F1: Simon Gillett finally speaks on Donington debentures

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, May 3rd, 2009

 
 

Update: James Allen writes that Gillett has three days to save the British Grand Prix – by paying off the £2.5 million he owes Wheatcroft. Read his piece here: http://allenonf1.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/three-days-to-save-donington-gp/

Details of the debenture scheme designed to fund upgrades at the Donington Park circuit in time for the 2010 British Grand Prix have finally been made public – 10 months after the plan was first announced.

In July last year, race promoter Simon Gillett, speaking to ITV F1 reporter Louise Goodman shortly after the announcement that the race would be leaving Silverstone, said fans would be hearing more in a couple of weeks.

Yesterday he finally gave an interview to the Daily Express which included hard figures on how he plans to fund the necessary upgrades to allow the Donington Park circuit that his company leases to stage the British Grand Prix.

In it he said the following:

  • Debentures are due be offered 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”.
  • 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.
  • The paper says that the scheme is a copy of those run at blue-chip sports venues Wembley and Twickenham at a third of their prices.
  • Gillett says 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.”

He did not address the issue of whether a finalised debenture scheme would leave enough time for construction to be completed. Nor did he tackle the issue of whether the recent postponements and cancellations of events, after construction work compromised track safety, would dent potential buyers’ confidence in his ability to deliver on his promises.

Writer Bob McKenzie says: “Gillett has natural financial confidentiality, but the withdrawal of one arm of finance due to the global recession has left him needing £100  million from a bank.” He goes on to suggest that the intervention of business minister Lord Mandelson has been to try to get the banks to spend on the project.

In the interview, Gillett complains about the lack of a level playing field (sorry) in public funding for sport, saying: “I look at the money in football, the wages players get, the turnover of the clubs and the FA and I see the government support given in direct state handouts to Wembley and think that the playing field is far from level.” He also talks of “vested interests out there too”.

He reportedly describes the legal proceedings launched by the company of track owner Tom Wheatcroft to recover £2.47 million in unpaid rent and the return of the lease – probably the biggest current threat to the event – as a misunderstanding, then adds: “I’ll take a tenner now that the British Grand Prix will be here next year.”

Wheatcroft is also, according to North West Leicestershire District Council leader Richard Blunt, refusing to sign a crucial planning document that would allow construction to proceed.

The problem is that Gillett has gambled a fair bit more than a tenner – and it’s our race as well as his money at stake.

However, we’ll give him the last word: “The people who matter in my world, the banks, the research companies, Bernie, all believe this can happen.”

Read the full interview here >>

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