One of the largest stumbling blocks in Donington Park's way as it bids to be ready in time to host the 2010 British Grand Prix has been removed from its path with the announcement that an out-of-court settlement has been reached to bring to an end the legal dispute between Simon Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company and circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft.
The Leicestershire venue's hopes of fulfilling the terms of its contract in hosting the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar – after being controversially awarded a ten-year deal by Formula 1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone last summer, taking over from traditional home Silverstone – looked to have been dealt a fatal blow when it emerged in April that Wheatcroft & Son Limited had issued Gillett with a legal writ for an alleged £2.47 million in unpaid rent, demanding the forfeit of the 150-year lease that had been granted to DVLL back in 2007.
The case had been due to be heard at Derby County Court on Monday (8 June), and a defeat for Gillett would assuredly have meant the end for Donington's ambitious £100 million redevelopment project to become the new home of the British Grand Prix – but now, after a succession of serious setbacks including safety concerns and the enforced cancellation of race meetings, it appears the beleaguered track has finally received some good news.
'Motorsport fans remained at the heart of Donington Park's plans today as the landowner, Wheatcroft & Son Limited, and circuit leaseholder, Donington Ventures Leisure Limited (DVLL), confirmed that they have reached an agreement which they hope will move a step closer to securing the future of East Midlands parkland circuit Donington Park,' read an official statement from Wheatcroft's lawyers Browne Jacobson LLP.
'These positive developments, combined with the ongoing encouragement from Formula 1 rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, demonstrates that DVLL is committed to pushing forward with its 2009 racing plans and 2010 Formula 1 preparations.'
There has been a good deal of scepticism and cynicism regarding the viability of Gillett's vision – focussing primarily on the provision of funding, poor circuit access and the short timeframe within which all the necessary modifications to bring the venue up to F1 standard must be completed – but the Englishman is confident that all can now proceed on-schedule.
“This is another positive boost for Donington Park,” he underlined, having previously admitted that the global economic downturn had badly hit the debenture scheme by which he had intended to raise finances. “We were always aware that saving the future of the British Grand Prix was an enormous task, but it is one that we are fully committed to and will make happen. So far, all of our efforts have been achieved in the face of adversity, and it's reassuring to know that the Wheatcroft family shares our vision and passion for British motorsport.”
No further details were released on the subject of the settlement, but it was confirmed that 'the parties have also reached agreement on the terms of the planning agreement required for planning permission to be issued and are finalising arrangements with the council'. Last month, North West Leicestershire District Council extended the deadline for Gillett to submit the Section 106 document necessary to validate the planning permission for the stated improvements, originally awarded back in January. The DVLL chief executive now has until 30 June to present the council with the paperwork.
“We are pleased that significant progress has been made in recent weeks,” remarked Kevin Wheatcroft of Wheatcroft & Son Limited, “and I am delighted that we have now reached an amicable agreement. We have always shared and supported the vision of ensuring that Formula 1 returns to Donington Park and are hopeful that, with the settlement achieved, that vision will be turned into reality.”
The only previous time Donington has welcomed the top flight was when it staged the 1993 European Grand Prix in torrential conditions, a race so famously won by the late, great Ayrton Senna. Ecclestone has repeatedly insisted that if Donington does not host the 2010 event, then there will be no British Grand Prix at all.