Despite the circuit having finally been granted planning permission to push ahead with its British Grand Prix re-development plans, Ron Dennis has again cast doubt upon Donington Park's ability to host the country's blue riband
motorsport event – suggesting the UK could end up without a race of its own at all.
The Leicestershire track last Thursday received the go-ahead from North West Leicestershire District Council to commence a major £100 million project designed to transform it into a state-of-the-art F1 venue in time to host the British Grand Prix next year [see separate story – click here
] – an event that could be accessible only by public transport.
Last July, Donington Venture Leisure Ltd (DVLL) was awarded a ten-year contract by the top flight's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone to take over from Silverstone as the grand prix's home as of 2010 – but McLaren team principal Dennis, one of the sport's leading figures for more than the past four decades, is concerned that the undertaking is just too unrealistic.
“I applaud anyone coming into grand prix racing and bringing competition,” the 61-year-old is quoted as having said by The Guardian
, “but I really do struggle to understand how the economics of Donington will work. They have had a 25 per cent swing in the dollar, and the contract will be a dollar-based contract, whilst it has a massive investment into infrastructure.
“I also don't understand how we are going to get in and out of the place, although I can tell you I will be in a helicopter! The reality is I want successful grands prix and I am concerned that, as we go down this path, the economic model – especially in this climate – won't work. That could be to the detriment of us hosting a grand prix in this country.”
DVLL chief executive Simon Gillett, however, has repeatedly answered all of his many doubters and critics, and is adamant that financially the ten-year agreement will help Donington to successfully manage and overcome the current economic downturn.
“If we had a five-year or three-year deal I could see how that would be really impacted by the current economic climate,” he explained, “but the longevity of the contract and the scale of the plans gives people the comfort and the time to recoup.
“We all know that the green shoots of recovery will happen in the next six, twelve, 18 months – whenever it will be – but if you take 18 months to our first grand prix and another ten [years] thereafter, it gives a good return on investment and security that something will be there.
“We are aiming to target 6,000 possible debenture holders, drawing on the lessons from sporting venues such as Wembley and Ascot. We are planning to announce full details of this in March. The final bit we are working out now is what the pricing of the debentures will be. There is an interesting balance with debentures, as we have to give content and they have to give money. We are doing a lot of research to make sure we get exactly what the customers want.”
The reported figure, according to The Guardian
, is £10,000 per debenture, which Gillett would not confirm. What he did reveal, however, was that 'lots of yellow diggers' are present to get on with the job in-hand, and with inspections by Ecclestone's Formula One Management company due to be held in both September and March ahead of the race next summer, the Englishman is confident that Donington will be ready to assume its position as the fourth home to the British Grand Prix in the F1 World Championship's 59-year official history, following on in the wheeltracks of Silverstone, Aintree and Brands Hatch.
“We have already almost completed the [access] tunnel,” he stated, “but now we can get on with all the other major works which were included in the planning application. I will be on the grid next year to see the start of the British Grand Prix. [I feel] deeply honoured and that I have a great responsibility to deliver the British Grand Prix here at Donington in 2010. For me, truly, it is the realisation of a dream.”