Is the current claim by Bernie Ecclestone that Donington Park will be fit to stage a grand prix within two years really a blessing in disguise for the Silverstone circuit?
Certainly the thoughts of Sir Jackie Stewart, a former president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), the organisation that owns Silverstone, seem to be tending in that direction.
He thinks if the BRDC had continued down the road it was following in negotiating with Bernie Ecclestone, the costs of staging the race could have bankrupted the organisation.
He told Sporting Life: “I am disappointed Silverstone is losing the British Grand Prix. But, quite frankly, it is very difficult for a private members’ club to try and continue to afford the kind of monies needed to retain the race in this country.
“Almost every other country in the world that hosts a grand prix, if not every one, has government support.
“I don’t think there is the opportunity for any promoter, given the present cost of Formula One, to make ends meet. For the BRDC to continually lose money, just to keep the British Grand Prix, is not correct.
“Eventually it would have bankrupt the BRDC.”
He is also doubtful that Donington Park will fare much better: “I wish Donington well with it, but I know it’s not possible for them to financially justify it.
“The money they’re going to have to spend, to enlarge the circuit, put the facilities in that are required, will be considerable.
“Most of those facilities are already here at Silverstone, and it would take maybe £30 million, but it’s going to cost Donington more than double that.
“It’s then not financially viable, so how can we seriously think it’s correct that something not financially viable can be affordable?”
Meanwhile, BRDC president Damon Hll is questioning whether the level of profits made by Ecclestone’s Formula One Management is fair on fans.
He told Sky Sports: “The problem is money goes out and away. There’s a question whether that money even returns to Formula One. No-one should stand in the way of someone’s ability to make a profit, and that’s not what this is about.
“But the money from the people who come here goes to Formula One, and that money doesn’t come back to develop the infrastructure of F1. [Silverstone] is part of the infrastructure of Formula One.”
He said that some circuits were simply part of the fabric of motorsport – including Silverstone, where the very first Grand Prix took place.
“But none of that money has been re-invested with regard to the infrastructure of the circuits. It goes out, and it seems to me to be absurd that that money is constantly being sucked out and not re-invested.
“We could have had a fantastic venue. It would have been great for everyone. Everyone would have won.”
Ecclestone has denied, in the face of considerable scepticism confronting his announcement and its timing, that his Donington Park plan is a bluff. He says he is in possession of a signed contract.
But it is still very hard to see how the East Midlands circuit can exceed the access and facilities at Silverstone from a standing start, in the space of just two years, even if they do have a ‘mystery investor’ on hand.
Of course speculation is mounting that this mystery investor has only one possible identity – Ecclestone himself. Which might mean Hill getting his wish about re-investment.
Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, is full of praise for the circuit itself, but rather less optimistic about its pits, access and facilities.
He puts forward a terribly cynical but nonetheless extremely convincing scenario for the future: “A darker possibility is that, 12 months after Silverstone hosts its farewell grand prix next year, the Donington development will not have reached the stage at which a race can be held there.
“At that point a default clause might allow Ecclestone to pull the plug, giving him the opportunity to remove the British grand prix from an already overcrowded calendar and replace it with a government-subsidised race in one of his new territories, such as Russia or India.
“Or he could go back to Silverstone and make the BRDC an offer to buy the circuit that it might find difficult to refuse – at a price more advantageous to Ecclestone than the one he would have had to pay if the circuit still had a contract to stage the grand prix.”
And he finishes the piece on a fairly strong note, calling F1 “a sport that was once a matter of courage and honour but now stands revealed as a playground for men who, fuelled by greed and deceit, take the rest of us for fools as they make themselves rich beyond dreams.” Read full story here.