The 'mess' resulting from the failure of Donington Park to honour its contract to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 is 'a tragedy' that will take some time to put right again – that is the view of former F1 team manager Tim Parnell, vice-president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC).
The Leicestershire circuit's bid to stage the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar – as part of a 17-year deal concluded with Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone in the summer of last year – finally foundered last week, following months of uncertainty, scepticism, funding woes and negative publicity regarding the ambitious £135 million redevelopment project led by Simon Gillett's company Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL), which leases the track from the Wheatcroft family.
With one missed deadline too many, Ecclestone has at last run out of patience with Gillett's frequently frustrated efforts to bring the venue up to the necessary F1 standard – and with the circuit now able to host little at all due to its greater resemblance to a building site than a race track, the dream is over.
Parnell – BRM team manager back in the 1960s and 1970s, and a man whose father Reg finished third in the first-ever F1 World Championship race at Silverstone all the way back in 1950 – reflects that the undertaking was always a distinctly risky one.
“My reaction was 'I'll believe it when I see it',” the 77-year-old told local newspaper the Derby Evening Telegraph
, explaining his thoughts when the news that Donington was to welcome F1 again was first announced on the eve of the 2008 British Grand Prix. “It was just too huge a project to complete in such a short space of time.
“I am very much involved with Silverstone, but I also have a lot of affection for Donington. My father saw his first race there in the 1930s. It was where motor racing started for our family, so I'm extremely saddened by what is happening now.
“The big question is, what happens to Donington now? Work had already started on the upgrade. The famous Dunlop Bridge has been taken down, and some parts of the circuit have been dug up. It's such a mess, and it will need investment to get the circuit back to how it was.”
The irony of Parnell's comments, of course, is that as BRDC vice-president, he is now working feverishly behind-the-scenes to ensure that the British Grand Prix does
take place in 2010 – and at Silverstone. Talks between the Northants circuit's owners and Ecclestone are failing to progress at any great pace due to persistent disputes over money, with the BRDC unable to pay as much as the sport's commercial rights-holder wants to charge.
“I know Bernie well and he is a friend,” Parnell admitted, alluding to the days when the two men were direct rivals in F1, at BRM and Brabham respectively. “The BRDC are in negotiations with him and I sincerely hope an agreement can be reached, but the contract that was put before us 18 months ago meant that the BRDC would make a loss staging the race.”