Simon Gillett has for the first time dropped hints that there are 'get-out' clauses in Donington Park's contract to host the British Grand Prix from next season onwards – after revealing that the destructive ongoing FIA/FOTA civil war is scaring investors away and 'causing a bit of a slow-down' in securing the cash injection required for the Leicestershire venue's ambitious £80 million redevelopment programme in order to bring the track and its facilities up to F1 standard.
Donington's deal with Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone was recently extended from the original ten-year agreement to 17 years, and after all of the hurdles along the way – from Gillett's business partner Lee Gill departing the fray to the temporary loss of its racing licence and consequent embarrassing cancellation of a number of events and the threat of legal action from circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft for almost £2.5 million in unpaid rent – of late it has looked finally to be full steam ahead. Until now.
Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) CEO Gillett has suggested that were the eight Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) dissenters to walk away and form their own 'breakaway' series as they have vowed to do, the subsequent loss of names like Ferrari and McLaren and Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso from the F1 field could trigger the option for Donington to similarly pull out of the deal – as the absence of the sport's most high-profile competitors would make the acquisition of the necessary funding, already badly hit by the global economic downturn last year, considerably more difficult still.
“There are elements that certain things have to arrive on my grid,” he told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek
programme, “and if they don't I would have the right to a discussion with Bernie. It (the FIA/FOTA budget cap stand-off) causes us a little bit of a slow-down, potentially, but the people we're dealing with are intelligent people. They read the news and see it for what it is.
“It's another speed bump, but you will see that Donington has hit enough speed bumps and we are adept at getting over them and pushing forward. I wouldn't say it's hit the buffers.”
Gillett also admitted that with so much uncertainty hanging over F1's future, he does not plan to release tickets for sale until August, stressing that 'we'll make sure what we sell is what we can deliver'. Moreover, despite most drivers professing their clear support for Silverstone – one of the most popular circuits on the annual schedule and one that has hosted 43 of the 60 British Grands Prix to-date – the Englishman argued that they would soon grow to love Donington too, and was quick to brush off suggestions that the venue's much-criticised access and transport infrastructure would be unable to cope with the demands of staging a grand prix and all the spectators that would likely attend.
“Donington will provide a different challenge and it's new,” he contended. “A lot of the drivers have grown up only knowing Silverstone so of course there will be some sadness, but there's no doubt that after five years of Donington Park they'll be saying how much they like it here.
“We've just had [music festival] Download, which has a crowd that is 20 per cent bigger than [the grand prix]. MotoGP has a crowd the same as this – the only difference with Formula 1 is the paddock infrastructure, which is [why we're working] with our construction programme to accommodate that.
“We already have World Superbikes, MotoGP and Download – all events of this size – and we run those without a hitch. We've got a financing round going on now. By the end of July we'll have closed that financing round with one of our partners that we're talking to now, and we're very confident.”