This morning I spent an enlightening and entertaining few minutes in the company of Simon Gillett, CEO of Donington Park circuit, which from next year takes the British Grand Prix from Silverstone.
There are still a few milestones before it happens though. And still a few doubters who aren't sure it’ll be completed in time or that the cash will materialise.
Gillett says he’s confident about securing the money and maintains “the circuit is safe” either way.
The next milestone after that is Formula One Management’s visit to the site in September. “We've got a plan that Bernie [Eccelstone] is aware of and he's approved the buildings,” says Gillett. “If he turns up in September and all we've done is dig a hole in the ground, he'll walk away and we'd expect him to.” Gillett also hopes that Donington’s will be the first 'public transport Grand Prix'. “Look at rugby, look at football,” he says. “Nobody [outside motorsport] allows 90,000 people to drive up to the door.”
Gillett expects 30,000 of the anticipated 80,000-90,000 crowd at next year’s Donington GP to arrive on public transport, either bussed from remote locations [like car parks used by Derby County FC or at Toyota's Burnaston plant], on the train or through the adjacent East Midlands airport. “I don't want people to arrive in cars,” says Gillett. “If you want to bring a car, it'll cost you more, you'll have to park on grass a mile away and you'll have to walk.”
Access to Donington by air though is still a moot point. East Midlands airport has all but ruled out suspending its operations during a Grand Prix despite the event's necessary large volume of air traffic, especially helicopters. Gillette talks this down. “We'll take as much capacity as we can from East Midlands airport,” he says. “They have a commercial system and, if what I can land on the day is financially beneficial to them, then they'll take that.”
Which just leaves building all the facilities on time. Gillett does not “get stressed” about this either. “I've built bigger businesses than this,” he says. “A company with £300-400m turnover and 400 employees is a big business. Whilst it's the British Grand Prix, and that's a big thing, the business itself is not.”
One man not doubting the project is the man in charge last time Donington hosted a Grand Prix, former owner Tom Wheatcroft, from whom Gillett bought the Donington Park circuit. “I spoke to Tom this morning, he’s over the moon,” said Gillett. “This is his dream.” It’ll become a reality in the summer of next year.