Rob Widdows

An affirmation of Passion

It’s BrItIsh Grand PrIx tIme. ThIs Is not as natIonalIstIc as it looks. Our Nige is long retired, Union flag boxers are mercifully less evident, jingoistic tattoos less popular, and many languages may be heard among the chatter in the grandstands these days. There will be Ferrari flags and ‘come on Kimi’ banners among the McLaren baseball caps and flags of St George come raceday.

Thankfully the angst over whether or not the British race would survive the ravages of Mr Ecclestone’s master plan has subsided, and Silverstone has some long-term security.

But there can be no complacency. A Grand Prix is fiercely expensive to stage and margins are tight, so much so that further investment is needed and the circuit has been in talks with American and Middle Eastern investors. A capacity crowd is vital and, all things being equal, the place will be heaving over that irst weekend in July.

I have witnessed the evolution of our home race for more than half a century, from Aintree to Brands Hatch to Silverstone. The halcyon days, for me, were the Brands years, the natural amphitheatre providing unsurpassed viewing for spectators and a busy, challenging lap for the drivers. The advent of run-off areas, and other related safety matters, finally forced a permanent move to the wide open spaces of northamptonshire where Silverstone, in its largely original coniguration, provided a breathtakingly fast lap and demanded bravery and downforce in equal measure. It could not last: the cars became so mind-bendingly quick through the corners, that the emasculation, or re-profiling, began. The joys of old Woodcote, old Copse, old Stowe were gone. Who can forget Keke Rosberg through those corners in the Williams-Honda? I will whisper this bit. I don’t like the new circuit, it does not thrill me. Should either Damon Hill or Derek Warwick have the time to be reading this, I’m sorry. I know how much effort and expense has gone into the new layout and I accept that facilities for spectators are hugely better. Good vantage points remain – the banks on the outside of Maggotts and Becketts are my favoured haunts.

For the drivers, I am sure Silverstone is hold-your-breath exciting in parts, but for me the place has somehow lost its flow, lost that feeling that it was a place like no other on the calendar. Some of this, I sense, has to do with the moving of the pits and grid. The new location, and the new buildings, just don’t feel right to me. The British Grand Prix is of course about much more than the circuit. It is a wonderful occasion, a meeting of minds and an affirmation of our undiluted passion for the sport. The removal of this race was, and is, unthinkable, while the same may be said for Spa, Monza, Monaco and Interlagos. Even now, there is a palpable sense of history about our summer pilgrimage to Northants, just as there was in the days of Brands and Aintree. It is a huge party; everyone is there, an uplifting assurance that we have all made the trip to soak it all up together. We are brothers and sisters in arms, never mind our creed, colour or language.

Most years we have our heroes, whether they be leading from the front or fighting from the back. ‘our Jens’ and ‘our Lewis’ attract a less provocative crowd than did ‘our Nige’, but we remain convinced that our support, in whatever form, gives them a tenth or two over the lap. They tell us they can hear our cheers above the noise behind their heads; we are an integral part of the show. and that is what makes a sporting event a thrilling occasion.

In the next few days, as the race approaches, we will start to fret about the weather as only us Brits can do. Will it rain? Should we take umbrella and boots, or will it be hot and sunny? Should we pack water, shades and sun creams? Some years I see the same people on the bank at Maggotts, in the queue for a bacon roll, or hovering hopefully at the paddock turnstiles, clutching programmes to be autographed. Perhaps they are different people dressed in the same uniform, the uniform of the F1 fan. It matters not; it is part of the shared experience. See you there.