Donington business model is sound, assures Gillet

doningtonparkplanoct08-lgDonington Park Chief Executive Simon Gillet has moved to silence sceptics who say his plans to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 are financially flawed.

The £100 million plans to upgrade the Leicestershire circuit were given the green light by North West Leicestershire district council this week [see separate story HERE] and work is already underway to alter the track layout.

However, Gillet has revealed very little about how the project will be financed – other than to cite a debenture scheme – and that, allied to the current economic crisis has triggered a great deal of scepticism about whether the grand prix will actually take place.

McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis is among those to have questioned Donington’s business model citing the weakening of the dollar.

“I really do struggle to understand how the economics of Donington will work,” he said at the Autosport International Show. “They have had a 25% swing in the dollar, and the contract will be a dollar-based contract, whilst it has a massive investment into infrastructure.”

He added: “I also don’t understand how we are going to get in and out of the place, although I can tell you I will be in a helicopter! The reality is I want successful grands prix and I am concerned that, as we go down this path, the economic model, especially in this climate, won’t work.”

However Gillet remains adamant not only that the plans are financially sound, but also that the circuit will be able to make a profit by investing in multi-purpose facilities that can be used all year round.

“We are not a charity, we are a commercial business,” he told journalists at the Autosport International Show. “We have spent a lot of time working through this plan and negotiating and we have only done a deal that we felt was commercially viable.”

“It’s on track and I am as confident on that as I was with the planning so you can draw your own conclusions from that if you wish. We are very confident on that.”

He refused to comment further on the details of the investment scheme however.

“Nothing about the money at the moment,” he said. “That, as I have always said, will be coming out at the end of quarter one and we will be letting people know about it, but you know what is coming; it’s a debenture scheme and we are framing the final parts of that at the moment.”

Key to making Donington financially viable and profitable argues Gillet is making sure that the facilities can be used outside of Formula One.

“A prime example is the media centre,” he said. “You typically go to a grand prix, it looks like a hangar and they hang a series of plasma screens from the roof and that is pretty much it.”

“Our media centre, when you look at what we are building, is a 500 seater stepper auditorium with four large screens at the front.”

“In other words, it is a conference centre for 363 days a year and not a media centre when you guys aren’t in town. That is what you do. You don’t build stuff for Formula One, you build stuff that is commercially viable and then adapt it.”

Construction work to alter the circuit and pave the way for a new pit and paddock complex, media centre, clubhouse and hospitality suits has already begun Gillet confirmed.

“You can’t drive the circuit at the moment as there is a 25 metre hole, eight metres deep at the moment between Coppice and McLeans where we have started work on the tunnel, so we are already underway with our work,” he said.

“That will be completed by 20th February when we will re-open the track and that is the tunnel that will give us access to the middle of the circuit so we can continue with the building process.

“The majority of the construction work, the new loop, the new paddock, is on the infield so what we had to do is make sure we had unobstructed access to the infield so we can get into the circuit to work with the track running round the outside of it.

“There is no disruption to the calendar at all and the only disruption is that infield viewing will be restricted this year.”

With planning permission granted Donington is now working towards two key milestones: an FIA track inspection in April and a track visit from Bernie Ecclestone in September to ensure that construction has begun.

“Both of those milestones were known of and are in the plans and we are on track,” said Gillet.

With thanks to Crash.net for transcription and other journalists present for asking the questions.