Deadline set for Donington

Donington Park faces a race against time to have its rebuilt facilities ready to host the British Grand Prix in 2010. Circuit design guru Hermann Tilke has drawn up plans that include an extension to the track and new pit facilities as part of a five-year, £100 million investment package. Relevant planning permissions still have to be sought, however, and it remains to be seen how quickly the work can be done.

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone signed a 10-year Donington deal on the Thursday of this year’s GP meeting. Despite pleas from the British Racing Drivers Club, the FIA made an announcement on the Friday morning, diverting attention away from what was otherwise a hugely successful race weekend for Silverstone and the club.

The announcement also came prematurely for track owner Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, run by Simon Gillett and Lee Gill, which had not expected to have to explain its plans so soon.

To emphasise how far the project had already come, Ecclestone showed journalists a copy of Tilke’s master plan. Dated June 26, it pictured a new loop plunging downhill at Goddards, the current final corner, before returning just beyond it, opposite the current pits. That will extend the track from 2.5 to 3.0 miles.

A new pit complex will be built on the inside of the back straight, with grandstands opposite. The startline will be moved so that – assuming the current chicane is bypassed – the Melbourne hairpin will be the new first corner. The existing pits will be retained so racing can continue while building work is undertaken. Ecclestone claimed that the deal could have been signed much earlier, and insisted he had given Silverstone and the BRDC a fair chance, having assigned a deadline of the British GP weekend.

“Obviously these people wanted to get it done quickly, because they’ve got to get cracking,” said Ecclestone. “We’ve mucked them about in all fairness. They would have signed three months ago, if they could have done.

“I said to them wait until we’ve got a ‘no go’, and I said if we haven’t got a definite answer by Silverstone, we’re in business with you. So that’s what happened. Silverstone arrived, we didn’t have an answer, so that was it.”

He insisted that without Donington, the race would have been lost: “If we hadn’t done this, these people [Silverstone] would have still been p***ing around, and I would’ve said, ‘That’s it, bye bye.’ There are plenty of people waiting. I would’ve been delighted to have this date for somebody else. It’s because this has happened that we have saved the British GP.”

Ecclestone denied having any personal issues with the BRDC or Silverstone’s management: “No, not at all. I don’t have those sorts of problems. It’s simple. They’d had a contract on their desks for a few months, and they haven’t signed. The important thing really and truly is that we have got a British GP still, whereas we would have lost it 100 per cent.”

And he remains confident that the rebuilding work will be completed on time. “I expect it will be finished and we can go there. They’ll be in plenty of trouble if they don’t. I think they’ve got good help from the planners and the local people.

“We don’t want them to build Shanghai, we want them to build what they were supposed to build here [Silverstone] five years ago, but they didn’t quite get it done. We need something good for the spectators, obviously. They need looking after. They know what we need for the teams.”