News and views on motorsports

Monday, June 22, 2009

Givin Em What They Want

Just finished reading this great piece by Martin Brundle who recounts his experiences of the Silverstone circuit through the years. There's a great anecdote from Brundle about his first test of a Formula 1 car in a McLaren. Also present was Ayrton Senna and Stefan Bellof. Ayrton as ever in single minded pursuit of being the fastest ended up tanking the engine but still had the gall to ask Ron Dennis for a the lap time to which Dennis replied : "I find it very difficult to remember to press the stopwatch when I’m watching one of my cars blowing up." Absolutely priceless.

Like many over the weekend, Martin laments the departure of the British Grand Prix away from Silverstone. And like everyone else, he's right. As a driver's circuit, it ranks up there with the likes of Spa and Suzuka (although I still think Brands is better). I myself can vouch for this (not that it means much, mind) having driven the full Silverstone grand prix circuit on a cold winter's day in a borrowed BMW M3 (the original made-to-race Mk 1 mind you, not the pimp mobile you find today). To drive quickly, its fast and hard. Bridge its still absolutely scary, never mind what the commentators say. And there are lots of tricky bits like Becketts, Chapel and Abbey. Well, Abbey was tricky to me, I completely messed up my braking more than once through there! My favourite corners is still Copse. In the M3, you simply hurl it in and feel that car leaning hard underneath you. The Becketts complex would be great if I could have nailed the line through there. But it was extremely tricky to get it right through all those transitions. I just didn't know how and in the short time I had at the track day, I couldn't find it. Oh well, someday I shall return, hopefully to do it right.

After we had completed our runs we drove up to Becketts complex at the point where the track turns to form the National circuit. We watched the other cars go by and looked at lines before leaving. You have indeed a healthy respect for these grand prix drivers. Watching from trackside, the fastest supercar of the day seems like its moving at a snail's pace compared to how fast a grand prix car speeds around that complex. At that point, you are truly amazed at what those cars can do.

Watching the British Grand Prix over the weekend, absolutely everyone was raving about it. It was fabulous to see Mark Webber pulling no punches and taking a swipe at these new bore-a-dromes Bernie insists on putting the cars on. Heck, I even learned something new from the normally horrid Star Sports commentator, Steve Slater, who gave a history lesson on how some of the track's corners were named. Maggotts for instance after famer Maggots who gave his lands for the facility. Stowe Corner after the school. Abbey after a 13th Century monastery. Of course, Hangar is easy enough, named after the hangars used by the USAAF in World War 2.

The point is Silverstone reeks with history and heritage. The trophy presented to the winner of the grand prix goes back to the 1930s. One could say its hallowed ground almost. All this would count for bugger all if it wasn't such a great place to drive. But as a driving facility its absolutely fantastic. Alright, the race didn't produce the necessary overtaking but seriously, watch the cars carefully. Watch them go through Copse and see them lean hard. Its something you see much less of these days. The only other place you'll see it happen regularly being Spa. Watch carefully and you will see exactly what these cars were designed to do.

For years Bernie has had it in for Silverstone. You could say he's had it in for the British Grand Prix event itself. And that is complete bollocks. See the huge crowds that come by every single year come rain or shine.

I remember as a child, my dad taking me to the Malaysian Grand Prix (pre-Formula 1) at the old Shah Alam Batu Tiga circuit way back in the 1970s. I sat on a hill on the grass from morning till 6 in the evening under the baking sun with only a newspaper for cover. I didn't utter a word of complaint cause I was just enjoying watching the cars. And we went again year after year. My dad and I are die hard race fans and car enthusiasts. So what if there weren't covered stands or proper seats or any form of air conditioned luxuries? We still had a great day out and what was important was seeing the cars race.

And so in England where motorsports is ever present and prevalent I completely understand why the fans attend race day braving the traffic and the elements to watch the cars. They're die hard fans and nothing's ever going to change that. What does it matter that there are no towering grandstands and fancy pit complexes? Bernie can complain all he wants. He can raise excuse after excuse in order to rape as much money for himself and the CVC dogs by running races in the middle of the desert but there will never be that same passion and loyalty.

Up until the time when FOTA announced a breakaway championship, Bernie simply refused to get it. He refused to give these die-hard fans what they really want. As I mentioned, for years he's given all hell to Silverstone and even the idea of a British Grand Prix. But suddenly he realises he needs to give the fans what they want because you can bet FOTA would otherwise be doing the same. Suddenly Bernie is guaranteeing a British Grand Prix and in the (most likely) event that Donington doesn't deliver, it'll be run at Silverstone instead. Even if FOTA does nothing else, at the very least they have done this service for grand prix fans worldwide.

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