F1: British Grand Prix developments liveblog October 2-11

By Andy Darley

CalendarFriday, October 2nd, 2009

 
 

This is the first part of our rolling coverage of the saga of where the 2010 British Grand Prix will be held – or if it will happen at all. It covers the period from October 2nd to 11th, with the oldest information (and some background reading) at the foot of the page. You can find the links to the other part of the coverage down there too.

16:00: One to watch if everything does go pear-shaped on Monday will be the continuing financial health of leaseholding company Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, and the implications of that for the circuit. For a reminder of what we learned when the company’s 2007 accounts were filed, see this story by James Allen and this one from The Telegraph (bearing in mind that the rent issue is long since settled).

The next date on which accounts are due falls very soon – it is October 31, at which point the 2008 figures must be filed, so more information should emerge into the public domain very soon, as long as everything proceeds according to the timetable. Companies are obliged to file the particulars of any mortgages or charges taken out against their assets with Companies House. DVLL did this in December 2008 and the bank concerned was The Bank of Scotland, now part of the Lloyds Banking Group. Reports have also repeatedly linked the project’s financing with the Anglo Irish Bank, a commercial lending institution that suffered very significantly in the recent economic downturn. As a result some of its loans are passing to Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency, though it is of course impossible to say without a detailed knowledge of DVLL’s circumstances whether it is directly affected by this.

The auditors of the 2007 accounts noted that part of the company’s day-to-day capital requirement was being met by Midlands property developer Paul White, who was one of its directors alongside Simon Gillett. The third director at the time of the company’s last annual return was Nicholas Schwartz, of Stourbridge, West Midlands, who listed his occupation as a property developer. In December last year a fourth name, financier James Gallon, was added to the list of directors. Like White, he is listed as living in Monaco. Gillett and White own the majority of shares with Schwartz and former employee Kanwaljit Gill, better known as Lee Gill, holding a smaller number.

All this information is publicly available and filed with Companies House, as is required of any UK limited company.

Sunday October 11, 10:00: The focus is starting to switch to Silverstone this morning with two hilariously different takes on the situation from The Mirror and The Daily Mail. The former reports on “Silverstone’s snub to one-year deal” while the latter, using its whole year’s supply of optimism in one article, proclaims that Hill has told Ecclestone “Silverstone can save the Grand Prix.” What is a poor motor racing fan to think?

Well, the top line is much as usual – Damon Hill says he’s ready, willing and able but reluctant to shoot himself in the foot by charitably giving Donington a year’s breathing space in order to surrender the race for the next 16 years. Simon Gillett was unavailable for comment. Elsewhere James Allen has posted on his blog with an excellent summary of the situation, but he doesn’t have any new information for us. Links below:

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14:00: Right, then. If the news on Monday isn’t good, then we’ll be posting a few ideas on how fans can make their views known to the decision-makers on this matter. We need to wait until then in case Mr Gillett pulls a rabbit out of his hat this weekend. But, as things appear right now, it would need to be made of solid gold. So, if you want some positive ideas for getting your views across, check back with us on Monday.

Saturday October 10, 11:00: So far this morning there have been no substantial developments beyond the news that broke late last night (see below) with reports varying only on the extent to which the writers are prepared to be optimistic or pessimistic about Simon Gillett’s chances of pulling a rabbit out of the hat over the weekend.

Through it all moves the figure of Bernie Ecclestone, quietly pouring fuel on the fire with a series of low-key but damning quotes in which he questions whether Donington could deliver even if the money were to appear.

Only the FT has a statement from anyone other than Bernie, quoting a rather desperate-sounding Donington spokesperson as saying: “There hasn’t been confirmation that funding is not in place. We hope to be able to clarify the situation very soon.”

Its report – which is bylined “additional reporting by James Allen” – says Citigroup had arranged a package of £145m funding on behalf of Gillett but an attempt to secure a further £12m credit had stalled.

Links to some of this morning’s coverage:

Let us know about anything else that you spot in the comments.

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23:30: Looks like the game’s nearly up for Donington – the Press Association has put out a report suggesting its financial plans collapsed today. CEO Simon Gillett is reported to have half-salvaged the situation, and now he’s got the weekend to do the other half.

Bernie, of course, is sitting back and watching phlegmatically. He’s quoted as saying: “The deadline is this weekend, and we will see what happens on Monday.”

The PA report (see it on in-house news site Ananova here) claims: “The rumours, however, on Friday night intensified amidst suggestions the financial plug had been pulled by Gillett’s primary backers.

“It is believed the gravity of the situation increased earlier today, and that the finances were withdrawn. However, it is understood Gillett has managed to partly salvage a dire situation, and now goes into Monday’s meeting with his and the circuit’s hopes on the line.”

Over at the The Times they’re sticking the boot in even harder after getting a longer quote out of Bernie in which he says that, even if Donington does come up with the money, the circuit has left it too late to get the work done in time. “Very disappointing” is what he calls it – rather an under-estimate, we’d have said.

The Times is emphatic that Donington has “missed its final deadline”, although it predicts a Gillett “rearguard action” that will apparently involve – in a spectacularly mixed military metaphor – a “blitz of reassuring messages” during the course of next week.

And the Express has the story too, if only briefly, in a piece that says the circuit failed to secure the necessary funding despite the launch a week ago of a fund-raising bond backed by Citigroup.

Everyone is stating, with no apparent quote to back it up, that the race is on its way back to Silverstone. We’ll feel happier about that when Silverstone itself says something.

18:00: Well, folks, the working day is well and truly past and the sum of our knowledge about the future of the British Grand Prix has not improved by the tiniest fraction. With no F1 this weekend the chances of comments from Bernie Ecclestone seem slimmer than usual. We might learn something over the weekend, we might learn something on Monday. And it’s not unknown for Donington Park to break a story quite late on a Friday evening, as happened with the news that the circuit plans had been submitted to the local authority. But for the moment, it’s more wait and see. Not what you wanted, or us either. But it’s all we’ve got for the time being.

14:45: Nothing yet – at least, nothing that we’ve heard about. Nor that anyone on any of the publications, blogs, aggregators, forums or Twitter feeds that we follow has heard about. Nothing on the Donington Park website. Nothing in Autosport. All in all, that probably adds up to no announcement. But if you’ve spotted something we’ve missed, please put us all out of our misery and leave a comment.

Friday October 9, 10:00: So, today’s the day. Or maybe not. Apparently we might be expecting an announcement at 11.30am.

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Thursday October 8, 11:30: Movement. A selection of photographs has appeared on the website of Sutton Images, a motorsports picture agency that has worked several times with the circuit documenting pre-construction work. You can view the images and captions explaining what is going on at the Sutton site here.

The photos, which are dated Wednesday October 7, show groundwork, landscaping and demolition plus a trench dug across the circuit at the Melbourne hairpin. Also, note from the comments to this post that there seems to have been some work on the Donington website’s webcam. Could this possibly be the start of the main construction phase, with PR pictures being made available with an eye to an announcement tomorrow?

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Monday October 5, 13:00: Today the circuit’s local paper The Derby Telegraph has updated its story about the deadline being extended until Friday October 9. Little of this is new but it does include a quote from former Autosport F1 editor Edd Straw in which he says the following:

“Donington Park has been very constant in not disclosing too much information until the right time and it could be that, in a few days’ time, they will say everything is all right.

“But, if they are still struggling, they have a big problem. They need to really push on to make this work and publicly show the finance is in place.” Read the full story here.

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Sunday October 4: No news for you today, on account of there being no news, but there is an opinion piece on Forumula1.net that’s definitely worth a read. Basically it says the same thing that we’ve been saying and thinking for months – that British F1 fans deserve better than this. Catch it here: Testing times for the future of the British Grand Prix.

Also this interview given by Bernie Ecclestone to The Gulf News really is worth a read. It gives no substantive information but does explain an awful lot about the Formula One promoter’s thinking when he keeps giving the Donington project more time to fulfil its obligations. It’s impossible to disagree with everything he says about Silverstone and its facilities. But we also get the feeling reading it that there’s a whole dimension to the place, very well understood by racing fans, that he just doesn’t seem to feel. Food for thought, indeed.

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15:30: Donington’s local media have put out a few reports on the extended deadline – but they don’t add much to the sum of our knowledge since they seem to be working from the same source material as everyone else – a remark made by Bernie Ecclestone, presumably at Suzuka, which was reported by The Express.

Simon Gillett is reported as unavailable for comment. But a spokeswoman for the circuit told both papers: “The previous extension was announced in the same way so there seems no reason to doubt this one.” The BBC report has no direct quotes, merely reporting the circuit’s claims that it is confident.

Here they are:

Saturday October 3, 09:45: Well, would you believe it, eh? Bernie Ecclestone has given Donington Park another week, according to the Daily Express – but you have to work pretty hard to find the information.

In a couple of paragraphs right at the bottom of a story about Jenson Button’s title bid it reports: “Ecclestone, who organises the race calendar, has given Simon Gillett, the Donington promoter, a final deadline if they are to stage the British GP.

“‘They pleaded for extra time and have had several deadlines. It’s October 9 to show me they have the finances in place or we will be finished with Donington,’ said Ecclestone.”

So there you are. It was the end of September, then October 3 and now October 9. Will it all be over by Christmas?

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Friday October 2, 10:00: Semi-hard news from The Guardian this morning. It’s running a story quoting Damon Hill, suggesting that Silverstone is not prepared to step in and stage a one-year rescue deal, but is seeking to regain the contract in its entirety.

Written by motorsport correspondent Alan Henry, it says: “It is understood that a merchant bank is attempting to raise a bond for £120m from various wealthy investors.” A recent article in Pitpass hinted that Sir Richard Branson had been approached.

It continues: “A spokesman for Donington said yesterday they were unable to discuss financial issues and that an announcement would be made in due course.” A definition of ‘due course’ would be welcome at this point, we feel.

Read the full story here.

The background

The race is supposed to be moving from Silverstone in Northamptonshire to Donington Park in Leicestershire this year after Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone felt unsatisfied with the facilities on offer at the existing venue.

Having acquired a 10-year contract, later increased to 17 years, Donington Park won the support of planners for the necessary large-scale redevelopment but has so far been unable to raise the cash which means building work is in still its earliest stages and tickets are not on sale with around nine months to go until its July 11 date.

The circuit says it will fund the redevelopment with a debenture scheme on a three, five and 10-year basis with prices starting at £1,200 a year and top-level customers paying £4,000 for what is described as ‘varying degrees of access to superb new facilities’.

Promoter Simon Gillett told The Express newspaper in May that the package is set to include 40 days of entertainment apart from the Grand Prix, including other motorsport and music events plus what is described as ‘participatory’ events such as competitions and track access to allow hands-on use of the circuit.

He added that a major survey by sports marketer ISG/IMG proves that demand exists: “We’re only looking for 4,700 a year globally to buy into our idea. Our survey shows they are out there.”

Ecclestone said some months ago that the circuit must prove to him that it was on course to stage the race by September 2009 – but revealed during the Singapore Grand Prix coverage last weekend that he had granted a brief extension until Saturday October 3.

Further reading

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