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Gillett hints at Donington get-out clause if F1 splits
22 June 2009
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.”
Against the backdrop of the highly damaging political infighting, however, Ecclestone confessed over the weekend that should Donington prove incapable of readying itself in time to hold the 2010 event, Silverstone could yet step into the breach – a remarkable volte-face in the light of the 78-year-old's traditionally hostile opposition to the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing', whose facilities he has frequently denigrated as being outdated and unworthy of welcoming the top flight.
His change of heart, it has been surmised, is in an effort to prevent FOTA from snaring the venue for its own calendar should the breakaway materialise – but Damon Hill, President of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) that owns the track, suggested that having burned his bridges with Silverstone, Ecclestone would not have the opportunity to rebuild them.
“We value our relationship with Formula 1 and we want that tradition to continue,” the 1996 F1 World Champion told London newspaper the Evening Standard, “but we're a business too, so if another event came along, clearly there would have to be discussions.”
“We would have to listen to proposals,” echoed BRDC chairman Robert Brooks, quoted by The Times. “Clearly we do not have a grand prix next year, and we will have a slot so it is something we would have to consider.”
Hill added that he was tired of Ecclestone's constant sniping at Silverstone, and acknowledged that the BRDC simply cannot compete with the bids of rival venues around the world subsidised by governments, telling The Press Association: “My belief is that it is the ambition of Formula 1 to be funded by governments wherever it goes, to have state funding. If that is the case, a commercial operation (like Silverstone) doesn't fulfil that ambition, simply because I am not king and this isn't my country.”
It has also been speculated that other circuits around the world that have similarly fallen out of favour with Ecclestone as the commercial rights-holder has driven F1 further and further East in recent years in the pursuit of bigger bucks – such as Imola in the republic of San Marino, Magny-Cours in France, Jerez in southern Spain, Suzuka in Japan, Montreal in Canada and Indianapolis in the United States – could join forces with FOTA.