Is the Grand Prix going to Donington a good or a bad thing? In theory, it should be wonderful for Donington has it all. It has the history, holding Grands Prix back in the 1930s while Silverstone was still a sleepy little village. It has the location, right in the middle of the country with excellent motorway connections and an international airport literally next door.
It has the topography, with gradients to make it a great circuit not just for drivers (which Silverstone undoubtedly is) but for spectators too (which Silverstone undoubtedly is not). And I bet almost all of us remember that cold, wet day in 1993 when Ayrton Senna used the track to prove there was a God after all.
But before we all get too carried away, I think a couple of notes of caution need to be sounded. First, even though the deal appears to have been done, nothing surprises me in F1 any more. Last year’s French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours was absolutely the last until it turned up again on this year’s calendar for categorically the final time. Guess where it’s being held next year… So I’m not quite writing off Silverstone just yet.
Secondly, it will take £100 million of investment to turn Donington into a facility deemed worthy of holding a Grand Prix. Presuming for the moment that the money is already there, the planning goes through on the nod and what seems like a fairly tight schedule is completed on time, it will be interesting to see how the circuit adapts to such huge change.
Of course it won’t be the first time the track has been rebuilt, for that is precisely what Tom Wheatcroft did in the 1970s. He ensured the new track followed as much of the original course as possible, preserving a unique character that exists to this day. In all the years I’ve driven and raced there, I’ve yet to meet a person with a bad word to say about the main track: it appears to be universally adored.
And I hope the same remains true after 2010. So many wonderful circuits around the world have been carved up to keep them in line with modern safety requirements. And while some like Silverstone and Spa have been modified with great sympathy, many more like the Osterreichring, Nurburgring, Kyalami, Hockenheim and Monza, have not. If the true cost of bringing the British Grand Prix to Donington is not so much £100 millio,n but the destruction of one of the world’s most revered, historic tracks and its replacement by another faceless facility that could be anywhere in the world I’d say that was a price not worth paying.