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?