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Page last updated at 20:39 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

Donington to bridge F1 gap

Donington Park plans (left) and Ayrton Senna at Donington in 1993
Donington is planning for its first F1 race since Ayrton Senna's win in 1993

By Gordon Farquhar
BBC sports news correspondent

After long delays over planning issues, work to re-invent Donington Park as the home of the British Grand Prix has taken a step forward this week with contractors beginning to take down the circuit's landmark Dunlop Bridge.

The precise lay-out of the new track has also been unveiled. It will be considerably lengthened, including some technically difficult corners, with better opportunities to overtake, and featuring the steepest climb in F1.

There will be a new pit and paddock complex, clubhouse, media and medical facilities. A main contractor has been appointed for the work, which will cost 100m to complete.

To take the British Grand Prix and all that goes with it needs an enormous place and I don't think they've got it

F1 legend Stirling Moss

To avoid the car park access misery of Silverstone, it is planned that the vast majority of spectators will arrive at the circuit using public transport, from a series of park-and-ride facilities in the surrounding area.

Donington Park's chief executive, Simon Gillett, has spent at least five years planning the project, finally getting his chance when Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One Management and controller of the sport's commercial rights lost patience with Silverstone and turned to Donington, granting a conditional 10-year license to the park from 2010.

Motor racing fans can experience a simulated drive around the new Donington Park F1 track

Since that moment, there has been a barrage of criticism and doubt for the Donington management team to endure.

Legends such as Sir Stirling Moss, a long-time supporter of Silverstone, say they fear the worst.

"To take the British Grand Prix and all that goes with it needs an enormous place and I don't think they've got it," he said.

"Are the finances in position to start with? Have they got the time to do it? I rather doubt it frankly, and I can't see anywhere other than Silverstone being good enough to handle a British Grand Prix."

What is now clear is that Donington is the only option if the event is to survive in the short term, so top of the list of priorities for Donington Park is not to miss any deadlines and be ready on time.

Fail in that, and the race will be taken away from Britain, possibly for good, with alternatives in India and Korea thought to be keen to join the F1 circus.

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Report - Donington preparing for F1 return

Simon Gillett acknowledges there are plenty who think he will fail. Finding the money in the current economic climate will not be easy.

A debenture scheme is planned to provide part of the revenue, and details of the financial package are promised in March.

Gillett was forced to deny reports this week that the circuit's operating company, Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, has debts of more than 66m. He says those are just accountancy figures.

"The company's not indebted," he added. "If we look at the losses that are spoken of, they're from 2007 when we bought the business and we wrote off the cost of acquiring the business.

"The big number you see is actually our lease being depreciated over a number of years, they're not real numbers that we actually owe or have to write cheques for."

Explaining himself has become part of a practised routine for Gillett, who refuses to be deterred despite the scepticism.

There's a fair bit to do in the next 18 months, but we're very confident, and we've got a construction team in place and working now

Donington Park's chief executive Simon Gillett

"It's a fantastic British trait, isn't it? The minute someone tries to do something ambitious, something new, something different, a very small minority will rally to the cause, a very large majority will rally to knock it," he added.

"That's to be expected. We were expecting it.

"We just keep our heads down and keep delivering. That's what it's all about... I'm not going to stand here and try and convince them, what I'm going to do is to build it, and they can either decide to turn up at the real track or not."

Determined to succeed, Gillett says: "There's a fair bit to do in the next 18 months, but we're very confident, and we've got a construction team in place and working now."

At least some of those who will be using the circuit in a professional capacity are supportive: two-time world superbike champion, and now Moto GP rider, James Toseland was among the first to drive the virtual new circuit this week in the seat of an F1 simulator.

"I saw it on paper quite a few weeks ago and I was really, really surprised with the size of the project. It looks a fantastic conversion, it's going to be spectacular and it's going to be great to see Formula One here," said Toseland.

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see also
Grand Prix project 'will succeed'
10 Feb 09 |  Leicestershire
New Donington is granted approval
09 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Donington owner rejects sceptics
11 Dec 08 |  Formula One

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