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.