Background to a Grand Prix



We may groan as the seasonal goods are displayed in shops at an ever earlier time of the year, but for many, thoughts of Christmas begin as early as the preceding January. For the organisers of Grands Prix, however, the planning takes even longer.

The days are long gone when an airfield, straw bales, makeshift stands and three dozen people to help were all that were needed to stage a race. Nowadays it requires a complex structure whose mechanism demands precision timing to ensure that all the cogs are in the right place at the right time.

As managing director of Silverstone Circuits Limited, it is the responsibility of Hamish Brown and the Board of Directors to ensure the smooth running of the event. Although the circuit has staged 25 Grands Prix before, the race is not there by right. Even though there may still be another seven years before the current contract to stage the race expires, his organisation still has to meet the requirements of the RAC MSA, the governing body of motorsport in Britain, who act as the organisers and of FISA, the international governing body, who have their own special requirements.

Brown is well aware that nothing can be taken for granted and runs a slick team of 80 full-time staff which is swelled to 2,000 for this special weekend. In recognition of the fact that the competition for people’s leisure time is fierce, Brown and his team frequently travel to venues all over the world, and not necessarily sporting ones, to search for ideas that can be put into effect at the circuit.

Encouraging spectators to come is one thing, but organising the event is quite another, for it demands huge resources and long and careful planning. ‘Even before the chequered flag has dropped on our Grand Prix race, the preparations and long term planning will already have been started for next year — planning that will have involved a huge variety of people.’

Involved with the running of the race itself are various race officials such as the scrutineers who have to ensure that all the cars that appear on the track are safe and conform to the strict regulations, the clerk of the course, who has full control of the course from the beginning of practice to the end of the meeting, judges, observers, doctors and ambulancemen, fire engines and tenders, and the marshals who play a variety of very important roles.

Since many of these people attend races week in and week out, they all know their roles intimately and are the easier part of the equation. Dr David Cranston, the chief medical officer, heads a team of 35 doctors and surgeons based at the special Medical Centre in the centre of the circuit. There is a complete spread of medical disciplines, even gynaecologists, to cater for every emergency. A temporary medical centre situated at the main entrance to the circuit caters for the general public.

The permanent medical centre in the middle of the track has every facility needed for minor operations and life support. There is also closed circuit television from race control enabling them to monitor the race as it is going on. If there is an accident, the point will be freezed on screen so those at the medical centre can actually see what is happening. There is radio control with all the St Johns ambulances at the circuit as well as direct radio control through to the county ambulance service and to the ambulance headquarters at Northampton and Oxford.

Doctors are situated at every danger point around the circuit as well as in high-speed support vehicles. Two helicopters are on constant stand-by with the facility to call on another couple in a major emergency. Dr. Cranston, though, prefers the use of ambulance with police escort for a less traumatic journey, but if the traffic prevents such a rapid evacuation, then the choppers will be called into use.

All the major hospitals in the area are on standby, the job of the Silverstone medics to stabilise and then despatch the patient to the hospital with the appropriate specialist facilities. Such is the efficiency of the medical service that even a disaster of major proportions, such as a grandstand collapsing, could effectively be dealt with. Six Land Rover fire tenders, a fully equipped fire engine, two incident vehicles, two emergency intervention vehicles and specially prepared Jaguars which follow the pack for the first lap for immediate help should there be an accident are also part of the fleet necessary to hold any serious race meeting.

Even before the 100,000 race day spectators arrive, there is a mountain of work to be done. Extra staff have to employed in the office to cope with advance bookings, while the circuit facilities are repainted, the advertising hordings correctly positioned, the grass cut and even all the windows cleaned in the weeks prior to this weekend.

For some Grand Prix week demands long hours and little sleep. Pete Skermer, for instance, will not have left the circuit since the preceding Tuesday since he is the sole supplier of petrol at the circuit.

With one storage tank holding 6000 gallons and the two others 1000 each, he has his own logistical problems. Although he does not supply the Grand Prix teams, there are still the cars from the support races to take into account and they demand pure 99 octane petrol. Since ‘4 star’ is in fact a term encompassing a broad band of petrol, the chances are that fuel obtained from the standard garage forecourt would seriously damage the highly tuned engines. So Skermer brings in his fuel from Shellhaven, where the petrol is specially prepared, instead of from a local depot even though it does entail a three hour tanker journey. It means careful juggling of the tanker schedules to ensure he does not run dry during the meeting.

In the week of the Grand Prix, several security companies will have taken over external security and another 400 extra staff employed to man the ticket booths, be gate controllers and toilet attendants. The relocation of the ticket booths from the outer fencing to a new inner perimeter has considerably aided the traffic flow into the circuit and eased the congestion which used to build up on race day and clog up the roads for miles around.

With something like 60,000-70,000 cars converging on the circuit during the course of the week and 40,000 on the Sunday alone, and all wanting to leave it at the same time as well, co-operation with the police is essential. There are initial debriefings after each major meeting, but the planning proper for this weekend began last January.

As the circuit straddles two counties, both the Northants and Thames Valley Constabularies are involved with the former police force drawing up the plans. Temporary one-way systems are put into effect on country roads all the way round the circuit while traffic up to 50 miles away is closely monitored. The basic problem, though, is that the A43, the one main road near the circuit, is a favourite route for holiday-makers going to the South West. Since the race falls bang in the middle of the holiday season, congestion is bound to build up although the police try to alleviate it with diversion signs.

Around 230 policemen and women are on duty around the circuit, backed up by the Thames Valley helicopter. Silverstone’s own helicopter, which is in the air for an overview of the car parking situation, also relays back information to the police control room located within the circuit.

150 car park attendants are on hand to direct the traffic as it streams in but following lessons learnt from two years ago, when the weather was so inclement and turned the car parks into sticky quagmires, five more kilometres of internal road have been laid to improve access and egress.

Many of the visitors to the Grand Prix will be guests, and it is the corporate entertainment side, as with most sports events, which is one of the greatest growth areas of the whole business of Grand Prix racing. Some companies, such as MOTOR SPORT, have a permanent box at the ground for enteriainment, but others hire temporary hospitality units. Altogether there are over 100 marquees and over 50 permanent hospitality suites.

Eating and drinking are one of the most important aspects of any entertaining and the provision of meals is a major task. Providing food at both Henley and Wimbledon, Gilmour and Pether, who have the catering concessions at the circuit, are used to the high standards demanded from corporate clients, but the Grand Prix, which provides their biggest one-day catering event in the country, presents its own problems in that all the meals are required at the same time in the strict timetable on race day and therefore needs the use of 40 refrigerated vehicles.

A staff of 1700 serve a veritable mountain of food, 2167Ib of salmon, 878Ib of smoked salmon, 1600lb of beef wellington, 443 strip loins and 3140Ib of strawberries making up 12,000 meals, while 2340 bottles of champagne, 12,336 bottles of wine, 1341 bottles of spirit and 20,640 cans of beer will be consumed. Needless to say the toilets have to be fully functional for the weekend.

Entertaining the guests is only half the story for they have to be taken to and from the circuit. Some companies charter buses, but flying is increasingly found to be the solution. It is today that the old wartime aerodrome at Silverstone will thus become the second busiest airport in the world with 40 aircraft and 125 helicopters making 3000 scheduled landings and take-offs, otherwise known as air movements, during the day. To the casual onlooker it looks little more than a mass of whirling blades landing and taking off in cavalier fashion, but the whole thing is rigidly controlled.

Such air traffic movements take at least eight months of scrupulous planning with the Civil Aviation Authority. After an initial meeting in November to discuss the previous Grand Prix, there will have been a number of meetings earlier this year until April when all the details will have been finalised for this weekend.

Based at the Air Traffic Control Centre in the middle of the circuit five air traffic controllers and support staff work together under the direction of George Smith. One section looks after the northern helipad, which has 16 landing spots, and caters for aircraft up to the size of twin-engined Squirrels while the southern helipad, with nine landing spots, is for bigger units such as the giant Chinook helicopters first used in 1988.

Each aircraft is given a slot time and they have to fly into one of two hold patterns depending on the helipad. Approximately 25 helicopters fly into the southern one with 25 movements every 15 minutes at its peak, while approximately 100 choppers use the northern one which will receive an astonishing 70 movements in a 15 minute peak period.

The increased number of spectators means a greater number of seats are required to watch the race. Although there are raised banks, grandstands are gradually creeping around the circuit. In the past it was not worth Silverstone’s while to erect them permanently as they are only filled to capacity on this one weekend, so in addition to the 14,000 permanent seats, another 7000 temporary ones are erected. Building them, however, will not have begun until a couple of weeks before the event as the stands, like many of the marquees, are in constant use and will have come in from Ascot, Wimbledon and the Royal Show.

Even the media itself is a mini-industry. By the preceding Wednesday, the BBC cameras will have begun to arrive and be installed in position while the various control units and director’s box are put into place on the Thursday. The three dozen or so television and radio commentators will have arrived by Friday. Most of the 200 specialist Grand Prix pressmen are joined by at least another 1000 more colleagues who are reporting this, their home event. Many will require telephones, fax machines, telex facilities, but such is the number that they have to be stationed in two press facilities, one being the new Jimmy Brown Centre above the pits complex which can seat 250 people and another in a marquee in the paddock.

Meanwhile the competitors themselves will have been arriving all week. Although many of the Grand Prix teams are based in Britain, it will have been a long haul for their truckers since the preceding Sunday they would all have been in the south of France for the French Grand Prix. A midnight dash across France on Sunday night, back to base on Monday, before moving on again to Silverstone on Thursday. For them, it is just another country, just another round of the 16 race series, and yet each circuit will have gone through the same elaborate process so as to allow 26 of the world’s top drivers to race for up to two hours.

Spare a thought, though, for the cleaners. By the time the last spectator has gone, the track silent and the car park empty, between 50 and 60 tons of compacted rubbish will still remain to be collected.