If the board of directors of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) sometimes feel like biting the carpet out of sheer frustration over the potential future of the British Grand Prix, then all I can say is that I have the utmost sympathy for them.
I spent two years on the BRDC board from 2004 to 200606 and I can honestly say it was one of the most stressful periods of my life.
When Martin Brundle, a former chairman, heard that I was proposing to stand he thought for a moment, then said “I have three words to say to you – don’t do it.” I wish I’d taken his advice, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling hugely sympathetic for the current incumbents.
So precisely where are we now in the ongoing saga which is the British GP?
Donington Park was originally given until the end of September to raise the £80m required to finish the circuit and finance the first race, but they have reportedly been allowed a few days’ extension to complete their financing arrangements. Now it seems they have been given another ‘few days’ extension.
It is understood that a merchant bank is currently involved in attempting to raise a bond for £120m from various wealthy investors, but Bernie Ecclestone warned last month that he would take the race back to Silverstone if the funding was not forthcoming.
“They have got until the end of September to produce a bank guarantee,” he was quoted as saying in the Leicester Mercury. “I’m hoping Donington can do all the things they must do. And if they can’t, we will come back to Silverstone.” A spokesperson for Donington told me last week they were unable to discuss financial issues and that an announcement would be made in due course.
Switching the race back to Silverstone may not be as straightforward as it appears, however. While Silverstone is keen on inking a long-term contract with Ecclestone, it has little interest in signing for a single year in 2010 if the intention behind such an offer is to give Donington Park an extra 12 months ready itself for its debut race.
The BRDC insists that would make no commercial sense. Even if they were given the green light tomorrow to hold the 2010 race at Silverstone, crucial weeks of ticket sales have already been lost.
So if the race is eventually coming back to Silverstone, it needs to do so for 4-5 years to give the track any prospect of clawing back the revenue which might already have been lost for a 2010 fixture.
“If the Donington programme comes off, then, fine, the future of the British Grand Prix is guaranteed for 15 years, at least on paper,”said BRDC president Damon Hill.
“But they still have to deliver the race, the circuit and its infrastructure. It’s not just a question of raising the money. If Donington does not happen, then you have to ask yourself what that says about the decision to look into it in the first place.
"And in those circumstances it would be nice to think that we could get round a table with FOM [F1 Management, Ecclestone’s company which contracts the various races that make up the world championship] and put to bed once and for all the uncertainty over the future of the British grand prix.”
Quite so. But when? And how?