After many threats and much hand-wringing now it's head-shaking after Friday's announcement that Silverstone is to be put off the Formula One calendar in favor of Donington.
As of 2010, the British Grand Prix is to be staged at Donington Park, according to a contract signed by Donington officials, dba Donington Ventures Leisure Limited., and F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, aka Formula One Management Limited. The contract is to run 10 years.
Silverstone, which recently has received planning permission to begin an extensive redevelopment for hotel, leisure and educational uses, has been site of the British Grand Prix since 1987.
The announcement at Silverstone, where a sold-out British Grand Prix weekend is under way, drew nods that the race, the first event staged at the 1950 creation of the FIA Formula One Championship, remains on the calendar. Then came gestures of disbelief that Ecclestone would pledge to move the race to a track that needs far more work than Silverstone to bring it to the standards necessary to stage an F1 race.
Those who work at Silverstone attest that it is neither the flashiest nor the tawdriest on the F1 circuit. Drivers love the course. They cite the Copse-Maggots-Becketts corner sequence as the fastest in Formula One. The improvements sought by Ecclestone are characterized as more administrative than spectator-oriented.
A statement issued by Donington Park owner Simon Gillett and Lee Gill read in part, "Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, has worked closely with the local and national authorities in consideration of the planning requirements that are necessary to provide a first-class facility for the hosting of F1 in 2010. The details of this and the Donington Park master plan that outlines a five-year investment program of some 100 million pounds (about $197 million), will be provided at a later time. The investment will be led by a private investor who is also a large shareholder."
The move has been in the works for years as Ecclestone has battled publicly with Silverstone owners the British Racing Drivers Club. The F1 supremo has made no secret that he dislikes dealing with individuals who can change their minds. Ecclestone attempted to move the race to Brands Hatch as recently as 2000 but local planners blocked the effort. Wanting a new pit and paddock complex, Ecclestone has been vocal that government should produce funds for the British Grand Prix, the biggest annual sporting event in the United Kingdom. According to Ecclestone, an F1 investment would require ".002 percent" of what will be spent on the London Olympics in 2012.
"Silverstone couldn't do what is necessary to retain the British Grand Prix," Ecclestone told BBC radio. "Donington could. Not at the moment, but they're going to rebuild. The important thing is to keep the British Grand Prix."
A key battler with Ecclestone over Silverstone was past BRDC president Sir Jackie Stewart, who estimated the Donington site needs an immediate infusion of 60 million pounds (nearly $120 million) to stage a race in 2010. The track needs to be lengthened, safety measures need to be implemented, and traffic accommodations need to be made.
"Most of the really rich people I know are good at making money but not losing it," Stewart told BBC radio. "I hope this is not a short-time fix."
Current BRDC president Damon Hill released a statement with Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips that the track is ready to stage the 2010 race should the Donington plan fall through.
Journalists who worked the MotoGP motorcycle race at Donington last month said spectators spent hours waiting to get out of the parking lot. Silverstone dealt with its traffic problems in 2002 by enlisting government help to add a motorway bypass and reroute traffic.
Donington was last used as an F1 site in 1993, when Ayrton Senna won the European Grand Prix there.
Another F1 event under Ecclestone threat, the Australian Grand Prix, has reached agreement with FOM and will stay on the calendar as a twilight race. Ecclestone wanted a night race that would better accommodate the sport's television audience, heavily European. The race start has been switched from mid- to late-afternoon, according to an announcement by the Victoria state government, the entity in charge of the race, which is staged in a Melbourne park. The agreement is in place through 2015.