’s got the race on the cheap, you can see why he was looking quite pleased with himself at the Forum."

I would be interested to learn more about that "he's got the race on the cheap" . What does it mean "on the cheap" in staging the F1 terms. Then - if Donington guys manage to get it on cheap why can't the others do the same ? Why while some events are priced out of the calendar some new ones can get it "on the cheap" ? Is there any logic or it is a simple matter of Ecclestone's mercy ?


Hey James

Very interesting article. I have just started writing myself and your work in particular along with Mark Huges is a real inspiration to my own writing on F1. I didn't realise you had a blog so I look forward to visiting regularly to read your work.

In my opinion I don't really see what was wrong with the race being at Silverstone. The facilities are far from perfect but they are far better than places like Interagos facilities wise. Plus Silverstone is a great track.

However I do love Donington as well having been there a few times. I wish the owners the best of luck.

A lot of work needs to be done but it has great potential. I would be very happy to go and watch F1 there. I think as a spectator track it has better vantage points than Silverstone, which is a bit too flat.

There are a hell of alot of big hurdles for Donington to jump over. Traffic will be a major issue. I can't see all the fans arriving to the track on bus. Air traffic is another issue along with having all the upgrades ready on time. There is no chance East Midlands will close for the weekend. Would the team radios interfer with air traffic control at East Midlands. Thats a potentially deadly situation so hopefully they investigate whether there would be interference.

What if Donny isnt ready on time? Will Bernie still let the race go ahead, would the track get a 1 year reprieve until it is ready? Or would Bernie pull the plug altogether? I hope not.

I want Donington to work but I fear it may be a long and bumpy ride. At least it looks like planning permission is likely. Thats a start but its a start of a very long journey which wont be at all easy.

Are you going to the autosport show this weekend James? I have been writing about F1 since June and have managed to get press passes for the event which is very exciting albeit a little daunting.

If you have time to give a young aspiring journalist some advice on how to approach covering the show it would be much appreciated.

Daniel Chalmers (danielchalmersdc@hotmail.co.uk)



I cant see the air traffic control interfering with team radios, remember Silverstone becomes the busiest airport in Europe for the weekend and the team comms cope with that ok. However the actual airspace clash with E Midlands and the approaches might restrict the number of helicopters able to land inside the track bounds. Cant see Flav, uncle Ron etc electing to walk from the airport.

It is a very nice "swoopy" circuit with a great mixture of bends, and some good viewing places that allow you to see half the track. I have fond memories of BTCC there and dealer track days many years ago with Saab, BMW and Alfa. (the last in the rain with expected results)

I think the real reason for change is that Bernie could not wring any more dosh from Damon and the BRDC. It is fairly obvious that the money always comes first and not the good of the sport.

How typical after all that money spent on the new access to Silverstone, new motorway junctions etc. As soon as they are completed he switches to Donington

There have to be major changes in the money flow in future. Now that Bernie is staying married to half his fortune he can afford to be a lot more generous to the circuits and actually provide major investment capital.


I'm sorry James, but I cant share your optimism. The track has so much work to do in less than 18 months, its insanity.

The track has to be extended (and one would assume completely resurfaced), a new pit complex is needed and it is still yet to recieve planning permission? All of this by June/July of next year? If we were in the Middle or Far East this would be possible, but I cant see it being so in this country.

I dont think that this can be acheived in this country, particuarly when we cast our minds back to how long Wembley Stadium took to build. Brilliant stadium once finally opened, and I know there are some differing issues, but I'm more than sure that Donnington will be overbudget and overdue just like Wembley was.

What, to my mind, will make Donnington more of a travesty is the fact that only public transport shall be allowed to drive to the circuit as well as the limited amount of air traffic on the weekend. Some of the wealthy celebs and business figures rely on cars and helicopters to get to races so they can secure deals and give more funding to the race/sport.

I cant see why Bernie would believe Donnington would be a better option than Silverstone?

Silverstone has everything there. The facilities may not compare to those in Bahrain, China or what will be in Abu Dhabi, but they're far better than those in Brazil and Magny-Cours. I'm sure if given a couple more years, Silverstone would have easily sealed the funding required, particuarly now that Lewis Hamilton has burst onto the scene and revived support British motorsport.

Maybe I'm being to cynical, but surely Donnington is not going to happen?


The only winners here are the BRDC and Silverstone. They had the brains to realize and state that Bernie was asking for far too much money. Business IS business and if Silverstone can only lose money from holding the British GP then what is the point?
Well done BRDC and Silverstone for standing up to Bernie.

In the future, F1 can only survive if:

The circuit owners
The Teams

ALL share the profits.

Shame on you also Max Mosley for not standing up for the rights of the circuit owners and promoters.


> I cant see the air traffic control interfering with team radios, remember Silverstone becomes the busiest airport in Europe for the weekend and the team comms cope with that ok.

Not absolutely 100 per cent sure about this but I think an important difference may be the respective sizes of the airports. East Midlands offers all kinds of international destinations and summer charters, and operates on a much larger scale than Oxford/Kidlington. That airport says: "[Our] primary users are pilot training schools (80-90% of traffic), recreational general aviation, business, private and utility helicopters and business aviation, consisting of air taxis, chartered and private jets and turboprops." Also I think EMA is quite a bit closer to Donington than Kidlington is to Silverstone.

The issue, raised by Ted Kravitz on the ITV F1 website, was whether the radar would interfere with the television broadcast of the race - a question James should also be in a good position to answer...


at the moment, i'm going to be amazed if this goes ahead. firstly in terms of the work, it's tight. there's just too much to do. then donny have asked that the airport close down for the race weekend (which they won't). people won't bother coming after the first year due to inadequate support infrastructure.

bernie isn't going to ask silverstone to come back - that will be it for a UK race, a place where more than half the cars are made. instead he takes his corporate entertainment circus on to ludicrous places like india and russia (which will quickly turn into empty stadium races as per china, bahrain and malaysia). he gets his fees, regardless of the fact that he's further poisoning F1. i just hope it can recover after he and max move on.


I'm not sure about Donnington either, mostly because Silverstone works so why change it?

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say why not have two races in England?

Silverstone and Donnington would both be sell outs (unlike some of the other European races) and would be better races than the two held in Spain last year (I've only just woken up after the race around the docks in Valencia).

On top of this, I'd like to see F1 go north too to Scandanavia. Considering the amount of talented champions it has produced over the years in all forms of motorsport, I think it would be fitting.


Ah no, the point I was making was that Silverstone "itself" becomes the busiest airport in Europe for the weekend, you cant get much closer than that.

True you only get small planes and all sizes of helicopters there and maybe the larger commercial planes use different frequencies but EMC is fundamental part of any electrical system design. Any comms engineer would be shot if he produced a system affected by well known and expected frequencies.

In fact EMC may come to the fore this year with electrical KERS systems generating high voltages which when switched will produce some very exciting back emfs of huge size. (I suspect that teams will go for high voltage rather than current simply on the grounds of weight saving) However it may well be that a high current is required for the "power boost" given by KERS, in which case a further lot of switching/transforming will occur. In the old days you did this by switching banks of capacitors from series to parallel, but who knows what they have now with lithium technology.
Sorry, for anyone who has not been infected by the motor components or systems industry, EMC= Electro Magnetic Compatibility. This comes in two parts:
1) The component you are supplying must remain unaffected by a range of both radiated and injected frequencies and pulses, which it may be subject to when in use.
2) It must not emit either by radiation or injection back into the harness a range of frequencies voltages or pulses above a certain level which commonly may well be zero.

Motor manufacturers all have their own standards to which you must comply.

In case there is anyone from a certain company reading, they may remember an example of a clock which was affected by the pulse/spark created by a cheapo ignition switch. When the ignition switch was turned from one position to another, the clock leapt ten minutes forward. This is a very basic but true example of EMC not being correct.

I live very close to a very lively military airfield which has in the past been involved in TV filming of a motoring programme,true this was not transmitted live, but the cameras still had to transmit back to the van and then to bbc. The radar was definitely on as there were aircraft involved in the item, still again I suppose the frequencies are different. The days of BMWs coming to a halt near military installations are over. (somehow everything was more fun in those days) That's all to do with EMC and yes I am incredibly old.


Its not about "sport" anymore. It comes right down to the old saying: money talks and bs walks.


1) Donington has more hotels near it than Silverstone does (benefit of having an international airport on its door step).
2) Donington has better road access once you get 1,000m from it than Silverstone does.
3) There have been plans in place for ages that calls for a bye-pass of Castle Donington which would join the circuit directly to the A50 with a dual carriageway which would make the initial 1,000m the same as Silverstone.
4) Donington has 4 roads running out of it now which fan out into 3 major roads (M1, M42, A50), Silverstone only has 3, and one of those re-joins the A43.
5) Helicopter traffic can easily land on the circuits land whilst the airport is fully operational, and planes can land at the airport - EMA is nothing like as busy as places like Heathrow etc. There are loads of free landing slots given planning permission, especially at the weekend.
6) There are 3 cities within 20 minutes of Donington Park, with subsequent rail / transport links (not to mention rail stations at Long Eaton and Loughborough).
7) The airport opens up a Grand Prix weekend to anyone in Europe, they can land then walk to the circuit! (just about lol).
8) The circuit doesn't need re-surfacing, that was done a about 3 years ago, the new works just need blending in.

The only question is money, and the thought process behind taking all this on. Is it a mans dream, a scheme to get the lands planning status changed for future housing development or another Foulston style con for a quick buck - I dont know but in my opinion money is the only question mark in all this...

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