The Great Occasion

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Wlhatever you might think about the level of competitiveness in Formula One racing 1988-style, and however much you might bemoan the loss of Brands Hatch as a Grand Prix venue, it is surely unarguable that the British Grand Prix at Silverstone has become one of the great national sporting occasions.

For one thing, it has history very much on its side. Since Luigi Villoresi won the first such fixture in a Maserati in 1948, the home of the British Racing Drivers Club has established itself as the “Home of British Motor Racing”, and the Grand Prix itself has survived as one of the few permanent stars in the international racing firmament. Silverstone played host to the very first event in the inaugural World Drivers’ Championship in 1950, and the circus has visited this country every year since — a distinction shared only by Italy.

The Northamptonshire airfield also offers the European ultimate in raw speed. Its Grand Prix boasts the highest average speed of any motoring event in the United Kingdom and, indeed, Nigel Mansell’s 153.059 mph lap in this fixture last year was the fastest in Grand Prix racing in 1987.

And if nostalgia and sheer pace are insufficient in themselves to stir the imagination of the general public, there will always be individual drivers ready to take on that responsibility. Mansell’s thrilling chase of Nelson Piquet for the duration of last year’s race, for his emotional third consecutive victory on home soil, will forever stand out as one of the season’s highlights.

Triumphant “local heroes” have been few and far between since the days of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, but James Hunt (1977) and John Watson (1981) have also revealed the intense patriotic pride of Silverstone’s Grand Prix crowds in more recent years. The prospects of British success this time are slimmer, with Mansell suffering from the unreliability of his Williams-Judd and Jonathan Palmer and Julian Bailey from the unwieldiness of their Tyrrell-Cosworths, but Derek Warwick still has turbo power for his Arrows and was a points-scorer in three of the first four races this season. And British-built cars will be vying for their tenth British GP victory in succession . . .

What makes the occasion so special, though, is its international nature. The weekend on July 8-10 sees the one and only 1988 visit to these shores of the world’s most advanced racing formula in terms of chassis, engine and tyre technology, and of 31 of the world’s fastest drivers from 12 countries.

If the ticket prices seem severe and the queues interminable, reflect on the money and expertise which has been invested in this circus, and consider the booming worldwide fascination with this ultimate theatre of the sport. The vast majority of the millions of spectators across the globe can only resort to a television — those who can be there in person are the lucky few.

“Few’ is not perhaps the appropriate word, however. Last year, a record 180,000 people attended the British Grand Prix over the three days, and organisers say they will be disappointed if that figure is not bettered this month. Whatever the result, there is no doubt Silverstone will be throbbing . . .

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