More bad news from Donington

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Simulation of Donington Park's track in 2010 - will it ever become reality?
Simulation of Donington Park's track in 2010 - will it ever become reality?

Donington Park has had plenty of problems in recent weeks with several races being cancelled. This was because of building work in preparation for the 2010 British Grand Prix encroaching on the circuit?s run-off area.

Now circuit owner Tom Walkinshaw is suing the track operators for ??2.47m in unpaid rent. And the company?s plans for a debenture scheme to finance the race have still not been announced.

When I spoke to promoter Simon Gillett in January he was in a confident mood, having secured the approval from Leicestershire Council to go ahead with building work:

You may have noticed I?ve not said an awful lot until the press until now. That?s because we?ve been thinking about delivery. I?m talking now because I?ve delivered something. I?ll go back into my little box now and you?ll hear from me at the end of March when I say ??here?s the debenture scheme, here?s what it?s going to cost, here?s what you get? and then I?ll get back on with delivering again.

We are now in late April and still nothing has been announced. Rumours persist that one of the banks behind the scheme have withdrawn their support which, given the state of the economy, would hardly be a surprise.

No help from Ecclestone ?ǣ or the government

Bernie Ecclestone has said the event will get no leeway and will not allow the race to remain at Silverstone. Given the recent axing of the French and Canadian Grands Prix it wouldn?t be surprising in the slightest if he let another of F1?s great, historic events die.

He is adamant the race should receive government money, as happens with almost every other race. Perhaps his latest words on the subject were timed to coincide with Lord Astor of Hever asking the House of Lords earlier today whether the government will invest in Britain’s round of the world championship.

The British government has given generously to other events, spending ??9.3bn (??10.43bn/$13.61bn) on the 2012 Olympics (which, since the onset of the recession, now admits it can ill-afford) and ??750m (??841m/$1.09bn) on a football pitch.

But it is unwilling to put money into F1. Perhaps it is still scarred by its early association with Ecclestone, when the Labour government?s post-election honeymoon in 1997 was tainted by the accusation that it accepted ??1m from him to drop its opposition to tobacco advertising.

Alternatively, maybe it does what the rest of us do: which is look at the enormous sums demanded by Ecclestone, and how little the circuits get in return, and conclude it?s a poor deal.

I’m conflicted about whether the government should step in to support the British Grand Prix. On a purely principled level I’m against it – there are far more important things for the government to spend its money on.

But in the context of the gigantic sums spent on other sports for doubtful gain, a few hundred million towards a proper Grand Prix venue and a race contract, given the importance of the UK motor racing industry, seems a rather more sensible investment than a ??750 pitch you (apparently) can’t play football on.

I?ve got my ticket for Silverstone this year. But I?m increasingly worried I won?t have a British Grand Prix to go to in 2010.

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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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43 comments on “More bad news from Donington”

  1. Sod it

    Lets stay @ Silverstone…

  2. Don’t forget, Wembley is also a concert venue which attracts international musicians to perform large-scale gigs that attract people from around the world to London.
    It’s a more attractive prospect to sink your money into than a racetrack that will probably never make a profit.

    2012 is another event that will attract large international audiences to the UK and will at least appear to leave some sort of legacy (development in crappy parts of London for example). So you can just about see the justification in that as well (even though it’s an insane amount of money to spend at a time like this).

    F1 is just a black hole for money, and as long as Bernie’s in charge it’ll stay that way.
    So in that sense I can completely understand why the government want to stay well clear of that uncooperative, greedy dwarf.

    1. Don’t forget, Wembley is also a concert venue which attracts international musicians to perform large-scale gigs that attract people from around the world to London.

      Isn’t that part of the reason why the pitch keeps falling apart?

      I understand the Race of Champions if off to Beijing this year after a couple of event in London. I wonder if Wembley wasn’t a bit glad to see the back of them given their pitch problems – tarmacking over it can’t do it much good.

    2. I think you’ll find Donington is also a very popular music festival venue too, and holds several high profile events over the year. So when it comes to that issue, I can’t see the difference.

    3. F1 is just a black hole for money, and as long as Bernie’s in charge it’ll stay that way.
      So in that sense I can completely understand why the government want to stay well clear of that uncooperative, greedy dwarf.

      sometimes the obvious needs to be said out loud. thank you.

    4. This is no problem for Bernie. He will just take the GP to North Korea or somewhere in Arabia. More money and less discussions.

  3. Eduardo Colombi
    23rd April 2009, 21:49

    Donington will never be forgot by me because there happened the best first lap of the history of the Formula 1 when the best driver of all times overtook Wedlinger, Hill,than finally professor Prost to complete the first lap as the leader of the race.

  4. It will be a sad day when there is no Formula 1 races in North America,France and Britain…..and we are almost there.

    1. Indeed- common sense would say that, with the possible exception of Italy, no nation more deserves a GP date than Britain. Everything involved with F1- history, jobs, fanbse- is pretty much led by the good people of the UK.

      OF course Bernie- who happens to be among the population of those good people- was never very high on common sense anyway.

  5. Donington is owned by Tom Wheatcroft, not Walkinshaw!

    1. *nudging Keith* indeed. Walkinshaw is the first person involved with F1 that I consider totally disreputable, before Bernie, Max and Flavio later joined him in the Unholy Pantheon…

  6. Ecclestone is wrecking F1. He may have created modern F1 with Mosley, but what he is doing to F1 now, in the middle of worst financial crisis in memory, is destroying forever the vital origins of our fantastic sport. He does not care about the heritage. He does not care that he could be wrecking the lives and jobs of thousands of first class people who work in the F1 industry which is almost totally based in UK.

    All he cares about is bleeding the life blood out of F1 wherever and however he can. And he doesn’t give a damn about the damage he is doing.

  7. Bigbadderboom
    23rd April 2009, 22:32

    I’m not suprised, it was always going to be touch and go. I can’t see Donnington happening. Bernie is only interested in the mighty buck. We now face no F1 in the americas, no France, no Canada and now no British GP, this proves Mr Ecclestone is only interested in short term returns and despite his fantastic collection of historic cars, he holds no respect for the real history of F1.

    With McLarens sponsors threatening withdrawel from F1 if Mclarens punishment is “Disproportionate ” for the liar gate scandal, I get the feelig the last nails are being hammered in the british F1 fans coffin.

  8. i’m amazed ecclestone won’t at least help the cause of the British gp just a little bit. the extra tv audience in this country alone must be worth a few quid for him, and, after last year’s race, it will be considered one of the flagship events (i know rain helped; some of the silverstone gps have been pretty dull on the current track configuration) by international audiences too.

    1. Indeed, but when Damon Hill and the BRDC were 100% correct in not forking over the millions more to Bernie and his investment partners, the many positive aspects of the race went down the drain in the FOM offices.

      At the end of the day, all that matters to Bernie and CVC is how many numbers are on the check they get to stage the event. That’s why the future of China and Malaysia are never in doubt, while a passion-filled event like the British GP is in danger.

  9. The little old man never wanted or intended to keep the British GP, it was quite obvious.

    Now he’s got his way.

    1. Indeed, and seeing the Union Flag on your avitar reminds me of that fact that even his British patriotism won’t prevent Bernie from making sure there is a race in his homeland. For me, I support many sporting ventures that have American participation, even if I don’t follow the sport. I am always happy to hear about how much the MotoGP crowd loves the Laguna Seca race, and even though I don’t really like golf, I went crazy when the U.S. won the Ryder Cup last year.

      You would think that Bernie, even from a perspective of professional pride, would feel the same. Sadly, that is not the case.

  10. I’ve always hoped Ecclestones comments on the loss of the British GP are just shock tactics to get the circuits to get their act together.

    I do wish it would stay at Silverstone though, there is always fantastic racing there, the flowing high speed corners are amazing to watch the cars fly around, though I’ve never been to the GP itself unfortunately and evidently won’t get chance now.

    Silverstone was one of the best tracks to race on the Formula 1 97 Playstation game too, the only corner I don’t like is Vale, I’ve never been able to get the braking and turn in consistently correct there – and the AL cars always seem to go slow into there so it’s always tempting to go up the inside into the corner but then they just shut the door on you… you could never have the damage switched on for F197 as you’d be losing the nose every other lap!
    Anyone else still play F197?

    1. I haven’t played it for a long time as I no longer own a PlayStation, but it was my favourite F1 game for a long long time. Then GP3 and GP4 came along… but they didn’t have the commentry like F197 did. I liked it when Murray would be reading out the top 6 positions, and you overtook someone in the top 6, he would stop and correct himself. ‘errrr… no, now Hill is 4th’

  11. And yet race start times are adjusted to please European audiences.

  12. I think Bernie Ecclestone’s now infamous words that ‘if Europe does not wake up, in a few years it will be a third world economy’ are ringing in my ears.
    The investment in European circuits, not just England, in recent years has been diabolical. The only ‘new’ circuit was Valencia last year, when the only visually stunning aspect was the pits being set up in an old warehouse.
    We have, up until this point lost Estoril, Imola, the A1 Ring, Magny Cours, Hockenheim (for the forseeable future), and Silverstone. The true reality is that the European races now only make up half of the Formula One schedule.
    Factor in the locations of the newest circuits. For all of its glitz and glamour, the Singapore circuit is only a short distance from Sepang. Sepang in recent years has witnessed a dramatic drop in F1 race attendance. The same goes for the upcoming Bahrain Gp at Manama, roughly 100 miles away from this seasons finale at Yas Island.
    If you have two, new circuits struggling to put bums on seats, why build two newer circuits on their doorstep when demand on obviously limited?
    As for Donington, we must remain positive, although the circuits future does indeed look bleak. Lets not forget that three months ago we ‘ALL’ believed that Honda and their current F1 drivers were all doomed to an
    early retirement, and now they lead the constructors championship. Anything is possible!
    In the world of Mr Ecclestone, he loves his bucks to flow faster to him than his cars. As soon as he unveils one new circuit, a new one is built and the other forgotten. When the redesigned Hockenheimring was opened seven years ago, it was supposed to secure the circuits future in F1. Now the circuit faces bankruptcy.
    That, to me, is a warning to the owners if Yas Island and anyother circuit owner willing to risk his or her billions swimming with the sharks. For today ones friend maywell be ones enemy tomorrow. There a few
    enterprises quite so ruthless and two faced as Formula One.

    1. I can’t agree more bud- assuming you are writing from Europe, we feel your pain here on the other side of the Atlantic. Races with good venues and great crowds have been forced off the schedule in North America as well as Europe, and for all the good work done in the Middle East and Asia, things like passion, history, and the like can’t just be bought by those race organizers.

      What it all boils down to, in Bernie’s book, is money. If Silverstone, was willing to cave in to Bernie’s demands and shell out the big money, and even more for those facilities, we wouldn’t be discussing this. That’s why you see two circuits around 100 miles apart on the schedule, in a place without much of an existing appetite for motor racing. As long as the organizers in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi are willing to pay up, they have a place in the calendar, it’s as simple as that.

  13. So how dose this work? Mr E says you have to pay FIA this much to hose a GP. Dose the track get to keep all the ticket and so on fees or dose some of that go to the FIA to? As far as a Goverment chiping in for a race, that just seems crazy to me I would see that a big misues of funds by the USA and we would have fit about it. So if anyone knows the logistics let me know as I am unsure how this works?

    1. Jess,

      Allow me to offer a bit of insight. The commercial rights of Formula 1 are now owned by CVC Group- an investing company. Bernie, in effect acting as their agent, is in charge of negotiating and organizing all deals for Grands Prix around the world. The FIA is in charge of the sporting aspect of the sport- regulations and such- and has no commercial input, even though Max opens his mouth about it quite frequently.

      Bernie, in his quest to make as much money as possible for CVC Group, demands big money from venues in order to host an F1 race. In recent years the prices have skyrocketed, to the point where most venues willing to pay do so with substantial government assistance. That’s why you see GPs that were promoted by private groups, such as the circuits themselves or the national auto clubs, disappearing in favor of government-backed ventures in places you’ve never heard of.

      What makes life difficult for the circuits is not so much the hefty fee, but that fact that Bernie demands all the revenue from resources normally used to pay the fee, such as trackside advertising and hospitality suites/luxury boxes. Not only dose his company collect all the money from those outlets, but those funds don’t count towards the race fee he charges. That leaves only ticket sales and title sponsorship to make up the difference.

      In the case of Silverstone, the BRDC cannot simply write a check for the massive fees Bernie demands. In addition, Bernie demands massive and modern facilities at these circuits- mostly to look good on TV and therefore increase viewership numbers- and he has long been critical of Silverstone in this fashion.

      All in all, it adds up to a business model that makes no sense to any race promoter or venue that is looking for even a slim profit for the event. The BRDC is just another of many GP organizers who, going back many decades, have either been forced off the F1 schedule or have left voluntarily, rather than deal with Bernie’s demands. At the same time, you see nations in Asia and the Middle East that pay directly out of the taxpayers pockets in order to get a GP date- they perhaps view it as a poor man’s Olympics of sorts, as a means to bring international exposure to their nations. As an American I would not want any of my tax dollars going to Bernie or CVC Group- he should cut places like Britian and America (among others) a break, but that’s very unlikely to happen.

      I hope this helps- sorry if I’ve taken up too much space Keith!

  14. Bernification
    24th April 2009, 6:25

    The thing I’m surprised about here is everyones surprise.

    Did anyone think this was really going to happen? Bernie knew exactly what he was doing here. Gillets plans looked sketchy to say the least, downright inadequate in reality.

    Bernie has got himself the perfect get out. At a time when F1 is getting larger audiences, he has been seen to give F1 a (snowball in hells) chance at surviving in the UK.

    Now he is free to tout the freed up date to the highest bidder.

    The man has to go.

  15. Sure enough, Ecclestone’s had another go at the government today: Ecclestone: Government inaction a disgrace.

    He really is quite transparent, isn’t he?

  16. I was looking at the 2010 F1 season Wiki page the other day, and it was interesting that there were in total 24 venues touting for a race, I think 16 of those were confirmed.

    Of course the season can’t conceivably accommodate all of those races, so some will have to make way. Looks like we found the race most likely to be jettisoned for South Korea or India then.

    Nice one Bernie.

  17. Donington may yet host the British Gp. But from the onset, I always had a feeling, Bernie was just setting things up to move the GP out of Britain. He can get more money else where and there are several new countries with readying tracks but no space on the calender.

  18. Exactly Pink Peril. Hosting the British Gp only makes Bernie poorer.

  19. HounslowBusGarage
    24th April 2009, 9:10

    Indeed, but when Damon Hill and the BRDC were 100% correct in not forking over the millions more to Bernie and his investment partners, the many positive aspects of the race went down the drain in the FOM offices.

    At the end of the day, all that matters to Bernie and CVC is how many numbers are on the check they get to stage the event. That’s why the future of China and Malaysia are never in doubt, while a passion-filled event like the British GP is in danger.

    I think that’s absolutely right, Gman. And in that situation it would be unwise of an unpopular British government, facing austerity, to pay for the Grand Prix and see taxpayer’s money go to the feed Bernie’s apparent greed. Political suicide.

  20. The trouble is that quite a few of the places that hoped for a Grand Prix are facing the bite of the economy and having to scale back on F1 plans. India, for instance, won’t be having a Grand Prix until 2011 at the earliest.

    If Bernie is doing this as a ploy to get a new circuit on the calender, he may find that no such circuit is available when the time comes for him to make the replacement, especially since mid-2010 could well be the turning point of the recession.

  21. a £750 pitch you (apparently) can’t play football on

    I guess that’s a few boxes of Evergreen Complete and lawn mower then?

    Given the technology and industry supporting F1 in Britain, then I believe the government should put some money up front for the GP.
    It’s not just the teams based in Britain but all the other businesses here that supply and support those teams. It’s an advert for technical excellence that attracts other engineering opportunities too.

  22. The money that goes into the Olympics helps many sports not just one sport like it would be if government gets involved with F1 hosting fees which goes to line an individuals pocket.

  23. F1 is more about job creation and leading the pack in technical excellence.

    Olympics is purely sport. Yes, some technical excellence comes from the cycling team but I wonder if they would have this if Britain had no F1 teams? Just curious.

    Would F1 teams move to other countries if Britain loses it’s GP?
    Would other engineering projects gradually move out of Britain?
    Would the best engineers and technical minds follow the F1 teams?

    The UK Gov must not treat F1 as a sport but a business that brings in jobs and is at the pinnacle of engineering. Lose the home GP and lose the teams.

  24. Would it be so difficult for F1 to break with Bernie/Mosely etc. and start their own F1 series, possibly under the FOTA. It seems to me that Bernie has such a stangle hold over F1 that nothing will improve until their is a breakaway. What is stoping someone starting something?

  25. As a British Formula One fan I don’t want the British Grand Prix to be axed, however I don’t think the Government should step in and finance it.

    Even if the Government wanted to help the British Grand Prix the public finances are in such a mess that they couldn’t justify it. Even before the recession because of Formula One’s image as sport with so much money it would of being hard for the Government to help out, and that is ignoring the controversy about Ecclestone’s £1M donation to New Labour back in 1997.

    Ecclestone may criticize places like Silverstone for not upgrading their facilities but who can blame them when the business model Ecclestone imposes on the circuits mean they make a big loss from hosting a Grand Prix.

    When Donington announced they had secured the rights to host the British Grand Prix my worries were would they be able to get the alterations to the circuit done in time and how would they make any money on the race itself let alone enough to pay back the loans need for all the work done.

    Ecclestone discovered that countries that don’t have any historical connection with Formula One were prepared to pay millions in public money to build a circuit with state of the art facilities to host a race as they thought it would promote their city or country internationally.

    While argument may work in some places, you can’t say Britain, France or the US need promoting, the only case for Government subsidies in these countries is to help the local economy and again I don’t think this would wash with the electorate especially now.

    The problems can be traced back to how the money in F1 is distrusted and we all know who is responsible for that.

  26. Formula1 only visits the UK once even if majority of the teams are based here. Teams will still be based in the UK cause pound for pound it does offer more of the skill set required for operating a high performance racing team. And as many have suggested, F1 need not be the only premier motoracing formula. F1 may die very soon if it continues like this. It almost has no heritage anymore, so we might aswell just start off with a new series.

  27. I think it was James Allen who said that he thinks Bernie’s real goal isn’t to get rid of the British GP. Quite the oposite, that he wants to get the rights to it himself by “saving” one of the circuits and hence the GP.

    Whilst I’d dislike Bernie to get his way (ever), on this particular occasion I think that would be the best outcome we could hope for as it would pretty much guarantee the safety of the British GP for as long as Bernie is in charge…

  28. More and more country’s want to have a F1 race, and our so beloved European circuits are paying the price. Becouse the goverments do not wanna pay the same amounts of money that asian country’s want to pay… But why must every circuit with golden pitlane’s and glamour and glitter facilities. Whats rong with brick buildings and grashills to sit on as long the safety is allright…. that brings me to an other question why must we have every year a world champion in football (second best sport) we have a champion one time at every 4 year. why can’t F1 not have a longer season for example 4 years . Just think about that you don’t have 17 races but 50 or 60 races so more F1 circuits to race and less circuits that compete to each other to have a f1 race.
    Side effect , a team have one design for one season (4years) that will be much cheaper so there will be more teams and more cars.

  29. Oh i almost forget…. When is god calling Bernie home !

    1. Not planning to. Bernie is going to be around forever.

  30. To GMAN,

    Thanks for the insight wow that is a joke. Mr. E should get the fee and that is it. The GP Track should get the hotel and other fees wow now I have a better view on why these tracks are going away.

  31. Now this is just idle speculation (ok, so it’s mischiefmaking) but… if only we had a UK government with the cojones to threaten a total export ban on F1 technology if we lost our home GP. Granted there are a few current cars that don’t rely on the UK’s Formula One industry, but how would Bernie’s wealth-creation machine cope if every race was like the USGP in the year that the Michelin tyre runners withdrew?

    Just joshing, guys!

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