The Tragedy of Silverstone’s GP Deal

Donington Park, October 2009 © J. Moy / Sutton

The British Grand Prix has been saved and we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. By the time the new deal runs out, if it goes to its full length, I’ll be in the latter half of my 40s. While that may not mean much to many of you, to me that seems like a bloody long way away. Hell, I’m not even 30 yet.

A 17 year deal for Silverstone is great news for British motorsport and of course for British motorsport fans. It’s also a great deal from the perspective of the sport itself, for Silverstone is one of the drivers’ favourite tracks of the year. The proposed changes, which had been due to be made for MotoGP’s arrival in 2010, will go some way to bringing the track into the 21st century and should simply enhance the circuit as the alterations will not affect any of the opening half of the circuit which is so adored by racers.

But although yesterday’s news will be greeted with almost universal approval by the motorsport community, on reflection it has also, through no fault of its own, confirmed a very sorry state of affairs.

Let us not forget that next season was supposed to signal the return of Formula 1 to Donington Park. The revamped, redesigned circuit was supposed to become the new home of British motorsport and of the British Grand Prix. It was to be, in the words of then FIA President Max Mosley, the type of circuit that British fans deserved.

Today however, the circuit lies in ruins. Literally.

The circuit modifications, essential for the hosting of the Grand Prix, were started but never completed. Simon Gillett, the wideboy-esque boss of Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd ran out of money and ideas, renovation work was suspended, the rights to host the Grand Prix were lost and the administrators were brought in. What remains of Donington Park today is little more than a building site. A once wonderful racing circuit, which sat high up the order of racing favourites not just in the UK but in Europe for drivers at all levels, is now unusable.

MotoGP has gone to Silverstone. Formula 1 will remain at Silverstone for the foreseeable future. F2 will not be back at Donington. Neither will Superleague. Indeed, if the lease is not bought and the track repaired, it seems unlikely there will be any racing at all at Donington Park in 2010.

How sad it is that just weeks after the passing of Tom Wheatcroft, the man who restored Donington Park from ruins to racing, the track into which he poured his heart and soul now lies in tatters.

So, while it is right that we celebrate the confirmation that Formula 1 will stay in Britain for the long term and at the wonderful Silverstone circuit, yesterday’s announcement may also have signalled the death knell for one of this country’s favourite race tracks.

One hopes somebody with a big enough pocket and with sufficient passion and foresight is able to take hold of the lease and return Donington to its former glory, let alone shape it into an all singing, all dancing mega-track for the 21st Century. If my sources close to Donington are correct, it’s going to cost over £4 million to simply get the track back into a state where you could drive a full lap.

Regardless of the continuation of F1 in this country, it would be a genuine tragedy if the foolish mistakes of one man should ultimately serve to have robbed us of one of the great racing circuits.

Same home, new circuit for British GP

The British Grand Prix will stay at Silverstone until 2026, it has been announced, after the BRDC agreed terms with Bernie Ecclestone on a 17-year deal to keep Formula 1 at the self-styled home of British motorsport.

Both parties have agreed on a get-out clause which comes into effect after ten years.

The BRDC has confirmed that it intends to run the Formula 1 Grand Prix on a new circuit layout, initially designed for Silverstone’s hosting of MotoGP in 2010 (pictured above). Work will also begin after Christmas on a new pitlane and paddock, which the BRDC intends to complete in time for the 2011 Grand Prix.

“The FIA have been to see it, it has been submitted for homologation and we hope to be running on the ‘arena’ circuit next summer. If not we can run on the current circuit,” said Silverstone MD Richard Phillips.

BRDC President Damon Hill has long admitted that Silverstone had only been willing to hold onto the British Grand Prix on the right terms, but was clearly delighted to have ensured the survival of the British Grand Prix after Donington’s inept failures had called into question the very future of the event.

“It is not easy to enter into a contract of this magnitude and you have to take on a lot of responsibility, but the BRDC wanted this relationship to continue.

“Everyone was well aware that the British GP is not just a sporting event, but it is dynamo of the industry in this country. Losing it would have been damaging and perhaps there would have been no coming back.”

It is understood that new FIA President Jean Todt was instrumental in pleading the case of maintaining the British Grand Prix to Ecclestone, and thus hope of a return for the French Grand Prix and the safety of F1′s traditional heartland in Europe in the future must be high.

Canadian GP back… but at a cost

The return of the Canadian Grand Prix to the Formula 1 calendar in 2010 appears to be all but officially confirmed, after reports in Canada suggested that Bernie Ecclestone has reached agreement with the race organisers and has given the green light to the running of the race.

The executive committee of Montreal and the Canadian Secretariat of Intergovernmental Business (SAIC) will meet on Wednesday to give the final OK which should, according to La Presse be “a formality.”

The deal will bring F1 back to Canada for five years at a combined cost of $75 million ($15 million per season). Canada’s capital city Ottawa will provide $5 million a year, with the Quebec region, in which Montreal rests, paying $4 million a year. Montreal itself will foot $1 million a year, which leaves a $5 million shortfall.

This $5 million will be raised by the introduction of a special tax on hotels over the race weekend.

The end of the negotiations have seen Ecclestone make an incredible cut in price for the hosting of the race, ultimatley settling for a figure $100 million lower than his original demand.

Fans, teams and those who follow Formula 1 will be worried by the special tax however. While Montreal is one of the most popular races of the season, hiking tax rates for the duration of the race weekend will not go down well. As Formula 1 enters a new era in which costs are intended to be brought under control, increasing costs on those attending races in order to allow nations to host those very races could prove to be a gravely misjudged error. And with the Quebecois government understood to be taking home 30% of the revenue from ticket sales, there could be little sympathy for them.

An interesting Rumour in Turkey

I’ve just heard a very, very interesting rumour in the Istanbul Park paddock.

Following a morning meeting of FOTA and their respective team drivers, a decision has apparently been reached to boycott this afternoon’s race. Yep, it’ll be Indianapolis 2005 all over again.

The rumour says that at the end of the formation lap, all 16 FOTA cars will pull into the pits and pull out of the event. By running the formation lap, they may not have fallen foul of their contract to take part in the event. The governing statutes are unclear on this point.

That will then leave us with four cars – the Williamses of Rosberg and Nakajima and the Force Indias of Sutil and Fisichella.

But is it actually going to happen? Right now we just don’t know. After submitting their block entry, FOTA doesn’t really have any cards left to play in its war with Max Mosley and the FIA over the 2010 regulations… save for boycotting a race, and giving fans of Formula 1 a potential vision of how the sport would look if the FOTA teams pulled out.

Could this be the final card in FOTA’s hand; the last play of the match? With no Bernie Ecclestone and no Max Mosley in Istanbul, there’s not even anyone, save Alan Donnely, to mediate.

With empty grandstands and its future already in doubt, the Turkish Grand Prix is almost the perfect place to pull off such a stunt.

With under two hours until the race is set to get underway, this rumour is gathering pace with every minute.

While many consider it hugely unlikely, it still might not be a bad idea to have a small punt on Nico Rosberg for the race win.

Turkey – Tilke’s Masterpiece

c/o GP2 Media Service

c/o GP2 Media Service

I love Istanbul Park.

Seriously, it’s a bloody fantastic racing circuit. OK, it’s a shame it’s in the middle of nowhere and nobody ever turns up to watch anything that goes on here, but it is a well thought-out, well designed racing circuit.

The drivers love it, and rightfully so. It’s a huge challenge, and the possibility to take different lines around the corners and maintain overall laptime marks it out from many other tracks. Watching Lewis Hamilton race here in the 2006 GP2 Series emphasised just how awesome a circuit it was. The amount of overtaking here is mindblowing, and with KERS and diffusers agogo in 2009, the F1 race could be a classic.

The track is the brainchild of Hermann Tilke. Yes, the Hermann Tilke who is so roundly criticised for creating dull and lifeless tracks. But this one’s different. In many ways it is his masterpiece and it all owes a little something to history… and in a funny way, I’d like to think I played a small part, too.

Back in 2003 I started work on a project for Formula 1 Magazine. I wanted to come up with the greatest circuit ever designed. The concept was really quite simple – speak to a bunch of F1 drivers across the generations and ask them which was the best corner they ever drove. Then we sent all the corners over to Mr Tilke, and the German genius put them all together in one mega track.

Ultimately it was about as long as the Nurburgring Nordschlieffe, and included the likes of 130R, Parabolica, the Boschkurve, the Corkscrew, Casino Square, Dingle Dell… it was some track.

In the end, F1 Mag went tits up but Matt Bishop at F1 Racing loved the idea and printed it in his mag rather than watch it disappear. F1 Racing then paid me the tremendous honour of including it in a special 10th Anniversary issue they created to include the best articles from their first decade.

Anyway, back to Turkey.

Last year I got chatting with Hermann Tilke for an interview we did in GPWeek, and we spoke about Istanbul Park and the Ultimate F1 Track we’d spent so long creating, and he said that the concept of that article had helped to shape the Istanbul track when he’d first got down to designing it. He told me though that rather than trying to recreate old corners, he had instead looked at some of the great corners and used them to influence his track design… so the first few corners here are fairly similar to the opening two corners at Interlagos… that kind of thing.

He said that he’d looked at the past, looked at what drivers loved to drive, and used it to influence his design in Turkey.

If the rumours are true and this is the final year we come to Istanbul, I, for one, will consider it a huge loss. It is a brilliant circuit, and one which reflects everything that I love about F1. It is high tech, it is hugely impressive to behold, but it takes influence from the wealth of history that this sport has to offer.

In many ways, it is a lesson for the sport.

F1 will continue to march forward, and in increasingly uncertain times it will soon be forced to make a huge choice about its future. The architects of F1′s future would do well to remember that while we can never go back, the very best things happen when you take off the blinkers, and remember to respect all that has gone before.

When in Rome…

Formula 1 may be disappearing up its own exhaust pipe in its current game of political attrition, but be there one eventual championship or two for us to enjoy as of 2010, there may be a new grand prix circuit on one of the calendars.

Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, today unveiled the city’s plans for a new circuit, a proposed 4.669km street track around the Eur District of the city, which was built under Mussolini’s reign to host the 1942 Expo, an event which never took place due to the outbreak of World War Two. The area is today recognised for its striking Fascist era buildings.

Running under the name: Roma Formula Futuro, the race’s bid for a place on the F1 calendar has been backed by former Italian F2 champion Maurizio Flammini, who is attempting to recruit heavy hitting investors to the project.

Rome wants to join Monaco, Valencia and Singapore as a street race in F1, but may have to compete with Valencia if it wants to grab hold of the “European GP” title currently held by the new-for-2008 circuit. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has already said Rome stands very little chance of getting onto the F1 calendar before 2013. But you don’t have to wait that long, becuase I’ve found a preview video for you to enjoy!

http://www.romaformulafuturo.com/