While sifting through some back issues of Autosport the other day my attention was grabbed by a news story, the headline of which ran something like: Ecclestone blah blah Silverstone controversy blah blah. And this was from almost 20 years ago. Not much changes in this sport – sorry, business – of ours, as the photo of the traffic jam at the 1948 British Grand Prix proves (see page 69). Indeed, little of the British GP experience is new.
The BRDC wants to change that: new roads, new facilities, better viewing, better all round. The work is under way; the big question is can it be finished before Bernie pulls the plug on the event? Or is he just jerking the BRDC’s chain? Silverstone is not the best circuit in the world, but it’s far from the worst. As such, Ecclestone’s constant sniping (a lot of which is valid) has always struck me as an excellent way of keeping the other F1 races in order. Thinks the organiser of the prospective Belarussian Grand Prix: if Britain, the centre of motorsport, is getting it in the neck like this, we had better be on our very best behaviour…
There certainly seems to be something personal between Ecclestone and the BRDC. And you can see how this might have come about: Bernie is not one for air and graces; the BRDC stemmed from heirs and Your Graces. It began life as a gentlemen’s dining club and has clung to that image ever since. Its president, Sir Jackie Stewart, who is passionate about the Club’s past, present and future, knows that it faces a difficult balancing act: it needs to maintain its brand – there is a cachet in exclusivity, as cricket’s MCC has proved – but it also needs to make Silverstone more inclusive.
You may, understandably, wonder whether this can be achieved. For Stewart’s dream of making Silverstone a 365-day activity destination to become a reality, he’s going to need a solid wedge of Government money, to be liberally sprinkled with private sector cash. However, a certain person’s £1m bung to a certain political party has made motorsport a hot potato down Westminster way; New Labour is happy to pour money into New Wembley, but Silverstone can go whistle.
That’s always been so; British motorsport has got as far as it has due only to the entrepreneurial spirit of the likes of Stewart and Ecclestone. Both men are imbued with a love of the sport, but both understand the unavoidable political and financial complexities of its modem idiom. They’re fighting a game of political chess right now – Silverstone the pawn, the stakes high.
Its outcome? My guess is that, in 10 years time, a headline in the Autosport that carries the British Grand Prix report (and a preview to the first Belarussian GP) will read: Ecclestone blah blah Silverstone controversy blah blah
Let’s hope so anyway.