Simon Gillett’s defiantly upbeat attitude towards the running of the 2010 British Grand Prix at Donington Park puts me in mind of the stranded sailor in the middle of the Atlantic who climbed up the side of the Titanic in the belief that it had stopped to pick him up.
Despite potential problems with the planning permission and the threat of legal action by Tom Wheatcroft’s family, his demeanour suggests very strongly that here is a man who knows rather more about what’s going on behind the F1 scenes than many of us on the outside.
On the face of it, Gillett is in big trouble. His Donington Ventures Leisure company is facing the prospect of a county court action starting on 8 June, at which the Wheatcrofts will be seeking to reclaim around £2.5m in outstanding rent. They also want to negate his long-term lease on the circuit and the North West Leicestershire District Council could withdraw the planning position for the Donington development that was recently granted – unless certain further undertakings are not finalised by the start of July.
Doesn’t look good, does it? Well, that depends on who you listen to. You can either believe that Silverstone is already poised to offer itself up as a fall-back venue – and has the tacit approval in that role from Bernie Ecclestone. Or you can take Bernie at his word when he says,"It’s either Doninton or no British Grand Prix." From my experience of almost 40 years in this business, I know which viewpoint I subscribe to, even though, in my heart of hearts, I don’t really think that Mr E would like to be remembered as the man who scrapped the UK’s F1 world championship qualifier.
Although the British Grand Prix theoretically enjoys protected status on the international calendar as one of the most historically significant rounds of the F1 world championship, reality in practice affords it little protection from the sport’s day-to-day commercial realities.
Moreover, Silverstone’s return to the calendar would depend on the circuit successfully completing its own upgrade to meet Ecclestone’s exacting standards, allied to a readiness to pay the going rate to stage the race in the future, two factors which have been major stumbling blocks in past negotiations.
“The FIA’s deal with Bernie means he cannot present a calendar without the traditional grands prix,” said Max Mosley, the president of the sport’s governing body. “However, it is not our role to insist that a grand prix takes place in a sub-standard venue. Just like people who want the World Cup or the Olympic Games have to pay the going rate, what we cannot do is to force Bernie (and the teams) to race below the going rate.”
Which, in a very real sense, is where we came in.