How big a disaster was the resignation on Friday of Lee Gill, the Chief Operating Officer of the company that holds the contract to run the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2010?
At first glance, it’s very serious indeed. Gill is a highly experienced operator with a reputation for getting things done and although no reasons have been given for his departure, a man like Gill does not take on a commitment like that and then give it up on a whim.
Nor will Gill walking out do anything to improve what I detect are fairly low confidence levels in Donington’s ability to host a Grand Prix in less than two year’s time.
Indeed, among the journalists I’ve spoken to about it, I’ve yet to meet one who reckons it’s going to happen.
But there is another side to this story. In fact all Donington needs to host the Grand Prix is planning permission (to which the council appears currently to be lending a sympathetic ear), plus the money to make some fairly straightforward track revisions and install a new pit and paddock complex.
Raising this cash via a debenture scheme has been entrusted to Goldman Sachs and IMG, companies that did not build their considerable reputations by taking on no-hopers.
I expect the more troublesome, time-consuming and expensive issue is one of access. Such a fuss was made of the legendarily awful approach to Silverstone that a huge stretch of the A43 was turned into a dual carriageway to fix it, yet Donington is known to jam solid every year at Moto GP time, and that’s just with motorbikes. And quite what the owners of the adjacent East Midlands airport will say if punters start missing flights because of the congestion is all too easy to predict.
So there are, in fact, two questions here: first, will Donington host the British Grand Prix in 2010 and, second, will it continue to do so in years thereafter?
We must hope the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, because the one of very few things we do actually know is that Bernie Ecclestone is on the record as saying ‘If there is no Donington, there is no British GP.’
And that doesn’t bear thinking about.