F1: British Grand Prix developments liveblog October 20-28

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarFriday, October 2nd, 2009

 
 

This is the third 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 20th to 28th, 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.

13:00: Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal, has said that the loss of the British Grand Prix would be hugely damaging for the sport. Autosport reports him saying the following: “It’s not just McLaren, but everyone in F1 knows the importance of the British Grand Prix. You couldn’t say any [races] are absolutely vital, but losing the British GP would be massively damaging to the sport. It’s the kind of support from the fans there. It’s different to other places. You just have to walk through the campsites and the area around the circuit and see how committed the fans are. We’d be very sorry to see it lost.” Full story here >>

This is exactly why our list of five things you can do to support the British Grand Prix includes contacting your favourite team and telling them that you want to see them race in Britain next year. We can’t make our voices heard directly but we can make sure that people who can know exactly what we think. If you haven’t already, please click through and consider which of the actions you might carry out.

More here on the same story from the BBC >>

As regards Simon Gillett’s late-night claim to The Express that he wired Bernie the race fee, well, there’s not a scrap of substantiation from anywhere else whatsoever at the moment. You might be seeing quite a few stories – but all they are doing is reprinting The Express’ quotes. Autosport is also reporting that Silverstone MD Richard Phillips is off to Abu Dhabi to try to close the deal.

Wednesday October 28, 03:20: Amazingly, The Express is reporting that Simon Gillett claims to have made a payment to Bernie Ecclestone sufficient to put him back within the terms of his contract and it’s game on for Donington again. In a story filed (presumably in error) in its football section, Bob McKenzie says Gillett claims to have transferred £12m to Bernie on the stroke of the deadline – a deadline artificially extended because Ecclestone couldn’t get a peep out of Donington by email or fax and had to use a far slower courier to serve notice of the contract breach instead.

McKenzie sounds highly dubious about the whole claim, saying that Gillett had phoned Ecclestone to tell him the transfer had been made but noting there is no word on where the money has come from, whether it had reached Ecclestone before it was too late – or even whether the banks were actually open at the time. There’s no direct quote from Gillett and Bernie wasn’t commenting. The story’s here – at the moment. How long for, we don’t like to say.

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20:00: Bernie’s not shifting on terms, it would appear, leading Damon Hill to (metaphorically speaking) shout into a microphone provided by BBC’s Radio Five Live in order to attempt to move the mountain (follow link for sound file).

The Guardian’s Alan Henry quotes him saying the following: “We shouldn’t assume it will happen just because in the last two years we’ve had British drivers winning championships, dominating races and the BBC signing up a deal.

“There are a whole load of reasons why it should happen, but you are competing against countries which are able to inject money into it, and that seems to be a stumbling block here. My own view is there’s a tradition formula one has – look at it as an export business.

“The appeal and mystique of Formula One is very much European, exported to countries who’d like to have some of that, and if you turn your back on that you may end up uprooting it.”

The story mentions the possibility of a London street race – but the sceptical eyes of this old hack detects that the whole subject was a kite flown by the interviewer rather than anything that is substantively under discussion at the moment.

Read the full story here >>

Tuesday October 27, 09:40: What can we tell you this morning? Nothing much has happened. A few eyebrows have been raised over Bernie’s remarks in The Times last night which are linked to below but which essentially moved the deadline forward another 36 hours (is someone at the back there looking surprised? Please get them a glass of water) and which seemed to dismiss the idea of suing the Donington leaseholders for millions of pounds.

Joe Saward, writing on his blog, thinks Bernie might have backed himself into a corner since Formula One’s other decision-makers are insisting on a British Grand Prix and he’s already argued himself out of the ‘no special treatment’ excuse by assisting Hockenheim. That and the fact he can’t go around letting just anyone default on contracts, in case it becomes popular.

Chrys Sylt at Pitpass thinks he might be playing for time to give himself the longest possible period to negotiate with Silverstone without having to admit that the race has fallen through. He also points out that the question of whether or not Bernie is owed compensation is covered quite plainly in the bond prospectus where the potential figure is placed at £18 million.

And Richard Rae at The Independent lets rip with an editorial that says: “To most people with the interests of a great sport at heart, signing a (very lucrative) long-term contract with Silverstone… would be a matter of simple instinct. Unfortunately, as a former team principal once remarked, the thing to remember about Bernie is that the only thing that matters is the deal.”

And The Northampton Chronicle has the following from Richard Phillips, the Silverstone chief exec: “I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to get it. On a scale of one to 10, I’d say it’s about an eight. And I think something will be sorted soon.”

Here’s a flavour of the morning’s coverage, including the three articles mentioned above. (For The Times report see yesterday’s update at 22:30.)

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22:30: Ah, the perennial Bernie Ecclestone comment made to The Times in good order for its first edition. From this evening’s example we learn that it’s not Monday lunchtime at all! It’s midnight Tuesday! Don’t you wish these people would get together and compare notes from time to time? Bernie’s not minded (during this particular interview at any rate) to sue for damages, but he holds no hope whatsoever of Donington getting its ducks in a line now.

And so to the rather more telling bit, what it is about the contract on the table that Silverstone dislikes. Apparently it starts with a £12 million race fee that then goes up by seven per cent a year. For 17 years. Now, that is steep… no wonder they are thinking twice about signing.

Read the full report in The Times here >>

16:15: Little substantive news but a couple of bits of coverage to add. Speculation is rife over at Visordown, a motorcycle news site, that the company behind Donington is heading into receivership. The statement is completely unsourced, but this site has been a valuable source of news on the circuit in the past, so definitely worth a read. Also Autosport has done a piece marking the passing of the deadline. And Damon Hill has been making positive noises to the BBC, but noises that nevertheless suggest there is still a gulf between the circuit and Formula One Management.

Autosport also claims to have spotted that the race has been removed from the circuit website’s event calendar.

14:15: No, it’s not just you. Two hours and 15 minutes have gone by since the supposed 12pm deadline and nothing has happened, apart from a lot of people noting that the deadline has passed. Nothing has changed on the circuit website and Share Our Vision is still quietly counting down.

It’s interesting to consider what we actually expect to happen. The news of ultimate failure is unlikely to come from Donington itself who may, however, be making a statement if a last-minute equity investor has been hiding up someone’s sleeve.

On past form a journalist will finally succeed in getting a comment out of Bernie Ecclestone late this evening. But will he want to blow Donington off before he has Silverstone’s signature on a contract? Thinking about it, this silence could last quite a while.

Monday October 26, 09:00: Well, we would say today at midday is supposed to be the final, final deadline – but that’s never arrived yet, has it? As Donington’s Share Our Vision website would remind you, there would be little more than 257 days and 23 hours left to get that rebuild sorted if the cash was on the table right now.

Question is, does Mr Gillett’s hat have any rabbits left inside? It’s thought that his only remaining option would be to sell equity in the company to raise cash. The bond issue was basically an application for a great big loan. To extend our Dragons’ Den analogy, this would put him at the point where one of the panelists has offered a bucket of cash – but only in exchange for ownership of a slice of the company. And the contestants would be hiding in the stairwell whispering fiercely among themselves while deciding whether or not to accept.

Here’s something to read while you’re waiting for news. And please do consider signing our supporters’ pledge if you’re waiting to buy tickets.

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Sunday October 25, 10:00: Chris Sylt of Pitpass has been one of the leading lights in reporting on the financial issues behind the Donington Park saga. He’s been a bit quiet recently but makes up for that this morning with articles in both The Express and on the eponymous website.

Unfortunately he doesn’t bring us good news. Having got his hands on a copy of the bond prospectus, he reads that: “DVLL is ‘technically insolvent (although not subject to formal insolvency proceedings)’ and has been so since the end of 2008.”

He goes on to add that the circuit made an after-tax loss of £5.9 million last year and at June 30 2009 it had total debt of £72.8 million. Also the return of the Wheatcroft legal action may be on the cards.

And Simon Gillett’s salary for overseeing all of this? Slightly north of £250k. Grrr.

Read his two stories in full by following the links below:

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Saturday October 24, 12:00: This morning’s outlook is grey, trending to grim with most papers focusing on either the probable demise of the Donington circuit or remarks by Bernie Ecclestone that he doesn’t have to hold a British Grand Prix if he doesn’t want to.

With this in mind we have decided that it’s time to push the button on our ‘Five things you can do to support the British Grand Prix’ campaign. Please have a look here and consider what action you can take. If you’re waiting to buy tickets, please sign our pledge here.

Back to the story. This morning Ecclestone has stated that Silverstone can take the offer on the table or walk away. Here’s what he told The Express:

No one is forcing them to take it. This is business. We have offered them a deal. The contract they have is the contract we like. We are not prepared to charge less. Do we need a British Grand Prix? No.

Italy is a traditional race because they have always raced at Monza. Monaco is traditional as they have always had the same track. Britain and France have raced at three different circuits. They want a cut-price deal because it is traditional. That’s not traditional to me.

Britain is not protected. I would like a new plane because it’s traditional as I have had one for 40 years but no one is offering me a cheap deal. That’s not how it works.” Read the full story here>>

Links to more of this morning’s coverage:

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21:45: Ouch. The Times puts a figure on the prospective compensation owed by Donington Park’s management to Bernie Ecclestone for breaking its contract to stage the British Grand Prix. It arrives at £15 million. Find out how here >>

18:00: Silverstone has already begun serious discussions with Bernie Ecclestone about a new British Grand Prix deal, according to this new story from Autosport, but it says a contract is still far from guaranteed. In fact, you might say things are worryingly close to being deadlocked. Read it in full here >> And here’s The Guardian saying something similar: Silverstone may not be able to take British grand prix if Donington fails.

14:30: A selection of today’s coverage:

Friday October 23, 10:00: This morning we have consensus and confirmation from the circuit – but, would you believe, still no final closure. Donington has failed in its last-ditch bid to raise the cash necessary to stage the race via a bond issue but is still eking out a few days’ grace until it has to face up to abandoning the project. The leaseholders say they have have the remainder of today, the weekend and a few hours on Monday to try to come up with something before Ecclestone’s remedial deadline expires at midday and the axe finally falls.

Those of us who are not only worried about the future of the British Grand Prix but also the survival of Donington Park as a key part of the national mosaic of racing venues, already under threat up and down the country from development and noise regulations, would appear to have plenty of cause for concern this morning, since it is now talking about the “security of staff and suppliers”. Here’s the circuit’s statement:

“Donington Ventures Leisure Limited can confirm that a bond for £135 million to cover the cost of the F1 redevelopment at Donington Park has been unsuccessful. “Despite higher than expected levels of interest and very positive early indications, the bond – which was launched with Citi Group last week – has failed to secure enough subscription ahead of today’s deadline. “The news dealt an unexpected blow to staff and management at the circuit, who still have a deadline of 12pm on Monday 26 October to remedy a breach of contract with Formula 1 Rights Holder Bernie Ecclestone, in order to keep any plans for retaining the existing 17-year Formula 1 contract alive. “Information regarding the circuit’s future plans is not yet available, however the major focus is on providing security for the Leicestershire venue and all related parties, including staff and suppliers.”

The big banner ad announcing that “F1 is coming to Donington Park” has also gone from the front of its website. Here’s a round-up of the coverage:

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23:30: James Allen comments on Twitter: “Donington bond scheme has failed. There was interest, but not enough. Now it requires someone to buy the equity if it is to go ahead.” Now, who’s been paying careful attention to Dragons’ Den? Duncan? Theo? James? Peter? Deborah? Any takers at all?

23:00: And now the time has come to wait and see what tomorrow brings. One thing is for sure – the popular prints and more or less every racing fan in Britain has written this project off as doomed. And most people would be mighty relieved to see the affair sorted out after more than a year of uncertainty. But we warn against making assumptions. This story has taken too many unexpected twists and turns already.

What should happen is that Bernie Ecclestone announces he has torn up Donington’s contract and commenced talks with Silverstone. But there are no guarantees that will happen. We noticed the other day that the 2008 accounts of Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd are due to be submitted at Companies House at the end of this month. You may remember that the figures in the 2007 accounts caused quite a fluster because of the level of debts they revealed. This puts its management under even greater pressure. And perhaps, just perhaps, an investor will have waited until this desperate juncture to put forward an offer to the circuit’s leaseholders that takes the whole messy situation off their hands. There’s a name for such investors – vulture funds. And we’ve had an eye on this possibility for a while now. This is not to say that it will happen, and we have no inside or special knowledge that suggests it could. We just have a feeling it is one of the possible outcomes from this turn of events. Let’s see what happens.

21:55: Add the Telegraph to the list of those confident enough to run with the story despite the lack of official statements. In a slightly unusual choice of words it says that Silverstone is “bracing itself for contract talks with Bernie Ecclestone”, which doesn’t sound much fun – and isn’t anything we didn’t already know. Its sole snippet of (unsourced) new information is the withdrawal of the bond issue.

See also comment 16 at the bottom of this post from ‘John’: “As someone close to this development I became aware this morning that funding via the bond issue had failed and that the main contractor was no longer involved.”

More coverage:

20:10: And now Autosport joins the party: Donington Park funding plans in doubt. It doesn’t appear to have sourced this independently from the BBC report, so here’s the most interesting sentence in it: “Autosport understands that dialogue between Silverstone and Ecclestone has stepped up in recent weeks once Donington Park’s problems came to light, and the track remains keen to put a deal together. However, Silverstone will only move forward with its desire for a long-term contract.”

19:30: Well, it looks like the Donington bid might have definitively hit the skids tonight. The BBC has published a story on its website saying that the bond issue has been withdrawn. And the BBC famously never goes with a story unless it has two independent sources. Read its story here: BBC Sport – Donington’s Grand Prix Hopes fade. No statement appears on the circuit website at this point. More as soon as we get it.

Thursday October 22, 19:15: With news on the outcome of the bond issue expected tomorrow reports are emerging tonight, involving BBC Radio 5 quoting ‘London banking sources,’ that it has failed. This is not yet stood up and we do not have any hard information that we can provide for you, or link to. As soon as there is, one way or the other, we will add it to this post.

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17:30: A new version of the 2010 F1 calendar, slightly rejigged and released today by the FIA, lists the British Grand Prix as provisional and subject to contract. Oh, and still on World Cup day, but that’s a different can of worms. The FIA has said that it is “expecting confirmation from Formula One Management about the grands prix in Canada and Britain shortly”. James Allen has the story here >> Also Autosport has got across the potential appointment of Sir Rodney Walker: read its story here.

Wednesday October 21, 10:00: This morning several publications are looking forward to Friday’s deadline for the bond issue and speculating what will happen. Here’s a selection of the coverage:

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