Rumour has it that Formula One won’t make it to Donington next year. I have good reason to think that might be a good thing.
MotoGP is the biggest event currently hosted at Donington. This year the two-wheeled equivalent of Formula One pulled in 140,000 people, with 90,000 on race day. Over 10,000 people camped for the whole weekend, and most of them got there before me.
When I did arrive, at 7pm on the Friday, I was told to park in a field and go and queue for a wrist band to gain entry. Fine.
But the only way through to the queue was either by walking all the way out onto the road or through a hedge, so naturally everyone went through the hedge. We queued. Then, having almost been run over by the supposed ‘emergency response teams’ in Nissan Navaras that regularly tore through the muddy campsites, we entered the campsite, which already resembled a wealthy and well established refugee camp.
After discovering that there was no order to the camping (and therefore the early arrivers had staked out acres of gazebos and wind breaks), we pitched our tent on the edge of the mud path and hoped that we wouldn’t get run over in the night by an errant ‘emergency response unit’.
After repeating the 20 minute trudge from car to tent, we settled down to the business of enjoying a weekend in the company of Rossi and co.
And it was excellent. It was haphazardly organised but, generally, Donington managed the thousands of leathered (in more ways than one) fans well and everyone enjoyed watching the riders tackle, and occasionally fall off, an almost wet track.
Then we tried to leave. Those who were camping had been told that the car park exits wouldn’t open until 7pm, to ease the traffic. I thought that was a good idea, as all the day trippers would have left by then.
Wrong. According to one harassed car park attendant I asked, Donington had ordered its security to send five fields of cars and one field of caravans out by one exit, and everyone hit it at once.
There were initially no marshals at all in our field, so everyone just piled towards the exit and came to a halt. Then a driver in the VIP area got so angry he actually ran over a marshal and the police apparently shut the exit for an hour in response. It took over two hours to get out.
When asked about the delay, Donington stated that it was a side effect of any big event held in one location. Apparently an accident on the M1 and M42 also had an impact.
I’m sure they’re right, but given that this is the 23rd MotoGP event to be held at Donington and various annual attendees told me it was always that much mayhem, it’s difficult to believe that nothing more could have been done.
Silverstone, which takes over the Moto Gp race from next year, is already promising ‘a better and more affordable experience’. My limited experience of a weekend’s camping at the F1 in 2006 would suggest that they’re telling the truth about the ‘better’, but probably not about the ‘more affordable’.
I just hope that the works already taking over Donington are good enough to turn around the fortunes of this excellent circuit, because I don’t want to see a track that offers so much for both racers and spectators fail.
But I also think that it’s going to take more than money for Donington to pull through. A bit more organisation is needed, too.