Silverstone has regularly come under threat from Bernie Ecclestone regarding its contract to stage the Formula One British Grand Prix. It seems that each year, Bernie – a Brit, it should be known – has negative thoughts on the racing circuit, saying that its facilities are out of date and in need of urgent modernisation. Many times the race has come close to the axe, but each time solutions have been found.
Recently, 1996 F1 World Champion – Damon Hill – was elected to the role of President of the British Racing Drivers Club, the association that owns and operates the Silverstone circuit. While Damon accepted the challenge he faced, he did admit that his job would be difficult, but he promised to would do all he could to ensure Formula One kept its annual visit to UK shores.
The BRDC have a contract to run the British Grand Prix up until 2009, but any further races are in doubt, as Bernie is hosting races in more and more countries and ever improving and impressive facilities. Sepang, Shanghai and Sakhir are just a few of the new tracks that have been introduced to F1, and each have what can only be described as five star luxury, especially in comparison to Silverstone. That isn’t to knock the Northamptonshire circuit, not at all. The British developed one of the first railway systems. However, others learned from our inevitable mistakes and built better systems a few years later. Naturally, our rail network now looks like something from the dark ages. Silverstone, in comparison to Shanghai or Istanbul Park, probably looks similar. But that doesn’t detract any of the tradition or challenge from the circuit. And Silverstone has earned and continues to earn a place on the F1 calendar.
This has been sort of agreed by the Sports Minister – Richard Caborn – who was present at Autosport’s International Show in Birmingham today. Caborn admitted that he realized just how important Silverstone is the motorsports and general motor industry, and said that he would do whatever he could possibly do to facilitate the revamp of the facilities, particularly with respect to clearing planning obstacles and red tape – something us Brits are especially good at!
Caborn hasn’t committed any funds to the project – let’s face it, who would – but this news is good news. In my history of watching Formula One, I have never seen the British Governement support Formula One or motorsports in general. Sure, I saw Damon Hill give Prime Minister Tony Blair a tour of his Williams car, and the late Princess of Wales, Lady Diana presented Damon his winning trophy at Silverstone in 1994, but this is as far as UK politicians have ever been (in my humble eyes) in funding F1 in Britian. (Obviously, Princess Diana was not a politician, but in the lose sense of the word, it was a political placement.)
This is what Richard Caborn had to say today while enjoying the view of some of the finest motor cars ever developed…
We really want it to become the international centre of excellence for performance car production so we can continue to maintain the vast number of F1 teams in this country and also the industry itself and the supply chain.
We don’t want to see any erosion of that, and as the government, working with the industry and the sport, I believe we can develop Silverstone – under the guidance of Damon Hill and his colleagues at the BRDC – into one of the finest centres in the world.
We are working with Silverstone on the development of the plans and we helped very much with the road network.
We will be looking at what is necessary in terms of both the planning and development, but also how we can encourage higher education to be a major partner in that.
There are a number of areas where a strong partnership between industry, the sport and government are necessary, and we are determined to do that. Richard Caborn.
Richard, if you’re out there, reading this, please understand that Formula One is an important industry to Britain. Most teams are based in the UK, and these teams, or companies, provide valuable employment and research to the UK motor industry. They also provide the world with an impressive spectacle of man and machine battling other men with machines. Formula One puts the UK firmly on the map, but it will take a continuous effort to keep it that way. Silverstone is the hub of the UK motorsports industry, and it needs to be maintained and cared for, much like Old Trafford, or Wembley Stadium. Put the money where your mouth is and keep F1 in the UK.