With celebrations already under way to mark Silverstone’s 60th anniversary, Bernie Ecclestone pulled the rug out from under the Northamptonshire circuit by announcing the British Grand Prix will move to Donington Park from 2010.
Derbyshire track Leicestershire, currently utterly unsuitable to stage a modern Formula One race, has signed a 10-year deal on the basis of its development plans – which are considerably less well-advanced than Silverstone’s.
It last staged a round of the F1 championship in 1993, when Ayrton Senna won a rain-soaked European Grand Prix. Most recently, it hosted a MotoGP race that saw spectators queueing for hours just to get out of the car park.
Ecclestone has already tried to move the British Grand Prix away from Silverstone once before, awarding it to Brands Hatch in 2000 – but that move failed when the venue was unable to get the necessary planning permissions.
Donington Park owners and joint CEOs, Simon Gillett and Lee Gill, have a £100m, five year investment masterplan, led by a private investor and shareholder, which they say will revitalise the circuit.
But they say they can’t release any details until some point in the future.
By contrast, Silverstone is already some way through the very public process of gaining the required permissions for its planned redevelopment.
The decision brings to an end several years of megaphone diplomacy by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone in which he regularly criticised the British government for its lack of financial support for the race and Silverstone’s owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club.
Today the BRDC said in a statement: “It is particularly disappointing to receive this information during the course of the British Grand Prix weekend, while we are celebrating 60 years of Silverstone and 80 years of the BRDC.”
The club said it was waiting for the full facts before deciding what its position should be or making a further statement, but added: “The incredible staff here at Silverstone will continue to make this year’s sell-out event a resounding success for the fans.”
Ecclestone – who some speculate is Donington’s mystery investor – said the future of the British Grand Prix was now secure.
“We wanted a world class venue for Formula One in Britain, something that the teams and British F1 fans could be proud of. The major development plans for Donington will give us exactly that. A venue that will put British motor sport back on the map.
“I am sorry that we could not have helped Silverstone to raise the money to carry out the circuit improvements and run Formula One. I believe that the government should have supported them which would have cost probably less than .002% of the government’s commitment for the Olympic Games.”
And, in a typically graceless comment, Max Mosley added: “After many years of patient but fruitless negotiation with the BRDC, we are delighted that Bernie has nevertheless been able to ensure that the British Grand Prix will keep its place on the Formula One World Championship calendar. Finally, British Formula One fans will get the Grand Prix venue they deserve.”
Gillet and Gill were, unsurprisingly, celebrating the announcement: “We are naturally delighted and extremely proud to have acquired the rights to bring Formula One back to Donington Park from 2010.
“At the beginning of last year when we acquired the circuit and its substantial lands we made clear our commitment towards realising the full potential of the Park by making the necessary investments in current and future events that will see Donington revitalised ensuring its leading position as one of the most iconic racing circuits in the world.”
Donington Park’s racing history stretches back to 1931, when it staged motorcycle races. The first grand prix on four wheels came in 1935 when Richard Shuttleworth won in an Alfa Romeo P3, although none of the major works teams of the time competed and most of the drivers were local.