Will Gray

Gray Matter: Why Silverstone must learn from struggles

Will Gray

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The London F1 race proposal revealed last week may have been just a bit of fun — but a positive response coupled with the traffic troubles at Silverstone should keep the current British venue on its toes.

The 'London Grand Prix', which was somewhat bizarrely unveiled as part of a pre-event promotion for Silverstone by the sponsors of the British Grand Prix, was a nice idea but it was only ever going to be a piece of sponsor spin.

The track revealed would be impossible to pull off — technically the cars would not realistically make it all the way around — and although Bernie Ecclestone said it would be 'magnificent' and revealed he had 'come close' to an agreement with the City of Westminster in the past, that comment should also clearly be taken with a large pinch of salt.

But what the sponsor spin did do — along with the preceding claims of a true option in the capital with an F1 track as part of the Olympic legacy plan - was rekindle the interest in a London race just at a time when Silverstone really didn't need anybody to be suggesting an alternative.

The Silverstone organisers had already realised problems lay ahead for last weekend's race when they revealed on the Thursday that they had a £1m traffic plan in place in case there was a torrential downpour.

But Silverstone's problem was not about a downpour coming after that warning — it was about a legacy that dates back decades.

Ecclestone may have pushed Silverstone to 'step into the 21st century' with an impressive new pit and paddock complex — which does, no doubt, make it a world-class facility - but unfortunately it seems that a large chunk of money has gone into improving headline areas to please the sport's ringmaster rather than sorting out the fundamentals.

The nightmare of getting in on Friday harked back to the bad old days when Silverstone was known as a mud bath — only this time the classic 'muddy mayhem' images were avoided by simply closing the car parks before the cars got stuck in them.

Even paddock folk had trouble getting in on the Friday — journalists driving from London took six hours to get to the circuit only to be turned away; a GP2 technical chief spent four hours getting in from Northampton; and one PR man had to set off at 4am on the Saturday to make sure he made it to the track in time.

The weather, of course, was not Silverstone's fault.

Plenty of major events were heavily affected or even called off after last week's torrential rain. Hyde Park has, by all accounts, been wrecked by a music festival and may now not be recovered in time for those all-important Olympics concerts.

But the question is: why, oh why, has Silverstone not invested in hard standing parking?

That £1m traffic plan was all well and good, but if the traffic can't park anywhere then it's inevitable it will break down.

Hard standing and metal grids were put down in the car parks in the emergency situation, but it was all too little, too late. The A43 became the car park and several fans even chose to abandon cars (and their honourable driver) on the road and walk into the track. At least, unless I missed the moans, the park and ride scheme worked well.

The unprecedented call to tell some fans not to turn up for qualifying even if they did have tickets was all Silverstone could do — and luckily for them it worked.

But after the debacle, Silverstone bosses admitted the campsites are the biggest challenge — and while they must stay as grassland the creation of hard standing roads around them would have solved much of the problems encountered this year. As would further investment into the park and ride scheme — a solution that some other F1 circuits operate very well indeed.

It's not clear how full Silverstone's money pot is now — but as one of the sport's classic venues, we must all hope that if there is some available to spend it goes on sorting out the parking rather than on than swanky new buildings because — because while the facilities may be world-class, the whole event needs to be at that level to survive.

The 'London Grand Prix' may be pie in the sky right now, but it's clear there is interest in the concept — even from the commercial entity that currently sponsors Silverstone's race.

It's been said time and time before, but Silverstone now needs to step up its game once again - in the places that matter - to fend off potential attack from the glitz and glamour of a race in the capital.

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