The British Grand Prix looks likely to be saved with suggestions doing the rounds that Bernie Ecclestone has purchased the promoting rights off Simon Gillett's troubled Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company – with help from the UK government.
The future of the race – set to switch from traditional home Silverstone to Donington Park from 2010 onwards in what now appears to be a 17 rather than ten-year deal – was plunged into fresh doubt last week when it was announced that Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft was taking Gillett to court over an alleged £2.47 million in unpaid rent, and in an effort to regain the 150-year lease on the track that he awarded DVLL back in 2007.
The £100 million redevelopment of the Derbyshire venue – which has only once before welcomed the top flight, when it played host to the rain-lashed European Grand Prix back in 1993, so famously won by the late, great triple F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna – in order to bring it up to the required F1 standard has been dogged by cynicism and doubt about just where the money was coming from.
The scepticism intensified after Gillett's business partner Lee Gill departed the fray late last year, the bank financing the project pulled out, planning permission was delayed and the circuit's national racing licence was revoked on safety grounds. The debenture scheme by which Gillett had hoped to raise funding – offering corporate seats for sale at a cost of £5,000, and underwritten by investment bank Goldman Sachs – is also believed to have been withdrawn.
The most recent blow delivered by Wheatcroft looked to be a fatal one, and redoubled the pressure on Ecclestone to ensure that the British Grand Prix does not become the latest victim of an increasingly international F1 calendar. Though Silverstone insists it is waiting patiently in the wings and contends that it is not out of play whatever the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive may suggest – 'there is no question of us going back to Silverstone – they have had enough chances and have not delivered what they promised' – it now appears the race will
be held, and will be held at Donington...only without Gillett and DVLL.
With rumours gathering speed that Ecclestone has bought the British Grand Prix rights – and associated debt – from Gillett, it is now also suggested that the government has stepped in as it fears the disappearance of the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar, and one that has been held every year since the official inception of the F1 World Championship all the way back in 1950.
According to The Guardian, business secretary Peter Mandelson is in talks with Ecclestone in a bid to save the race, and though the latter's desire for direct funding is unlikely to be accommodated, the government has previously offered to financially support infrastructure improvements at Silverstone via regional development agency cash.
Chairman of the Motorsport Industry Association Lord Astor of Hever is understood to be pressing for the government to fund a return to Silverstone should Donington prove incapable of holding the grand prix – pointing out that a great deal of public money is spent on the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and football and rugby world cups...but not Formula 1.
“The relationship between the annual British Grand Prix and the Motorsport Valley business cluster is vital,” Lord Astor is quoted as having said by grandprix.com
. “The loss of one undoubtedly affects the other. Businesses in Motorsport Valley are fighting very hard to retain their dominant position as motorsport becomes more globalised. Any damage to our international credibility, such as the failure to host our own grand prix, would have devastating economic effects.