In many ways, British motorsport has had much to crow about since Motor Sport last went to press. Two British drivers formed part of Peugeot’s Le Mans-winning crew; Nigel Mansell has won two Grands Prix and is odds-on to win his first World Championship; Martin Brundle has emerged from his team-mate’s shadow and looks capable of scoring a first GP victory, should the Williams-Renaults not go the distance; Lotus is in the ascendant, and Johnny Herbert harbours realistic hopes of climbing the F1 podium before the end of the season.
But all positive feelings are tempered by the post-race events at Silverstone. The sport came into the media spotlight as much because of the crowd’s premature track invasion as for Mansell’s imperious victory.
That nobody was hit by a racing car travelling at speed was as much a miracle as it was a mercy. But why the sudden change in attitude? British GP crowds have flocked onto the circuit for many years to greet the winner, but never before have they done so prematurely. Could it be that many of those who formed part of the record crowd simply don’t really understand the sport at all, but have adopted Mansell as a figure of xenophobic worship on the back of the patriotic fervour that has been whipped up by the tabloids? (Two days after the race, The Sun greeted news of Alain Prost’s possible recruitment by Williams in 1993 with the succinct headline Get lost Prost… Need we say more?)
Mansell’s popularity in this context is understandable. Right now, motor racing offers a British sporting success story, at a time when the England football team has returned from an abject European Championship campaign. The cricket team has been struggling to keep the gifted Pakistani touring side in check and Jeremy Bates’ progress to the last 16 at Wimbledon was celebrated as though he had achieved tennis’ Grand Slam.
Such crass behaviour wasn’t confined to the immediate post-race festivities, either. There were reports of several ugly incidents throughout the weekend, many of which stemmed from alcoholic excesses on the part of the perpetrators.
We don’t wish to see patriotic enthusiasm quashed by enforced police presence, but it is clear that some action needs to be taken urgently to ensure that there is no repeat in 1993.
The tabloid press could help by promoting greater understanding of the sport, rather than continuing with its present ‘Brits against the rest’ (or rather Brit, as the efforts of Brundle and Herbert merit precious few column inches at the moment) campaign.
Let’s enjoy the fact that this is a champagne time for British drivers, but let’s do so with a little nous. Loutish track invasions are a far cry from the delicacy, sharp wits and split-second timing that form the essence of the racing driver’s art.S A