The Ben Evans column: Donington Park

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Strangely for a year that has been so political (again) most of the politicking has been going on off-track and has had little bearing on any of the races. Apart from the eeny-meeny-miny-mo approach to qualifying penalties.

At Silverstone last weekend the two major elements of political discussion were the proposed Formula Two category and the move of the British Grand Prix to Donington Park.

To those of a whiter heart than mine, both announcements suggest significant developments in the structure of European motorsport. However, there is an extremely large school of thought which believes that both announcements amount to little more than sabre rattling.

The F2 proposal I believe can be dealt with quickly. I spoke to an international level team principal about the plans for F2 and his response is unprintable. In short the view of the established motorsport teams (F3, WSR and GP2) is that F2 is nothing more than a posturing exercise and that as a result no team of any worth is investing any time or resource in putting together plans for an entry.

This is pretty damning for the FIA in that none of the international motorsports community is taking the announcement with anything more than bemusement and incredulity.

The move of the British Grand Prix to Donington Park has provoked an similarly split response. Bernie Ecclestone has made it clear for some time that the British Grand Prix will move from Silverstone (largely, I’m led to believe, because the BRDC wish to do business in a more conventional manner than Bernie would like), although his argument of inferior facilities looks a little weak in a year when two street circuits have been added to the calendar.

So, off to Donington it is. Or isn’t.

On one hand Donington is a great circuit, undulating a way that modern F1 tracks aren’t, and thanks to a spot of rain 15 years ago has already achieved legendary status on the eyes of many F1 fans.

However for many the most notable of Donington’s characteristics is that for any meeting with a larger attendance than two men and a dog getting out of the car park is the stuff of nightmares. Furthermore, I remember a couple of years ago the return of F1 to Donington being dismissed because there was insufficient run off. I agree, given the speeds of modern F1 cars, on certain corners an large accident would resemble a 747 going down at the neighbouring East Midlands Airport.

To get Donington Park into a Grand Prix-ready state for teams and fans alike an enormous amount of work must be completed. For there to be anything like a sensible level of access, I would say that a new exit from the M1 must be built providing fans with a dual carriageway direct from motorway to car park. At the last Moto GP some spectators were stuck in the car parks for five hours post-race.

The present scenario of motorway up to the last 5 miles of country roads is simply untenable, and many knowledgeable fans would vote with their feet – by putting them up on the settee at home.

For the teams a massive amount of run off remodelling needs to be completed. At the Old Hairpin for example F1 cars will be approaching at 160mph+ and are confronted with approx 10-15metres of gravel and a tyre wall. Not really enough. However to move that wall back will require the removal of an entire hill, and one of the best spectating points in world motorsport (See picture below).

For Donington Park both the access and the run-off are both massive projects and in my view simply impossible within a two year period. The investment required is enormous, and I don’t see the government dipping back into their pocket after the money that was spent on the A43 near Silverstone just six years ago. Equally, unless the circuit owners want to chuck money down a black hole then, under current FOM terms of business, there is no way of earning that outlay back.

It is for these reasons that many view the announcement of the move to Donington as nothing more than pontificating from Ecclestone, trying to force Silverstone into capitulation. This has happened before, back in 2000 with the announcement of Brands Hatch as the new home of the British Grand Prix.

Personally I think that there is more meat on it than that, but at the same time Silverstone remains the only F1-ready venue in the UK a scenario and that seems unlikely to change by 2010.

Ultimately the Donington announcement is good news as it demonstrates that F1 understands that Britain must have a Grand Prix, something which the industry and fans have recognised for some time. In the wider scheme of things whether the 2010 British Grand Prix is at Silverstone or Donington doesn’t really matter. The key is that one of motorsport’s heartlands is keeping its race while others are losing theirs.

Did you go to the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park? Share your experiences here.

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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12 comments on “The Ben Evans column: Donington Park”

  1. No comment, other than that is a superb photo of the hairpin!

  2. I got stuck in the car park for hours at the 2007 Renault World Series event. Seems to be a recurring theme.

  3. Download music festival took us nearly an hour to get out of the car park. We were literally parked 5-10 metres from the exit.

  4. On the F2 point, although it does have a degree of posturing and politicking, I do wonder if this is Max etc preparing for when Bernie takes full control of F1, since he will presumably be taking GP2 with him.
    Who owns the rights to the actual name ‘Formula One’? If its the FIA, then of course they will set up a new lead in series to go with it, and all the current F1 teams will have a big dilema when it comes to the split, and Bernies groups will have to change their names – and lose the fanbase….
    If Bernie owns the name, then he is sitting on a gold mine, and no wonder he wants to take it away from the FIA!

  5. Not that I want to be a pessimist, Ben, but let me play devil’s advocate here.

    Bernie DID say something to the effect of “Donington or bust.” If Donington can’t hold a British GP by 2010, then no one ever will (and that includes Silverstone, regardless of whether they’re ready or not).

    So what IF Donington isn’t ready by 2010? What next?

  6. Chris Johnson
    17th July 2008, 15:45

    Is there any outcry in England about the possibility of ruining a perfectly wonderful and historic circuit? It seems too big of a price to pay for an F1 race.

  7. Paul Sainsbury
    17th July 2008, 16:32

    I was also intending to go to the Renault World Series race in 2007. I didn’t even get as far as leaving the dual carriageway, we simply had to give up and go home, having spent 90 minutes inching forwards every few minutes. Luckily I was in a TVR and the sun was out but it was still an eye-opening experience, I think it is a real long-shot to think they can run a GP there in 2010. Maybe 2110……..?

  8. I’m already resigned to the fact that there will be no British GP in 2010.. Donnington has no hope of getting the facilities ready in less than two years, and Ecclestone has already said that Silverstone won’t stage it. If this happens, I wont be going to or watching any GP’s until its back in Britain…so there.

  9. A friend of mine jokingly said that going to a British event without having to queue for seemingly hours at some or several points (traffic, entrance gates, food, toilet, etc) is just not possible…

    (NB – its a joke folks, all be it poor one)

  10. Some really interesting points.

    I agree with everyone who says Donington won’t be ready – they really do need to build a new spur from the M1. Not to mention that there is a real risk of destroying the track’s character too – i.e. beautiful parkland circuit.

    No British GP 2010? That is the question

    The key thing about the British GP is that it is the commercial hub of the F1 year. Monaco is all about posturing, but Silverstone is where the big deals get done – between the teams and the industry, between the sponsors and the teams and between the sponsors and their clients.

    The majority of F1 sponsors if they don’t have UK head offices at least have significant representation here and should F1 walk away from Britain then I think many sponsors would walk away from F1. For many F1 sponsors races in Bahrain, Malaysia and even Brazil mean very little and are impossible to entertain staff at.

    The BRDC and FOM are engaged in a game of dare. The BRDC are refusing to move because the terms of business being offered (allegedly involving a substantial sum up front) are hugely inequitable and are effectively holding the BRDC to ransom, forcing them into a loss making business arrangement. As a result the BRDC are the only organisers to date to hold strong and say ‘no’ (largely because the government won’t underwrite the losses). The arguments around facilities etc are a very distance second, the bottom line is that the BRDC won’t give Bernie the money he wants because it would destroy their bottom line.

    So what to do? As outlined above no British GP would damage the sport enormously, the UK remains motorsports commercial heartland and that is unlikely to change in two years. No British GP would see a lot of personnel, sponsors and suppliers go elsewhere and the damage to F1 would be severe.

    Given the sums of money currently in F1 the most common sense approach would be to host one race that does not make FOM an astronomical sum, but that would keep F1’s business wheels turning nicely.

    25 years ago Long Beach were put in a similar position and walked away, effectively destroying F1’s US profile for two decades, to do the same in the UK would be far more damaging given the sport’s current market saturation

  11. Nice assessment. Donington will not be ready and certainly could not turn a profit – even track advertising revenues go back to the Gnome.

    Heartily agree with the business heartland spin, but given global advertising and TV income, suspect Bernie WILL play hardball and there will be no British GP after next year. The industry will have to move on and do it’s wining and dining elsewhere – no a huge hardship given the budgets involved and the global nature of the organisations who make up their client base.

    Ugly truth is F1 has long since become a cash-cow, BRDC and the British government are quite right in not agreeing to further bankroll this.

    Will F1 lose fans over this? Not many I suspect. The very nature of multimedia access to this sport is way beyond any other at present. Live timing and web video feeds will continue to advance. How long before we are watching from our computers, selecting which driver to ride onboard with and commentary to plug into. No, I suspect F1 will probably continue to increase its global fan base through technical advancement.

  12. Quite clearly something will have to be done to upgrade the A453, i.e. dualling it, both for the race course and the airport.
    What does seem amazing is that the A453 was the original road but the A42 was put in place as the link to the M1, byepassing the airport and the race track !
    The Government found the money for the Silverstone byepass. Now lets see if they are prepared to cough up again (even though this is now in the Midlands !).

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