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Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 16:23 UK

Scepticism greets Donington switch

By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport at Silverstone


F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone
Ecclestone has an uneasy relationship with the BRDC

The response in Formula One to the news that Donington Park will host the British Grand Prix from 2010 moved quickly from surprise to disbelief before coming to rest on scepticism.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has never lost his capacity to shock, but this one caught everyone off guard.

The animosity between Ecclestone and Silverstone's owner the British Racing Drivers' Club is well known, and it is easy to imagine the 77-year-old enjoying a degree of schadenfreude at the timing of the announcement.

This weekend, after all, Silverstone is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first Grand Prix to be held at the track.

So it is not surprising that Ecclestone's decision to publicise the new contract now has, according to former Grand Prix driver John Watson, "gone down so badly" at the BRDC.

"It's sad," continued Watson, who won the British Grand Prix here in 1981, "because this is the natural place for it to be held. It's a great circuit, even if the facilities do need to be improved considerably. But this is a hard-nosed business."

Indeed it is, and no-one is more hard-nosed than Ecclestone, who has clearly run out of patience with the BRDC. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say he ran out of patience a long time ago, and jumped at the chance to find an alternative venue when it presented itself.

Ecclestone's problems with Silverstone are well known. The BRDC does not pay him as much money as he would like, and the circuit's facilities - while perfectly adequate, and much better than those at, say, Interlagos in Brazil - are threadbare compared to many modern F1 venues.

The difficulty for the BRDC was money. Ecclestone was prepared to accept a lot less from Silverstone than he is paid by some of the governments in the Middle East and Asia for their races.

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But there was plenty of doubt about whether Silverstone could even have stayed liquid while paying the 11m with a 5% year-on-year escalator that Ecclestone was reportedly demanding.

The BRDC is a private members club and it takes what it sees as its duty to protect Silverstone for the nation very seriously.

It recognised the importance of the British GP, but was not prepared to bankrupt itself to hold on to it - and there are those in the F1 paddock who feel that was a real risk, even with the development plans that had been put in place for the future.

Watson says he "doesn't personally feel that a private members club should run a racing circuit - it's a business". And perhaps he is right.

Whatever, Silverstone is entering an uncertain future - the track has had a Grand Prix contract for more than half a century, even if there was a period when the race alternated between it and Brands Hatch in Kent.

The circuit will probably survive. It is believed to be chasing a MotoGP deal, and there are plenty of other categories for it to host that are a lot less expensive than a Formula One Grand Prix - such as A1 Grand Prix and the World Touring Car Championship.

There are many questions, too, over the British GP and its apparent new home, even if there is widespread relief that the race will apparently stay on the calendar after a period of uncertainty.

Donington Park
Donington hosted its last Formula One race in 1993

Donington Park's name has cropped up periodically whenever the race's future has been discussed, but few took its candidature seriously.

It is a superb track, and the last time an F1 race was held there Ayrton Senna produced a drive that has gone down in history as one of the greatest of all time.

But it is difficult to put into words just how far away the Leicestershire track's facilities are from the standards Ecclestone now expects from F1.

Silverstone may not be on the same level as some of the ultra-glitzy new tracks in places such as China and Malaysia, but it is light years ahead of Donington.

The 100m that the track's owners say will be invested to upgrade its facilities to F1 standards may be enough to complete what, effectively, will be a complete reconstruction of the place - the track needs significant lengthening, and the facilities will have to be started from scratch.

But there is also the question of access.

Donington is near the M1 motorway and East Midlands airport, so F1's high-rollers can fly their private jets to within a mile or so of the track, but that is just where the problems start.

Currently, there is a single carriageway main road leading towards the track, and a couple of country lanes off it to get into the circuit.

It is easy to see how another 100m might need to be spent to get the access to the required standard. And the question is, who is going to spend it? Certainly, Donington will find it no easier than Silverstone did to squeeze any money out of the government.

Equally, once the money has been spent, how is Donington going to make the event run at a profit?

As Silverstone has found out, making money out of hosting a Grand Prix is not as easy as you might imagine.

Race organisers' ability to raise funds is limited to ticket sales - everything else, such as trackside advertising, is owned by F1 - and you can only charge so much for a ticket before people refuse to buy them.

This is why the vast majority of races on the calendar are funded by governments who are prepared to shell out vast sums of money for the global exposure F1 gives their country without having to worry about the bottom line.

F1 insiders are also wondering aloud how all this building work can possibly be finished in just two years' time, especially when you start to think about the level of bureaucracy that will be involved with issues such as planning permission.

Several have drawn parallels between Friday's announcement and one nine years ago that Brands Hatch would take over the race.

When Ecclestone revealed that deal, it was greeted with a similar level of scepticism. And sure enough, the Kent track did not get the planning permission it needed, the company that owned the track had to pay to get out of the contract, and the race stayed at Silverstone.

None of this is to say that Donington will not host the British Grand Prix in 2010, nor that the event will not be a great success.

But F1 is as full of cynicism as it is of money. And as someone put it on Friday: "I'll believe it when I see it."


see also
British GP will move to Donington
04 Jul 08 |  Formula One
British GP practice as it happened
04 Jul 08 |  Formula One
Massa sets early pace in practice
04 Jul 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton misses fight with Alonso
04 Jul 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton pulled from charity race
03 Jul 08 |  Formula One
F1 needs British GP, says Webber
02 Jul 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton banking on home support
02 Jul 08 |  Formula One


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