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Donington: The murmuring continues

NEWS STORY
07/07/2008

Ever since Bernie Ecclestone chose to urinate on Silverstone's parade - announcing that the British GP is to move to Donington on the very weekend that his daughter Tamara modelled a T-Shirt celebrating the circuit's 60th anniversary - there has been intense speculation regarding the deal.

When Donington announced that a 'mystery investor' was stumping up 100m to help fund the massive redevelopment that is needed, many jumped to the conclusion that the man with the money is Ecclestone, however, this was quickly denied by the F1 supremo himself and Donington CEO Simon Gillett.

Yesterday, Gillett claimed that there was no mystery investor and that the money will be raised by other means: "We have a lot of exciting plans," he said. "We will run a debenture scheme, which will help us get this scheme going. There will be more coming out in the next few days and weeks."

Ignoring other obvious questions such as planning permission from two different counties, there is the fact that nobody is convinced that a debenture scheme will raise anything like the sort of money needed.

There are whispers that the money could come from outside the UK, with Dubai inevitably being mentioned as the source, while others remain convinced that the announcement is all part of Ecclestone grand plan.

Ecclestone has repeatedly said that the British government should be investing in F1, even though, ignoring Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's previous encounter with the sport, F1 ticks few boxes in terms of what voters, and thereby the government, want.

Therefore, at a time when Ecclestone continues to ram home the message that there are other countries screaming out for F1, willing to build state-of-the-art tracks and hand over oodles of cash, one has to wonder if Britain could still lose its place on the calendar, albeit temporarily.

Asked if there was any chance of Silverstone still pulling off the save of the century, Ecclestone was emphatic yesterday: "We won't come back," he barked.

"We're in the same situation as we were before Donington came into the deal," he continued, before ominously adding: "I am sure they will be ready but, if not, we will sign with another country. There won't be a British Grand Prix. Pure and simple."

Asked whether Donington will be ready in time for the 2010 race, the F1 supremo said: "How do I know? I'm not a civil engineer, you should ask the promoters."

Ignoring the money, ignoring the future of the British GP, the fact is that Ecclestone has a 'beef' with the BRDC - owners of Silverstone - that goes back fifteen years, back to the time of the 'Walkinshaw affair' when the BRDC snubbed him. Ecclestone has a long memory.

On the face of it, the BRDC remains stoic, a source telling The Guardian: "I think it's fair to say that the BRDC is sanguine about recent developments and will be making a measured response to this issue in due course. "

"On the face of it there's no way on earth that the mathematics of the new Donington deal can possibly stack up," the BRDC source continued. "This business has nothing to do with any perceived spat between Bernie and the BRDC, it's about nothing more nor less than maximising the cashflow through Bernie's businesses and CVC Capital Partners, who are investors in his companies. In formula one everything is about money, nothing else."

While another BRDC source told Pitpass: "As I see it now, the British Grand Prix does not necessarily move to Donington in 2010. Bernie has entered into an agreement with a promoter to hold the British Grand Prix for a ten-year period commencing in 2010. It would appear that the terms of the deal called for the promoter to pay, up front, two years annual fee which is non-returnable. I would guess this to be between 22m and 25m. It is now up to the promoter to have a venue acceptable to FOM available by 2010.

"The promoter's choice is Donington," added the source, "just as in the past, Nicola Foulston's choice was Brands Hatch."

In 1999 a deal was done which saw Foulston, who had inherited the legendary Kent track following the death of her father, secure a long-term deal to host the British GP, Ecclestone at long last getting one over on the BRDC.

However, problems with planning permission, the inability to purchase the necessary extra land and ancient woodland meant that the Grand Prix returned to Silverstone and Foulston headed off into the sunset to count her money.

As our BRDC source concluded: "We shall see what we shall see, when we get to late 2009."

Either way, it is believed that Friday's announcement will see some bloodletting at the BRDC, with one source telling Pitpass: "There will now be a massive shake-up, I can see the whole admin and directors getting the boot for having screwed-up the masterplan deal and wasting 2-3 million in the process."

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