Silverstone at 70: 2000s

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Foster’s British Grand Prix, April 23 2000

David Coulthard remembers his second home win on a race weekend blighted by biblical downpours

David Coulthard crosses the line to win the 2000 British Grand Prix

Silverstone’s inaugural world championship race had taken place in May 1950, but this would be – and remains – the British Grand Prix’s earliest slot on the calendar. The FIA claimed to have made the change to reduce transportation costs at the height of the European Formula 1 season, but presumably did so without prior knowledge of Northamptonshire’s spring climate. Bernie Ecclestone had long had his missiles trained on Silverstone, in a bid to force through circuit improvements, and the events of this weekend gifted him a free set of nuclear tips.

Nobody could be blamed for persistent heavy rain that turned the surrounding fields – also known as car parks – to mush. When David Coulthard’s McLaren broke down on the Hangar Straight during free practice on the opening day, the attending recovery vehicle became bogged down and itself had to be rescued. “I had one pair of racing boots that I wore from season to season,” says Coulthard, “and I was very fond of them. I didn’t want to ruin them in the mud, so I took them off and walked instead in my socks.”

During the course of Friday, the organisers sent out a message encouraging ticket-holders not to turn up for qualifying: the car parks would be closed while workmen added stones to the quagmire, in a bid to make the ground usable on raceday. As Rubens Barrichello streaked to pole for Ferrari, ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Jordan and the McLarens of Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard, official estimates suggested there were perhaps 15,000 spectators on site rather than the customary 60,000. “I do recall crying in frustration that weekend about Mika’s qualifying pace,” Coulthard says. “He was just so good in that situation and I was wondering what the hell I had to do to get ahead of him.”

The answer, the following afternoon, was a fine start, but further problems had struck long before then. The scheduled morning warm-up was delayed by more than 90 minutes, because of heavy fog that made it impossible for the medical helicopter to operate. While waiting, race director Charlie Whiting amused himself by posting messages on the official timing screens, letting teams know that Ron Dennis was still stuck in traffic. The McLaren boss wasn’t alone. With the car parks still nowhere near fit for purpose, queues soon built up and – with the A43 reportedly solid for 15 miles in one direction and 10 in the other – the police issued a statement urging people not to attempt the trip.

The race itself was an oasis of relative calm. Barrichello led away at the start, from Frentzen, Coulthard and Häkkinen, and they remained close together throughout the opening stages. Frentzen was on a two-stop strategy, to his rivals’ one, and as soon as he disappeared Coulthard was able to increase pressure on the leader. On the 30th lap, he switched to the right on the Hangar Straight and forced Barrichello to cover the inside, then dived left to sweep around the outside – and into the lead – at Stowe.

He would not be headed again and nursed a slightly malfunctioning gearbox through the final few laps to beat team-mate Häkkinen by 1.477sec, with Michael Schumacher a distant third and Barrichello sidelined by faulty hydraulics.

“I know I won the British Grand Prix twice,” he says, “but in general Silverstone tended to be one of my fairly average tracks. I loved the atmosphere and it always meant a lot to me, because I’d been there as a kid, I’d driven my mother’s car around as a teenager and lived nearby during my formative racing years, but I was never a shoo-in to be quick there as I was at, say, Monaco. Looking back at that move on Rubens, it proved that you could run a lot closer to other cars back then, so they sounded better, were more raceable and also considerably cheaper…”

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