Yesterday the future of the British Grand Prix was thrown into further doubt with the news that Donington Park, the circuit which is to take over the event next year, is racked by financial infighting.
The news was made even bigger by Bernie Ecclestone’s subsequent insistence that the event would not return to Silverstone and might not happen at all without government intervention.
The reasons why this has happened, and why the British Grand Prix looks in danger of not being on the calendar, are manifold. Firstly it is clear that Bernie Ecclestone, the man with the iron grip on the commercial rights, has no sentimental attachment whatsoever to the British event. This is because gleaming new venues invariably offer more money and better facilities than Britain traditionally can.
Ecclestone maintains that the British government should intervene and stump up some cash, as happens in most other countries. This is unlikely, partly because the government is a bit short of petty cash at the moment, if you hadn’t noticed. Plus, all the dosh earmarked for ”Sport” is mostly going on something called the Olympics, which is basically a collection of sports not good enough to be interesting on their own.
The Labour government has also been wary of Mr Ecclestone ever since Tony Blair accepted donations from him in 1997, which certain wily political journalists pointed out coincided nicely with the government’s decision to exempt F1 from a tobacco sponsorship ban.
The British Racing Drivers Club, as eminent as its members are individually, does not have the type of funds available to modernise Silverstone – its preferred venue – to the extent required. So the task fell to Mr Simon Gillett, who appeared with an ambitious programme to develop Donington. It turns out his rent of the circuit is in arrears to the tune of Ã‚£2.5m and the circuit’s owners are effectively trying to evict the man. Not the ideal preparation for a nice piece of tarmac in Leicestershire which is supposed to hold a F1 grand prix (wait for it) next year.
So the famous British Grand Prix, one of the oldest on the calendar, may not happen. This is a terrible affair for the traditionalists and race-going fans; a minor inconvenience for those who accept F1 is better on TV. Should we weep? Yes, but not out of sentimentality. Bernard has a history of taking the races good circuits lose to new tracks that are anodyne and mickey-mouse…Valencia, anyone? Yet he readily disposes of great racing tracks – Montreal, Spa a few years back before it was mercifully returned, and Silverstone.
That way lies ruin. The racing has got to be interesting and there is a growing number of F1 aficionados who believe the circuit has more to do with the entertainment than diffusers or barge boards. If Silverstone, or Donington, was not providing good racing, then it should be dismissed. That is why no-one wept for Magny Cours. But Donington is a fantastic circuit, and so should be given a chance. No-one knows if an investor will take a punt at the moment, but for the Brits, they really should. Mr Branson, you know you like F1 now….?