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British Grand Prix – epilogue

On Sunday morning, I met up with a mate who was sampling his first taste of Silverstone and Formula 1. He wasn’t doing it by halves, having arrived with his brother and father-in-law on Thursday afternoon to camp for the whole weekend in one of the official sites dotted around the circuit.

By Friday night they’d been close to packing up and going home. When my friend planned to soak up the full British Grand Prix experience, he hadn’t meant it literally. Like thousands over many years beforehand, he discovered how miserable Silverstone always is when it rains.

f1  British Grand Prix   epilogue

But by the time I caught up with him, the sun was out, the sight of F1 cars had blown him away and he was already talking about coming back next year. That’s Silverstone and the British GP in a nutshell: if the weather plays along there are few better places to be, and certainly no other F1 race has an atmosphere to match it.

But if the weather gods frown on the place, the self-styled ‘Home of British motor racing’ doesn’t have the capacity to cope. Just don’t go there!

This year, I spent GP Sunday in the Farm Curve grandstand with my son, partly through my own incompetence (I missed the deadline for my press pass application) but also through choice. With Nigel Roebuck and Simon Arron in the paddock, Motor Sport was more than adequately represented and frankly it was more fun to spend a day with my boy, watching his growing enthusiasm for the sport rather than timing screens in a windowless press room.

At this point, I’ll put my hand up and state clearly that I didn’t pay for our grandstand seats. But by sitting among people who had, this was an opportunity to gauge whether Silverstone has made any progress in its capacity to offer a world-class sporting experience. We’ve been critical in the past and not just when it’s rained – so what would I find?

f1  British Grand Prix   epilogue

To add a different perspective, I couldn’t help but compare a recent experience at a contrasting large-scale sporting occasion: the international friendly between England and Ireland at Wembley last month, my first taste of the national stadium since the days of the twin towers.

I hadn’t been to a big football match for years and was struck by how corporate the sport had become, how the experience as a fan feels controlled and homogenised within the stadium. The atmosphere was totally contrived.

Still, it was certainly family-friendly and well organised, and at the end of the night I was impressed at how they managed to shepherd 80,000 people on to tubes and trains, and out of car parks, with a minimum of fuss. As for the cost of food, drink and a programme, it was hardly cheap but I felt less ripped off than I’d anticipated.

Those who run Silverstone, including boss Richard Phillips, have professional backgrounds in stadia sports, and at the British GP it is beginning to show. It’s harder at Silverstone, on a site more than 800 acres in size, but year by year the ‘fan areas’ are more accommodating and pleasant. Then again, they should be given the price of admission. We know responsibility lies with Bernie Ecclestone and that Silverstone’s hand is forced, but the circuit has a clear responsibility to offer the best value for money if it must pass F1 running costs on to the public.

And here, yet again, Silverstone still falls short.

f1  British Grand Prix   epilogue

Even in the areas where new buildings are not under construction, the place feels likes a building site. Behind the grandstand scaffolding, fans must still traipse across a mass of loose stone and shingle. As in previous years, I spotted wheelchair users and buggy-pushing parents struggling to make headway. And what is it with Silverstone and its lack of signage? I know where I’m going, but thousands don’t. If I’d never been before, I’d have struggled to find my way.

Navigating the access roads is also a problem that needs addressing, as fans on foot struggled to find a place to cross.

Still, at least members of staff were helpful and friendly. Each time I encountered a bibbed official I was met with a smile. Silverstone has clearly ordered a charm offensive, just as it should, especially after the debacle of last year’s sodden experience.

And the car parks? Again, the weather helped, but as usual there was rage and frustration as thousands of drivers aimed for single farm gates to escape. The attitude of many was a sad indictment of selfish human nature in these circumstances, but officials did their best to manage queues in systematic fashion, and again they did so with a smile. It helps, especially when you wait an hour or more to travel a few hundred yards.

f1  British Grand Prix   epilogue

We all come away from British Grands Prix with our own personal stories. Mine was a happy one, largely because my son enjoyed the experience so much, and I saw signs of genuine progress in the organisation around this awkwardly shaped circuit.

But world-class? No, not yet. There is much to do before they can claim that.

So were you there? If so, how did you find it? We’d love to hear your GP experiences, both good and bad. You never know – someone at Silverstone might be reading.

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Click here to read more from Damien Smith.

f1  British Grand Prix   epilogue

Add your comments

7 comments on British Grand Prix – epilogue

  1. Simon Benedict, 1 July 2013 13:38

    Hi Damien,
    And interesting piece but I can’t agree with many parts of your assessment.
    I had a great time at Silverstone over the weekend and thought it delivered and excellent experience on many levels.
    I made a last minute to go General Admission and booked a camp site through the Silverstone website.
    I thought the entertainment on offer at the camp site was top-notch and really added to the spectacle of the weekend.
    On Saturday I scouted around most of the circuit watching F1 and GP2 from various corners, Copse was incredible, as was Maggots and Becketts. The viewing from the GA areas was really good.
    I settled an area above Club corner for race day and set my alarm for 5.30am so I could nab my spot when the gates opened at 6am.
    I settled in for the wait with a really great bunch of like-minded fans, and although windy, it proved and excellent day.
    The atmosphere was brilliant and the view of the racing excellent (not too many Vettel fans in the house though)!
    To offer counterpoints to your criticisms:
    1) Price: Yes, it’s expensive. But as you point out, Bernie/CVC trouser that, the problem lies with them.
    2) Construction site/shingle areas: Yes, there is some construction but the place is modernising and these things can’t happen overnight. I certainly didn’t feel it detracted in any way. In fact, given the Silverstone of the past I welcomed the construction projects which will no doubt make it much better for fans like me in the future.
    (cont. next post..)

  2. Simon Benedict, 1 July 2013 13:44

    3) Signage: I strongly disagree. There were maps and signs everywhere, plus free circuit maps with facilities denoted. I found navigating Silverstone a breeze.
    4) Traffic: This is what annoys me the most about Silverstone spectactors: They all drive to the event then get upset at traffic snarl ups trying to leave. Here’s an idea: Do what I did and use the numerous park and ride facilities from Northampton and other places. I didn’t even take the car, I took the train to Northampton, then took the excellent bus service to Silverstone and did the reverse when leaving. All with a tent and pack. I passed numerous grumpy motorists leaving the camp site and venue. People should remember: They’re not stuck in traffic. They ARE traffic!

    Like you I thought the staff were very helpful and food and drink options were reasonably priced, or at least in keeping with other major sporting events.

    I think Silverstone’s service is streets ahead of Monza, Barcelona and Spa. It’s now about level with the excellent Australian GP in Melbourne in my opinion.

    Anyway, my five cents! I thought it was a really great weekend with a great race thrown in (which I could keep an eye on using the numerous big screens) and I’d definitely go again.

    And the venue was pretty full of knowledgeable fans. Having been to an empty race in Istanbul the fan factor can’t be underestimated. Even Alonso said so!


  3. Bill, 1 July 2013 15:15

    A son? My, how time flies. I remember you starting out as a young rookie reporter at Autosport…

  4. John Read, 2 July 2013 06:36

    I am spoiled by having gone to all the Adelaide and Melbourne GP’s.

    Last year I was lucky enough to go to Suzuka for the GP. The spectator facilities and spectator behaviour were absolutely outstanding. A proper race track too!

  5. Neil Bailey, 4 July 2013 14:55

    Spent the whole weekend (Friday through to Monday morning) there. I think those responsible for managing Silverstone should hang their heads in shame, and that those responsible for setting the admission prices should be strapped to a Pirelli tyre and given a good thrashing!
    If Silverstone is the best we can manage, then quite frankly we don’t deserve to host a Grand Prix. For a 2013 venue it is an absolute disgrace.

  6. Nigel Bury, 4 July 2013 18:32

    I have been unable to attend the British GP for a couple of years but was at Le Mans 24 hours, where I left the circuit just after the presentations had been completed and within 1 hour i was back on my camp site 30 km north of Le Mans and had visited the supermarket as well ….wonder how many attending the British GP had the same experience of leaving the circuit.

  7. Phil M, 5 July 2013 11:42

    Nigel, I did. Used the Towcester Park & Ride and was back there in my car just over a hour after the end of the race (about the same time it took to get from the Houx Annex camp site to the main road after Le Mans.

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