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 Rumours persist that one of the banks behind the scheme have withdrawn their support which, given the state of the economy, would hardly be a surprise.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 – 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.