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Donington Misses Another Deadline To Host British Grand Prix

Gareth Llewellyn-StevensCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2009

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium after winning the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone on June 21, 2009 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Media speculation is rife that Donington Park has failed to meet the extended deadline to come up with the cash to guarantee the 2010 British Grand Prix.

Formula One’s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, will wait until Monday before making a decision on whether to prolong the agony for Donington Venture Leisure’s Simon Gillett in his attempts to raise £100m to upgrade the circuit before July, or to offer the race to Silverstone.

In a move, possibly born out of frustration with the Northamptonshire circuit, Ecclestone awarded a 17-year deal to Donington from 2010, however, that circuit requires massive immediate upgrades to even allow an F1 race to go ahead, something that seems beyond the circuit owners, hampered by the global recession, and rumours of uncertainly of Gillett’s ability to deliver from a number of areas in the sport.

Gillett had until the end of September to prove the funding was in place, with the deadline extending to Oct. 3, and then Oct. 9. He now has until Monday to come up with the money, and guarantee work will be completed, or face losing the race for the first year of the deal, or the deal being scrapped altogether.

Construction work has already begun at Donington for their ambitious plans to upgrade the circuit, along with a state of the art pit lane, paddock, and club house, and they could stand to lose millions if they lose the British Grand Prix, with backers Citigroup rumoured to be backing out.

Silverstone would prefer a long-term deal, but in the past have been unable or unwilling to provide their own guarantee of much-needed facility upgrades; there is a possibility Ecclestone will offer them anything more than a temporary deal to allow Gillett and Donington to get their house in order.

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As the potential crisis becomes bigger, Silverstone owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), now claims to have funding and planning permission in place to upgrade both the pits and paddock complex, however, these will only come if they can secure the long-term rights for an F1 return. Some Joseph Heller-coined logic for Ecclestone to deal with.

Damon Hill, current president of the BRDC has continually is on the record saying that Silverstone would not accept a short-term deal, but the reality is this: If Donington can’t deliver, and Silverstone won’t deliver, Ecclestone will have little problem with scrapping a British race altogether if a deal can’t be struck.

The whole issue of where the British Grand Prix is staged is quite ridiculous. Silverstone is synonymous as the home of British motorsport, yet their owners have stalled on trying to secure the necessary funding required to upgrade the circuit’s facilities to rival those of the newer arrivals to the calendar.

With countries and circuits all over the world wanting to join the F1 circus, there will always be someone willing to take Britain’s place, if the circuits don’t get their act together.

Ecclestone told one newspaper that Donington cannot continue to meet deadlines, and believes it now impossible for the Leicestershire circuit to be ready in time for July 11.

Despite reservations in the past, Silverstone has restructured its operations, and finally embraced foreign investment, and with a rumoured £30m standing by to upgrade, a deal could be struck as early as next week to keep the race at Silverstone, which is what many in the sport wanted all along anyway.

So, Silverstone it is then. At least, it’s a bit easier on the traffic than Donington.

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