Hearts sank as rain continued to fall

James Beckett,Advertiser motoring correspondent for 25 years. 120621M-A545
James Beckett,Advertiser motoring correspondent for 25 years. 120621M-A545

Early on Thursday afternoon – the day before the start of the British Grand Prix - Silverstone boss, Richard Phillips, was already briefing the F1 media on the fact that his circuit staff were on ‘amber alert’ regarding the state of grassed car parks and campsites in and around the circuit.

“If we have no more rain fall then we will be all right,” Phillips said.

Silverstone were destined not to be all right as heavy rain greeted arrivals at the track on Friday morning. Hearts sank in the corridors of power at the Silverstone and British Racing Drivers’ Club offices as the rain fell in an unrelenting fashion. Amber status was upgraded to code red as the circuit’s grass areas became unusable. Parking on hard standing was at a premium and something had to be done.

People were arriving at the track with nowhere to park, and so roadside verges and the top of roundabouts became home to many campers unable to navigate their way into the sites close by.

A decision was made and a statement issued to say that car parks and official campsites were to be closed with immediate effect. With the traffic situation serious and backlogs developing around the locality, it was a bold move. Quite simply Silverstone were asking spectators, who had purchased tickets, to stay away from the venue.

An estimated 10,000 spectators heeded the advice and did not visit on Saturday for the official qualifying sessions. But plenty did. The rain was so hard during early Saturday afternoon that the F1 final practice was suspended because track conditions were deemed too bad. It was a difficult situation for everyone as the rain delay only raised fears of disruption on race day.

Finally, qualifying was allowed to proceed, to the relief of many, and the sun returned just in time for Silverstone’s statement regarding Grand Prix day – all ticket holders would be allowed to attend. Despite the traffic and parking problems encountered by so many, Silverstone’s brave call to fans to stay away had worked – the Grand Prix was safe.

Many comparisons have been drawn over the last few days to 2000 when Silverstone hosted a Grand Prix in April. In that year heavy rain turned the site into a sodden bog. Twelve years later and the track found itself on the verge of another catastrophe. Despite Silverstone spending millions of pounds on upgrades since then the images from the year 2000, showing cars being towed into and out of car parks, still hurt.

Back then, Bernie Ecclestone was hugely critical of how Silverstone and the British Racing Drivers’ Club had handled the debacle. This year he offered a different reaction, and confirmed that Silverstone were blameless for the situation they found themselves in.

The F1 ringmaster showed sympathy for the organisers of the British round of the FIA F1 World Championship as they battled to overcome a problem that was indeed out of their control.

Calls for new tarmac car parks and improved roadways have been made by some of the spectators caught up in the melee. These are valid points, but in the current economic climate, when the BRDC is searching so hard for an investor to continue upgrades to the Silverstone site, money may just not be available. A full review of the weekend’s problems has been ordered by Richard Phillips and the Silverstone hierarchy.

If the BRDC is successful in finding the investor it is looking for to complete its proposed Masterplan then problems such as the ones encountered at the weekend are likely to be a thing of the past.

The BRDC is committed to maintain Silverstone as a motor racing venue, and they should be applauded for that.