FEBRUARY 11, 2009

Beating up Donington Park

The Formula 1 media seems to have it in for Donington Park, although it is really not clear why this would be. Silverstone has long been the home of the British Grand Prix and while people are used to going there, it is not THAT special a place. It is not as bad as some in F1 would have you believe, but nor is it a truly world class venue. It is just Silverstone. Part of life in modern F1.

Donington is a place that F1 visited once, back in 1993. We all got very wet but we did get to see Ayrton Senna drive one of the greatest laps in the history of the sport. And we had the excitement of Rubens Barrichello running as high as second in only his third F1 start.

Most of those being negative about Donington were not there in 1993 and thus it is hard to understand why the circuit is coming in for such criticism. Bernie Ecclestone seems to think it is a serious operation. So does Max Mosley. So do the local planning authorities in Leicestershire. Even Silverstone seems to have accepted that Donington can host the British Grand Prix in 2010. The local community seems to be quite excited about the idea. The media is not. There are stories of debts, mortgages, legal actions and so on. Work has been going on for some time to build a 70-ft tunnel under the existing circuit which will allow the other construction work to go ahead without disrupting the daily activities of the circuit. If all goes to plan (and the weather does not cause too much disruption) the circuit will be open for testing soon. The majority of the work that is planned is off-track, while new sections of road will be built to complete the new layout - and create two circuits which can be used independently and thus can generate more income.

The major problem seems to be that the circuit has given few details about how it will all be funded but one must presume that two years of preparation were not spent without Simon Gillett and his supporters looking at the figures involved. His public relations policy is to avoid an all-singing, all-dancing presentation about how wonderful Donington is going to be as that would have opened the way for disappointment. Gillett's attitude is that he will prove the doubters wrong with solid achievement and thus build up the credibility in the programme as it goes on. He said he would get planning permission. He has. He said work would begin and it has. The next step is to give more details about funding. He says he will do this next month. After we have seen the numbers we can decide whether or not the project sounds serious.

There is no doubt that he does not yet have all the money that is needed and there is a recession which is making life difficult. Perhaps there are cash-flow problems - most businesses have them at one time or another. Perhaps some elements of the rebuilding programme will have to wait a while. But the funding seems to be in place to do the important work to ensure that F1 can race in Leicestershire. The philosophy that attracted his backers to Donington is unchanged. The venue aims to be a centre for events of all kinds and will use the new facilities throughout the year rather than just on a Grand Prix weekend. This is the correct attitude for modern racing facilities, rather than hoping that governments will come to the rescue.