Dr. Jonathan Palmer has conceded that he 'wouldn't rule out' the possibility of MotorSport Vision (MSV) purchasing the lease to the beleaguered Donington Park, though after Simon Gillett's 'doomed' F1 bid, the former grand prix ace admits that the Leicestershire venue might now be more lucrative 'if the whole place was used for off-airport parking'.
The story of Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) chairman Gillett's high-profile failure to convert Donington into a facility capable of hosting the British Grand Prix – the blue riband
event on the annual UK motorsport calendar – has been well-documented, with the level of funding required to update the facility being significantly underestimated, sponsors getting cold feet in the wake of the debilitating global credit crunch and planned redevelopment consequently work being stopped in its tracks, turning the popular circuit into a building site.
Indeed, it is difficult to know just where Donington goes from here, with no F1, no MotoGP, no World Superbikes and no British Superbikes and, in truth, little prospect of hosting any race meeting at all in its current chaotic state. Kevin Wheatcroft – whose father Tom sadly died late last year – is seeking potential new lease-holders, and Palmer contends that through no fault of his own, the new owner has quite a job on his hands to successfully turn things around.
“Donington Park is a very sad situation, I must say,” the Englishman told Crash.net Radio
. “The promises that were made by Simon Gillett looked hugely ambitious to everybody, and of course, they weren't realised. [The F1 dream] was always doomed to fail. I thought the chances of him being able to raise the money were very, very slight. There was promise after promise, but none of them looked very likely and I don't think many people really believed it was going to happen, but it just occupied a lot of time and clearly, some were taken in by it.
“It's one thing him not getting the funds to have the grand prix, but I think what is so, so sad is that a great track has been despoiled badly. There's been a lot of damage done to it and it's going to take a lot of money to repair that damage. It's also going to take a lot of money to do the ongoing maintenance, repairs and renewals that the circuit should have had; anyone who has been there recently will know that the access roads are potholed. It's in a very shabby state, and all that is very sad indeed.
“I hope [Donington still has a future as a racing circuit], but I'm not sure, because it's going to need a lot of money to sort it out. That's doable, but it's difficult to see where the upside commercially is really going to come from now. They've obviously not got the Formula 1 – not that I think that's a big problem – but they haven't got MotoGP anymore, they've not got World Superbikes either and as the promoters of British Superbikes we've had to pull the round there, because clearly we can't have whole teams and TV and ticket sales when the event may well not happen.
“Donington now is reduced to the level of club circuit really; its activity is going to be from weekday track hire for testing and from track days, and weekend club racing. The thing is, the big international meetings like World Touring Cars, DTM, FIA GT – those prestigious-ish events – just don't make any money, so it's very hard to see how Donington is going to have a big upside. That's going to reflect in its value, and it wouldn't surprise me to see that there would be a bigger value at Donington if the whole place was used for off-airport parking for East Midlands Airport.”
That, assuredly, is something that motorsport fans will be desperate not to see become a reality, and it might not, provided the right lease-holder is found. MSV has picked up BSB for Cadwell Park and the football-themed Superleague Formula for Brands Hatch – and with Brands, Cadwell, Oulton Park and Snetterton already on its books, could the UK's leading circuit-operator now be set to add Donington to its burgeoning portfolio into the bargain..?
“I'm sure whether it's BARC, MSV, BRDC, a lot of people would be interested in running the circuit,” former Zakspeed and Tyrrell star Palmer opined, “but it all just comes down to on what commercial terms and is it viable? That's the big question. MSV has got more things going on than before, it's our second year of Formula Two – which of course is hugely exciting – and everything else in the business is going to expand from last year.
“I'm not quite sure what Kevin Wheatcroft has in-mind for Donington yet. He has had a torrid time frankly getting the circuit back from the administrators after DVLL went into administration, and they spent a month-and-a-half trying to sell the business, which was obviously hopeless as it was never going to happen. He's only just got the circuit back, so I think it's fairly early days there yet, but as I said, it comes back to value.
“If I said to anyone, 'are you interested in buying a Ferrari?' they would say 'Yeah, great – if I can buy a Ferrari for £1,000 I'll have one'. That's the great issue really – what the value is – and I suspect it may well be worth more for alternative use. But I wouldn't rule it out at all.”
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