Bernie Ecclestone has cast further doubt upon the future of the British Grand Prix, insisting that Donington Park must complete its extensive redevelopment programme and circuit modifications by its promised date of summer of next year – and that even if it does, it is still not necessarily guaranteed a spot on an over-populated 2010 Formula 1 calendar.
Donington was awarded a ten-year rights agreement to hold the British Grand Prix by Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone last July, and will replace the race's traditional host of Silverstone, which has been a fixture on the F1 schedule on no fewer than 42 occasions since the official inception of the world championship back in 1950.
However, there has been persistent doubt and cynicism over the Leicestershire venue's ability to welcome the top flight, having only done so once before, when it hosted the rain-lashed 1993 European Grand Prix, so famously dominated by the late, great three-time world champion Ayrton Senna.
Critics have pointed to the circuit's inadequate infrastructure and poor access, and the limited timeframe in which to undertake a £100 million revamp to bring it up to F1 standard, with further question marks over contracts and just where all the money is coming from, following a number of setbacks for Simon Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company since the change of venue was announced eight months ago.
Moreover, Ecclestone has revealed his intention of introducing a fixed, 20-date calendar for the sport – and he warned that with South Korea due to join the fray in 2010 and India a year later, there are already more races than available slots.
With European races that have recently been axed unlikely to be re-instated given the far greater financial wherewithal of Middle and Far Eastern countries clamouring for a grand prix, the sport's commercial rights-holder admitted that should Donington not meet its legally agreed deadline, then the British Grand Prix will be no more – as Silverstone, he insists, will not
be granted a reprieve.
“We haven't got a spare date,” the 78-year-old told UK newspaper The Guardian
. “We're in trouble. We need a date. We're going to be in trouble if we do have Donington, [but] they're doing a good job.
“We left Silverstone because I'm trying to improve facilities throughout the world, and when I get people to build new circuits to the standard of which we are trying to reach, how could we go back to Silverstone? I negotiated a deal for them many years ago to allow them to have enough money to build what they wanted, and they didn't build it.”
Amongst the improvements at Donington are a new pit-lane and paddock complex along the Starkey Straight – which would become the new start-finish line – the displacement of the famous Dunlop Bridge, a new infield section which will join the present layout at the final corner, Goddards, enhanced media facilities and better access, with suggestions by Gillett that the race will be the first-ever public transport-only grand prix.
FIA President Max Mosley has previously underlined the importance of retaining F1's six 'classic' races that have featured on the calendar from the very beginning – Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Monaco. With the French Grand Prix having already bitten the dust, though – for the time being at least – Belgium having lost its position on a couple of occasions over the last six years and Germany looking to be on shaky ground too, many are wondering just how long it will be before Britain becomes Ecclestone's next victim..