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Donington Park and F1: A Story of Failed Hopes

Written by Jacob Awcock, Edited by Meghana Sree

Donington Park, a picturesque race circuit in the east midlands surrounded by countryside, and in an area close to local transport hubs, seems like the perfect location for the Formula One British Grand Prix. Yet after a lack of finance throughout development, this circuit became a story of failure, with residents and fans alike left to wonder what really happened which stopped this circuit from having its breakthrough in Formula One.

Ayrton Senna won the famous Grand Prix at Donington in 1993; Image Credits - Bob Thomas Sports Photography/Getty Images

Donington got its chance in 1993 when it held the European Grand Prix having previously been outbid by Silverstone to hold the British Grand Prix. The race was won by Ayrton Senna in damp conditions, with the first lap going down in motorsport history following Senna’s classic surge up the field; having dropped down the order into fifth by the first corner and then, at the end of the first lap, leading the field following a move on championship rival Alain Prost for the lead. But after this race, Donington fell silent with no F1 action occurring or even being remotely discussed up until 2008 when the F1 flame was re-lit for this historic circuit.

The Formula One owner at the time, Bernie Ecclestone, claimed that with F1 having such a prominent effect in England, the British Grand Prix should showcase some of the best racing facilities in the world. However, Silverstone, which at the time hosted the British Grand Prix and was largely regarded as the home of British motorsport, wasn't meeting the expectations that Ecclestone was requesting.

Having pressured Silverstone to upgrade the circuit as much as he could, Ecclestone moved to Donington to host the Grand Prix and, in July 2008, a deal was struck between the two for Donington to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 on a 17 year deal. It was planned that F1 teams would be able to use the close proximity and large rail and aviation networks to transport freight to and from the race. Furthermore, only public transport would be available to fans to prevent the need for large-scale construction of car parks.

However, doubters were already heavily questioning if Donington had the finance available to complete the large-scale upgrade that was required to meet the standards asked of them. This situation wasn't helped when it was revealed that all sources of finance for these upgrades would be coming from a debenture scheme (large-scale loan) while the UK economy was in free fall – putting the reliability of this finance in jeopardy.

All of a sudden, it became apparent that Donington was in a dire situation as Eccelstone came forward again and said that if Donington could not hold the 2010 race, then Silverstone would be able to step in and hold the race, a clear contrast to just a few months ago when it was apparently “Donington or nothing.”

Eccelstone provided Donington with an extension to its previous time slot to provide the final amount of money required for the completion of the upgrades but the circuit was unable to fund this, and on 22nd October 2009, the plans fell through after which it was announced that Donington would not host the British Grand Prix.

Having already invested large amounts of money into the project, which was half-way through completion, Donington fell into disarray and on 18th November, the circuit owner (Donington Ventures Leisure Limited) was placed into administration. The gates were locked and the sound of race cars ceased around the east midlands. This marked the sad end to what had been an extremely promising project.

Donington now plays host to British Touring Cars; Image Credits - Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Nowadays, the circuit is owned by a large company called MSV, run by Jonathan Palmer. The circuit re-opened in August 2010 having had its ownership reverted to the initial owners of the circuit. Donington is now one of the most successful British race circuits playing host to a number of high profile races such as the British GT and the British Touring Cars.

Unlike many other circuits, Donington survived the F1 financial scare – a lucky escape for the circuit that many others have failed to recover from, and as a consequence have become quiet on the racing front.


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