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British GP: East Midlands Airport the key?

Interesting times in the continuing quest by Donington Park to be ready to host the British Grand Prix in 2010, with a couple of stories from ITV F1 and the local Leicester Mercury shedding an informative new light on the affair.

We’ll start with the Mercury’s story, in which circuit boss Simon Gillett observes (probably correctly) that, having worked with the local council to ensure planning conditions have been met for the development, it is likely that the upcoming decision will be in his favour.


It also gives some space to Gillett’s claims that East Midlands Airport will need to be shut at the time of the race:

Track’s bid to clear skies

Owners of Donington Park want flights from East Midlands Airport to be restricted during the British Grand Prix in 2010.

Racetrack boss Simon Gillett says the skies should be clear at peak times when Bernie Ecclestone brings the Formula One roadshow to Castle Donington for the first time.

He said this would allow the many people who would come to the event by helicopter, private plane or jet to get there without problems.

Mr Gillett said he was in talks with the airport about severely restricting air traffic over the three days of the grand prix — and even suspending it on occasion.

He said: “We are working with them to ensure we minimise their traffic. We don’t necessarily have to fully close them, but we are thinking when the race is on, no one is going to be flying in or out.

“The idea is that at peak times the airport has exclusive use for Formula One and us.”


However, airport managers said as far as it was concerned, they would be open on the day. A spokesman said: “There are no discussions to close at this time. As far as we are concerned we will carry on as normal.”

Councillor Nicholas Rushton, county council cabinet member for highways, said: “As far as I am concerned, they (Donington Park) are completely and utterly bonkers. East Midlands Airport is completely commercially run and I would be surprised if they would agree to stop their flights.” Read full story here…

This is particularly interesting when read in conjunction with an end-of-year opinion piece written by ITV pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz on the big issues in Formula One in 2008.

He has this to say, suggesting the real issue with the airport is not transport but the fact that its radar will interfere with the all-important television transmissions and its planes might cause trouble for the giant Formula One motorhomes:

Ted Kravitz on the year’s big stories: Silverstone v Donington

[The circuit management] appear to be taking the sledgehammer approach to solving the problems inherent in their location.

Only two lanes of road in and out? Ban spectator cars and make people come by public transport.

East Midlands Airport radar threatening to disrupt TV communications and planes too close to the motorhomes? Shut down the aerodrome for the weekend.

These remedies might work for one year, but are hardly long-term solutions, especially as, if punters are forced to use public transport, there might not be enough of them coming through the gates to supply the money Donington needs to pay FOM their fee.

That won’t be good for anyone, and may hasten Britain’s exit from the Formula 1 calendar — which is a situation many F1 observers believe is what Ecclestone wants all along. Read full story here…

There are two further facts to bear in mind in this context: East Midlands Airport is a busy destination for charter flights at the time of the British Grand Prix’s July date, and relations between the Donington circuit and the airport haven’t always been entirely friendly in the past.

Consider these, and a new scenario emerges: proximity to the airport may prove to be a bigger issue for the circuit than the more easily-predicted planning, transportation or finance.


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