Silverstone: Peace in Our Time
The comment from Richard Phillips, Silverstone's managing director, that the 17 year deal between Bernie Ecclestone and the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) is "peace in our time" was ironic.
The phrase was coined by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who announced peace with Hitler just months before the Second World War – and Phillips's comment served as a (possibly unconscious) reminder that Bernie recently described Hitler as a man who "could get things done."
In any event, it apparently brings to an end years of acrimony between the two sides. Bernie's dislike of the BRDC is well-known and he has been threatening to drop Silverstone for at least a decade. He managed to bully the British government into paying for the widening of the A43 to service the recetrack and, in 2000, punished the circuit by moving the Grand prix to Easter, guaranteeing that the car parks became mudbaths. However, in his recent decision to move the race to Donington, Bernie finally overplayed his hand. Although Bernie was a great friend of Donington's owner (and saviour), the recently deceased Tom Wheatcroft, no-one else could take the idea seriously.
Donington has a character of its own, but it is a million miles away from a modern F1 track. Complaining that the facilities at Silverstone were not good enough and so the British Grand Prix was moving to Donington was like saying, "a Ford Focus is not big enough for me, so I am buying a Fiat 500".
Given the credit crunch, finding investors willing to stump up over £100 million for the redevelopment of Donington was always going to be tough, especially when people started doing the maths. Bernie charges tracks so much money to host Formula One that Silverstone makes less than a million pounds a year profit – that suggested a rather lengthy wait to get a return on any investment in Donington. Bernie's other threat – to drop the British Grand Prix altogether was also starting to sound a bit hollow. Sure, finding Asian or Middle Eastern states that want to pay for the prestige of hosting Formula One is not hard, but dropping one of the most historic tracks in F1 does not look like smart business right now. With so many manufacturers pulling out, Formula One needs all the heritage it can find.
A Formula One calendar made up only of races in countries most westerners could not find on a map is not the best way of maintaining public interest. Bernie's comments that the British government should subsidise our Grand Prix if it wanted to keep it here also sounded pretty ridiculous in the current economic circumstances.
So everyone is happy now – except poor old Donnington.
Donington Ventures Limited went into administration last month having chased an impossible dream. It will probably be bought by someone as it is essentially a viable business, but it won't be bidding for the British Grand Prix again in a hurry.