Silverstone all set for enthralling British Grand Prix
This was supposed to be the year the British Grand Prix moved from Northamptonshire to Leicestershire after F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone finally lost patience with the British Racing Drivers’ Club over aging facilities and the seeming lack of commitment to upgrade Silverstone in line with the newer circuits.
The Donington dream, however, suffered financial problems from the start, and despite several assurances, they missed every deadline and extension put in place by Ecclestone to show they could upgrade an otherwise poor circuit.
Silverstone committed to being on standby should the Donington venture collapse, and so it eventually did. Reprieved, the BDRC finally look to have gone some way to meeting Ecclestone’s demands.
The infield between Club and Brooklands are entirely new, extending the length of the circuit by around 800 metres, with lap times expected to be four seconds slower than last year, but the changes should allow for more overtaking, and a better spectacle for the fans, while improving driver safety, but retaining its faster runs that drivers have come to love.
No fewer than nine corners have larger asphalt run-off areas, six corners have raised kerbs, and five have artificial grass behind the kerbs on exit. The circuit has also been opened up to allow fans to see more of the action from the grandstands as the cars reach the “stadium complex”.
Friday morning will be the first time the vast majority of drivers have experienced the new layout, and while many are very familiar with the tradition of Silverstone, the new layout might just catch a few out along the way as the circuit requires higher levels of downforce for the infield.
In the drivers press conference earlier this week Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso said they do not believe the New Grand Prix or “Arena” circuit will necessarily make overtaking any easier than the previous design, while Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton believe the flow has gone.
The new additions on track are not the only upgrades. The BDRC have invested millions upgrading the pit lane -part of the deal to keep the race -something a track with the history of Silverstone deserves.
It was a travesty that Ecclestone finally gave up on one of the bedrocks of F1 and British motorsport, but in hindsight, awarding the race to Donington despite the uncertainty of it going ahead made everyone get together and realise just what Silverstone means to motorsport, both nationally, and on a global scale.
The BDRC said money was available, but they needed a long-term deal similar to that given to Donington, rather than the usual five-year deal, to justify the huge private investment required.
When Donington fell apart in 2009, the BDRC pushed ahead with its modernisation plans on the basis that MotoGP would be its biggest race, before Ecclestone opted to return the home of F1 to the calendar with an incredible 17-year deal, despite his previous threats of abandoning a British Grand Prix altogether.
Whatever people say of Ecclestone, whatever resentment they might have for him, he knows how to get what he wants. Publically saying F1 does not need a British Grand Prix, despite the history and many of the current teams being based in the UK, was a masterstroke.
It touched a raw nerve with everyone across the sport; from team personnel, to fans, to Silverstone’s owners, and even those who come to Silverstone to enjoy the occasion, despite not having an interest in the sport itself, all made their voices heard.
When the threat of not having a British Grand Prix in 2010 became very real, everyone got together to make sure Silverstone got the deal it needed and the money to save the race, and here we are.
Car developments continue to come thick and fast as McLaren and Williams test their version of the blown diffuser during free practice, which could give them up to three tenths per lap.
Again, the race is expected to be a three-way shoot out between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull with car setups imperative to succeed through both the traditionally fast stretches and the new slower infield.
Sunday’s race is sure to be fantastic as we reach the half-way stage of the 2010 season -this is the race everyone wants to win.