Bernie Ecclestone may be 77, but he remains a player in the shrewdest sense. In one swift, silent move this morning, he wrecked what should have been the best weekend in the British Racing Drivers’ Club social diary. And he did it on their turf.
That’s what the announcement about the Brit GP was all about. Forget all the talk concerning Silverstone to Donington in 2010 being because Silverstone is below par, or any of the criticisms that surface each year at this round of the World Championship.
Ecclestone will deny it, but this is personal. Bernie dislikes everything the BRDC stands for. And one of the club’s many faults is that they did not see this coming. Call it arrogance; call it stupidity; call it sticking their head in the sand by mentally barricading themselves inside their lavish club house: the move to Donington was always on the cards. Damon Hill, the BRDC president, at least showed pragmatism when he said last week that the chances of keeping the Grand Prix were 50/50. In fact, it turned out to be about 99/1 against.
As things stand, the move seems crazy as Ecclestone allows his feelings to jeopardise the British GP by taking it to a place that is not up to scratch. The investor in this move will need to knock down Donington’s facilities and start again.
The track itself needs lengthening and brought up to F1’s latest safety standards. The local infrastructure requires heavy revision to cope with the arrival of the F1 circus and at least 90,000 spectators (ask anyone trapped for hours at the recent MotoGP meeting).
Who is going to fork out the £100m to do the job over five years? And who will pay the £13m (plus a 5 per cent annual escalator) F1 needs in order to bring the show to Donington?
Not Tom Wheatcroft, the owner of Donington. Not Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the circuit’s lease holder and operator. Apparently, there is a ‘private investor’ who is also a substantial share holder. Naturally, Donington do not wish to reveal the identity of this person.
I wouldn’t mind betting it is Ecclestone. This way, he ensures the circuit and its facilities are exactly as he wants them. He also becomes the promoter, which tidies up the problem of paying F1 for the privilege of coming.
I understand that plans have already been informally approved – but not passed – for a circuit extension. For a man worth at least £2.4bn, £100m is petty cash – particularly if he screws the BRDC in the process.
You could argue that, since Silverstone’s investment plan required £30m to be spent in order to keep Ecclestone and F1 on board, then the money may as well be spent by someone else at another venue.
There is also a view that Ecclestone has actually saved the BRDC from themselves because their master plan could have possibly taken Silverstone to the edge of bankruptcy. I am writing this in the media centre, overlooking the pit straight.
Silverstone looks in very fine order indeed. The drivers love the challenge, most of them citing the Maggotts/Becketts complex as one of the best in the world. The circuit has a wonderful history, superb atmosphere and this race marks the 60th anniversary of the first Grand Prix here. I have seen more than half of them and very much regret that it has come to this.
But it was inevitable – not necessarily for the best reasons.