Over 300,000 packed into the circuit for last weekend’s British Grand Prix 12 months after the track seemed on its last lags
For many years the British Grand Prix has been the embarrassing uncle in the familiar line-up of our “great summer of sport” (© BBC). Shabby old Silverstone was not Lord’s or Wimbledon, or even Henley or Ascot. Even a windswept and rain?lashed Open Championship course, whether it be on the Ayrshire coast or nestled in the dunes beside the English Channel, could look down its nose at the old Second World War bomber airfield that straddles the Buckinghamshire-Northamptonshire border. No longer.
Last Sunday 115,000 spectators packed into Silverstone, taking the three-day attendance beyond the 300,000 mark. They were blessed with glorious weather and drawn by the possibility of British success. The atmosphere was fantastic at 8am on race day, five hours before the grand prix itself, and by the time the action started even veterans of some of the sporting world’s great events sensed that they were at something special.
A year previously those who went to the British Grand Prix were there to bury an old friend. Silverstone had lost the contract to Donington Park and no one knew when Formula One would ever return to the track that hosted the very first world championship race back in 1950. Silverstone, despite being one of the world’s great circuits, had taken too many kickings over the years from Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s commercial rights holder, for its tired facilities and the reluctance of the track’s owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, to pay their way into the 21st century.
A lot has happened in the 12 months since. Donington is a stalled work in progress, a sad monument to unrealistic ambitions, and a reconfigured Silverstone is proudly clutching a 17-year contract for the British Grand Prix, is also host to the motorcycle equivalent and, in two weeks time, a round of the Superbike World Championship.
Work at the track continues, with every effort being made to enhance the spectator experience as well as look after those who would never consider spending a bean on a grandstand seat or a pitch in one of the circuit campsites. At the southern end of the property the new pit and paddock complex is on schedule to be completed in time for next season and the lessons learned from the staging of three big events will be put into practice for 2011.
Britain has long been at the forefront of motor sport, whether it be in the form of drivers and riders, teams or manufacturers. We also lead the world when it comes to the knowledge and passion for the sport of the crowds who make these events worthwhile. Now we also have a world-class grand prix circuit to sit alongside the other sporting cathedrals with which this country is blessed.