The original ten-year contract for Donington Park to host the British Grand Prix has been extended to 17 years, it is understood – with Simon Gillett arguing that the move is a vote of confidence from Formula 1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and proves his belief in the oft-criticised project.
The agreement for Donington to replace traditional home Silverstone as the venue for what is incontrovertibly the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar has been received with a good deal of cynicism and scepticism by paddock observers, and has met with persistent stumbling blocks ranging from a shortfall of funding to the departure of Gillett's business partner Lee Gill and the temporary loss of its racing licence on safety grounds, leading to the consequent enforced and embarrassing cancellation of a number of meetings.
The many naysayers predicted that the final nail in the coffin had been hammered in when circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft launched a legal writ against Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company in April for £2.47 million in unpaid rent. That left the latter's ambitious and costly redevelopment of the track to bring it up to the necessary F1 standard looking to be dead in the water barely a year away from when it was due to welcome the top flight back for the first time in almost two decades, having previously staged the rain-lashed European Grand Prix in 1993, so famously dominated by the late, great three-time F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna.
However, there has been good news of late, with the – albeit belated – approval of planning permission for the work, an out-of-court settlement with Wheatcroft & Son Ltd last month and, appropriately enough given that they say things come in threes, Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone's willingness to prolong the deal from ten years to 17, taking it right up to 2027.
What's more, Gillett has revealed that the cost of redeveloping the Leicestershire site has fallen by 20 per cent from £100 million to £80 million – and the Englishman is confident that after coping with crowd figures of some 135,000 over the Download music festival at the weekend, there will be no issues in successfully managing the number of spectators likely to attend over the course of a three-day grand prix event.
“Bernie Ecclestone has agreed to give us a seven-year extension, so we're now at 17 years running from 2010,” the DVLL chief executive is quoted as having said by the BBC
. “That's a nice rubber stamp from Bernie himself to say he believes in Donington and he wants to have a long-term relationship with it.
“We've been through the value engineering process and worked out some of the costs. Because of the credit crunch the cost of building has come down in price, so put all that together and we're at about £80 million now.”