Formula 1 veteran and F2 series organizer
Jonathan Palmer (left) has described Donington Park's present situation as "tragic," but insists it is too early to say if his MotorSport Vision group would add the track to its portfolio of British racing venues.
Donington is currently in limbo following the collapse of its bid to host the British Grand Prix. The circuit-owning Wheatcroft family are looking for a new leaseholder to run the venue after Simon Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd firm went into bankruptcy protection, and the track needs substantial work before it can be used again – its planned revamp having commenced before the Formula 1 project foundered.
Speaking on stage at the AUTOSPORT International show today, Palmer said he was "not involved" in Donington's situation at present, but was keeping a close eye on events.
"I'd love to have Donington as part of the MSV group, but I'm really not sure what Kevin Wheatcroft's plans are for the circuit yet," said Palmer, whose company already runs Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Oulton Park, Cadwell Park and its Bedford complex. "I've not been up there, but we'll certainly be monitoring the situation and, if they were interested in selling or leasing, we'd certainly put a case forward; but it's pretty early days for that yet."
He was strongly critical of Gillett's handling of the F1 bid. "Donington is a fabulous circuit and I think it's such a tragedy, frankly, that it's been buggered up so much," Palmer said. "I'm afraid Simon Gillett's done that circuit no favors whatsoever. An awful lot of promises, very few of which ever came to anything.
"The legacy of it is a very despoiled circuit that needs a lot of work done. It's not just work on the circuit to repair the false start on the grand prix development, but the general standard of it. Anyone who's been there, the approach roads are very pot-holed, it's very tardy and shabby.
"It's not been looked after – there's been a hopeless lack of investment by the leaseholder in the last two or three years. But it really deserves some TLC and I hope whoever does take it over really does a good job on it because it really deserves it."
Bernie Ecclestone has suggested that DVLL's ambitions were ruined by the worldwide financial crisis, but Palmer said Gillett should have foreseen the problems. "If I screw up MSV, it's going to be my fault," he argued. "If Brands Hatch can't run next year, I've got to take the blame for it. That's what being the boss is all about – you take the responsibility and the downside.
"The blame lies with Simon Gillett. He was chief executive, he made a lot of promises. You don't go into deals where someone says, 'Yeah, don't worry, I'll give you 50 million pounds.' You just don't do that sort of thing on a casual basis. If people let you down it's because it wasn't there in black and white and wasn't contracted properly in the first place. It's not easy doing it, but in truth Simon Gillett bit off far more than he could chew.
"It was a very ambitious project. It wasn't realistic. Most of us on the inside of motorsport knew that – few of us ever thought it [a Donington British GP] was going to happen – but he continued to assert that it was and at the end of the day it hasn't, so we're not surprised."
Palmer added that he could see Ecclestone's logic in bringing Donington into the fray, but that he was pleased the race was ultimately returning to Silverstone.
"Bernie's business is getting the most amount of money he can for selling rights to a grand prix," he said. "The best way to make money for something is to create a market. If you've only got one circuit bidding for it, it's not a market. If you find somebody else that wants to do it, you've got a market.
"It probably did put a bit of pressure on Silverstone. I'm delighted it's gone back to Silverstone, it's the rightful place for it and I'm sure they'll do a good job with it. For Bernie, I doubt he thought it was ever going to happen [at Donington], but it suited his negotiation stance. But with Bernie you never quite know.
"The facilities at Silverstone are already better than a lot of other grand prix circuits. We were at Barcelona for Formula 2 and the paddock area and buildings were far shabbier than Silverstone is now. Silverstone has worked really hard in the last year or two to smarten that place up and I think they've done a good job."