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Archive for the ‘Donington’ Category

Donington CEO Simon Gillett went on a charm offensive today, responding to what he sees as a barrage of negativity about Donington’s claims to host the GP in 2010. It’s been quite an emotional day, what with Grandprix.com’s Joe Saward making a passionate defence of the project this morning.

Gillett had been well coached in what line to take today. He went for the ‘I’m just an honest guy trying to make a buck’ approach, and reminded everyone that so far, everything he said he would do he has done. The problem for him is that from relative obscurity he has done those things, but now he’s in the spotlight, everyone’s watching and he’s climbing up onto the tightrope. He’s into the really expensive phase of the project and no-one can see where the money is coming from. So he’s run into some negativity. Making an oblique reference to Damon Hill president of the BRDC which owns Silverstone, he said,

“I guess it would help if I was born into a racing family or I was an ex-driver – but I’m not. If you cut me open I don’t ooze petrol. Instead, I ooze business – and I think that’s frowned upon a little. I’m not one of the old guard, so people ask why I’ve got one of the crown jewels when they don’t think I’ve the right to have it.

“Remember, we didn’t steal the grand prix from Silverstone – it was dead. They refused to pick up the contract on the table, and there was no future for grand prix racing in Britain,” he added. “So we picked up the contract; we took the risk, are doing all the work – yet we’re still seen as the perceived threat to the British grand prix. Realistically, we’re the only lifeboat it has got.”

The reference to ‘picking up the contract’ is just that. There were contracts on a table in Bernie’s motorhome during the Grand Prix weekend last year and he did litterally pick it up.

There are plenty of people around the sport who like to play politics and the British Grand Prix is one of the favourite games, as Gillett is now finding. There’s no doubt that there is an element who are exactly as Gillett sees it, just out to get the knife in. But equally there are a lot of neutrals who don’t mind too much if it’s Silverstone or Donington as long as it happens and is a credit to the UK. I fall into that camp and so do many of the professionals in F1.

I posted a relatively positive piece earlier this year, when Gillett explained the debenture scheme to me, I was rather less positive once I’d seen the 2007 accounts. Now I’m waiting to hear exactly how he’s going to fund it and how much of the debenture scheme is already in the bag.

I was at Donington in 1993, working in the pit lane for ESPN TV of America and it is one of my most special racing memories; Prost pitting seven times for tyres, Rubens almost getting a podium before running out of fuel and Senna’s utterly majestic drive in the McLaren and a fascinating interview with him afterwards.

A Donington GP would be great. It has the history from pre-war days and a good brand to build on. But despite today’s pr offensive, the question remains, will it happen?

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I posted last month on Donington, which is due to host the British Grand Prix in July 2010, seventeen months from now. I gave details of a conversation I’d had with Simon Gillett at the Motorsport Business Forum in December. But now some worrying noises are coming out on this story, regarding the circuit’s financial position

The story has run this week in the Mail, the Express and the Telegraph. It refers to the accounts for the year 2007, which were filed at Companies House on 21st January this year, three weeks ago.

They refer to the eye-catching figures of £67 million of debt and losses of £12.7 million. I’ve seen the accounts and that’s definitely what they say, but it’s not clear what the debt is made up of, beyond a £16 million bank loan, £4m of which is guaranteed by Gillett’s partner Paul White. White owns a construction business in the Midlands.

The accounts are for year end 2007, so they cover the period at the peak of the business cycle and the assets are valued in there at £55 million. It does not say who valued them. Not much in the property world is worth the same today as it was in 2007. Interestingly, the accounts say that the group meets its day to day capital requirements through the bank loan and through support from White. White has indicated that he is willing to go on supporting it, but the auditor notes that he is under no obligation to continue to fund it. There is no mention of Gillett guaranteeing any of the loan.

There are warning signs all over the accounts from the independent auditors, who say that they were ‘not able to obtain or review’ documents of financial forecasts or evidence that Donington has binding commitments with providers for the funds required.

This is interesting because Gillett told me last year that he had a deal with IMG and Goldman Sachs on a debenture scheme, which guaranteed him the money. He has said all along that he would reveal details of the debenture scheme at the end of March, so we’ll have to wait until then to get the full picture. Bernie Ecclestone has said that he wants to see that the thing is on track by September if the race is to go ahead.

The auditors add that the current downturn creates ‘uncertainty particularly over a) the level of demand of the group’s services and b) the availability of bank and other finance in the foreseeable future.’

Gillett told Ian Parkes of PA Sport this week that the whole thing is on track, despite the doubters. He denies that it has the debts being quoted and says that a computer model of the new track facilities will be launched very soon. He said that the 2008 accounts had not been filed yet, but the current stories relate to the most recent set of accounts, for 2007.

All very mysterious. One thing is clear though; Abu Dhabi this ain’t.

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