Donington Park, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and the British Grand Prix

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British Grand Prix, start, 2002, Silverstone, 470150

Earlier this month Bernie Ecclestone announced Donington Park will host the British Grand Prix from 2010 instead of Silverstone.

In July 1999 Bernie Ecclestone announced Brands Hatch would host the British Grand Prix from 2002 instead of Silverstone. But that never came to be – the race stayed at Silverstone.

So what happened? And can it tell us anything about the proposed 2010 British Grand Prix at Donington Park?

Foulston courts Silverstone

The announcement in May 1999 came after Ecclestone had met with Nicola Foulston, who at the time was chief executive of Brands Hatch Leisure. BHL owned the Kent circuit which last held the British Grand Prix in 1986.

Foulston had been trying since mid-1998 to purchase Silverstone from the British Racing Drivers’ Club but was facing competition for the circuit.

Foulston went to Ecclestone and told him the circuit owners had received offers from potential buyers. This apparently angered Ecclestone as the circuit’s contract to hold the British Grand Prix included break clauses in the event of the track being sold. He felt that, as the organiser of one of the track’s biggest races, he should have been consulted on any potential change, even at such an early stage.

The pair agreed on a new British Grand Prix contract which held that Silverstone would only continue to hold the Grand Prix after the end of its existing deal if Foulston purchased the track.

Brands Hatch claims the race

Foulston continued to apply pressure to Silverstone but, having failed to agree terms for her to purchase the track, she returned to Ecclestone in May 1999 to strike a new deal: giving her the option of moving the Grand Prix to Brands Hatch in 2002 if she couldn’t acquire Silverstone.

With Silverstone still unwilling to sell to Foulston she began to prepare Brands Hatch for the Grand Prix it was supposed to hold in a little over 24 months – exactly the same time frame Donington’s owners face today.

But Foulston did not intend to stick around that long. As she explained in Chas Parker’s recent book on Brands Hatch:

I had a plan almost from the beginning. My father died at 40 in a racing car* after building up his own business and, when I started working and went to Brands Hatch, I had very much a plan that I wouldn’t work for my whole life in the same way. I didn’t necessarily have the plan that I would do what I have done, which is to retire and have a family and live abroad. But I was worried about getting stuck in a rut.

In December 1999 she sold BHL to Octagon, a sub-division of InterPublic Group, one of the world’s largest advertising and marketing groups, for ??120m. The valuation of the company was boosted considerably by the expectation that it would hold the Grand Prix from 2002. She earned ??50m from the sale and resigned one month later – aged 33.

Planning problems

Brands Hatch’s efforts to perform the necessary upgrades quickly ran into problems. A planning application was submitted in June 2000 for the development work but in September the British government made it the subject of a public inquiry because of the scale of the work. A date for the inquiry was fixed for January 2001.

While Octagon put a brave face on the Brands Hatch delays, behind the scenes they were looking for alternatives – including buying Donington Park and putting the race on there. It was hoped it would cost far less to bring Donington up to Grand Prix standards than Brands Hatch – the figures put about at the time were ??20m versus ??40m.

But Octagon decided neither option was realistic and instead approached the BRDC. In an agreement brokered by Ecclestone, Octagon took out a lease from the BRDC to manage Silverstone, keeping the British Grand Prix at the circuit.

2010 Donington Park Grand Prix?

If nothing else, the episode serves as a reminder that two years is a very long time in Formula 1. Donington Park has a huge amount of work to complete between now and 2010 and simply getting planning permission could prove very difficult.

The amount of money Donington needs to hold the 2010 race is believe to be around $100m and it’s not clear how that will be raised. There is talk of a debenture (fixed loan) scheme and rumours of a mystery investor – who may or may not be Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

But given the recent history of the British Grand Prix, it is not too great a surprise that claims the race will switch venues are being greeted with scepticism. After all, Ecclestone has said for the past two years that F1 wouldn’t return to Magny-Cours again, and it keeps going back…

*Ironically, at Silverstone.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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12 comments on “Donington Park, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and the British Grand Prix”

  1. Just a point – it’s InterPublic, not Pubic :)

  2. after such a well written article… nice insight… then I laugh like a fat cat with a cigar.

    Right so the reason Bernie doesn’t like Silverstone is because they went behind his back?.

  3. Am suitably embarrassed. Fixed the typo!

  4. I think this is Bernie getting his own back on the BRDC (did they kick him out early on for not winning races or something?)
    It seems that he wants the British GP at Silverstone, but not with BRDC running it. Since BHL failed to buy the circuit during the last contract, he might be hoping that the Donnington people will give up trying to meet their deadline (maybe sometime next year), and they will approach BRDC with whats left of $100m to buy the circuit or run the race…..
    I know I am probably seeing shadows, but given that Brands Hatch had trouble raising the funds, and the BRDC always have trouble, have Donnington taken on more than they can handle? And is $100m sufficient to need a new public enqury?
    Also, it does seem strange that up to this year’s GP, Bernie was going for a London venue – does this mean that he has given up on it, or not found a backer, or is going to turn round next year and say ‘Silverstone isn’t good enough, Donnington isn’t good enough, Brands Hatch isn’t good enough, I want a new London circuit’?

  5. Well with Boris now in charge as the London Mayor and not Ken Livingstone I’m suprised that Bernie hasn’t approached in public unless the answer is still “no”.

  6. There’s all kinds of rumours about why Ecclestone and the BRDC don’t get on. He sees them as a bit of an old boys’ network and they certainly don’t have his business acumen. Apparently once when he visited them to present a business plan one stood up and demanded to know of him “how do we know we can trust you?” which he was offended by and left. Makes me think of that bit in “There Will Be Blood”…

  7. Let’s just hope there IS a British GP..

  8. I’m sure Bernie has a varity of non-performance clauses in the Donnington contract. Plus, I understand he got an upfront payment of something like 50 million…I’m not sure if it was dollars or pounds. So it would appear that no matter what happens, Bernie comes out ahead…no suprise…and the UK may end up with no F1 race.

  9. I think Bernie has spotted a mug running Donington and knows they have not a hope of putting a race on in the timeframe. They will end up having to pay him the cost of their penalty clause and the race will return to Silverstone with the BRDC suitably chastened.

    There are a few interesting questions that arise from this situation.
    Who else has been given a ten year contract?
    Who is going to invest in a debenture when no-one actually believes there is going to be a race?
    How difficult is it going to be to get planning permission when part of the circuit is in Leicestershire and the rest in Derbyshire?
    How can you get all the helicopter flights in and out when the circuit is on the approach to East Midlands airport?

  10. And another thought about this, if Bernie is so adamantly against Magny-Cours because of its lack of hotels etc, why has he allowed the British GP to move away from Silverstone with its closeness to Brum etc, to far off Donnington which can only just cope with the BTCC these days!
    This, I feel, is a Bernie-ism of mega proportions. Someone needs to ask why he has different rules for different countries…..

  11. if bernie wants a london gp, surely investing in brands is the answer. all the airports, motorways and train stations (ebbsfleet included) are close and if they can get their own use slip road to the m20 for big race days the place has it all. spending $100m would improve the facilities and runoff areas.seems the only problem would be the local council, but apparently they have a very good relationship with the palmer regime these days.and bernie is a local boy.

    Anyone have any better pictures of the old Brands plan.

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