Update: Kevin Wheatcroft has this afternoon announced that he hopes to have Donington re-opened by August – more here.
The Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire today staged the launch of its Arena layout, redeveloped at a cost of £5 million, with guests including racing drivers past and present, team bosses and the Duke of York.
Prince Andrew and the Bishop of Brixworth were among those who gathered to celebrate the successful retention of the British Grand Prix and watch demonstrations that included bikes and Formula One cars after the track was given the go-ahead by the FIA earlier this week.
But those fans hoping for positive news on Donington Park, the loser in the battle to stage the race, are waiting anxiously to find out what the future holds for the circuit four months after its leaseholder went into administration and control was handed back to its owners the Wheatcroft family.
At Silverstone the prince was driven around the circuit in a two-seater by Damon Hill, president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), and also offered honorary membership of the club before making a speech which stressed the crucial importance of motorsport and performance engineering to the UK’s economy.
The new track, which is nearly half a mile longer than the existing Grand Prix circuit, is the first stage of development work promised as part of Silverstone’s contract to stage Formula One. New pits and paddock and a repositioned start line will follow from 2011.
According to former racer and TV pundit Tony Jardine, who worked on designing the new layout, it will provide a fast and challenging drive for both cars and bikes and is set to become the quickest on the F1 calendar.
In addition to the British Grand Prix Silverstone is now home to MotoGP and the Superbike World Championship. New corners and features for drivers, riders and fans to learn include Village, The Loop, Wellington Straight and Aintree.
1996 Formula One World Champion Hill told the BBC: “This has been the result of a very long, hard battle to upgrade the facilities and provide a venue that is the best venue for drivers and for fans… we want to provide the very best but it has to be sustainable.
“We’ve reconfigured the shape of the circuit. This is the first year of a two-year development place and for next year, there will be a completely different position for the start-finish line, so the pits and paddock will be in a completely different place.
“The centre of attention, the start and finish, will all be down the other end of the circuit. We hope that it will provide much better viewing facilities, greater capacity and also more of a thrill and challenge for the drivers.”
However, while Silverstone was welcoming the great and good to show off its new circuit layout, fans hoping for news on the future of Donington Park were still waiting – with little new information to sustain them since before the fan rally held at the circuit on March 7.
Discussions between owner Kevin Wheatcroft and potential leaseholders are still said to be ongoing, with Wheatcroft remaining keen to ensure that they result in a workable scheme – a position he has maintained since regaining control of Donington from the previous leaseholder in December.
An interview with Wheatcroft this week in Autosport’s national pages has him stating his determination to keep the circuit open for racing – in the face of “tempting” offers from developers who are interested in the land for non-racing use and interest from East Midlands Airport.
He says that any potential investor would have to be prepared to invest the money to repair the track and to complete the necessary upgrades to allow Donington to regain its FIA Grade 2 racing licence. He adds that he has had the repairs “professionally costed” and is waiting for prices.
However a representative of the Motor Sport Association (MSA), Britain’s governing body for the sport, has expressed concern about a lack of maintenance over the last two to three years and its implications for the re-licensing procedure.
• The Motor Sport Association is currently campaigning for a more balanced assessment of the needs of racing circuits, and of the benefits they can bring to communities, especially in relation to noise and planning laws. To find out more, and learn what you can do to contribute, read its manifesto here.