Off the line



Paul Fearnley’s

Totally devoted

The British Grand Prix’s history stretches way back — longer than our old green cover! But nothing (clearly) is sacred nowadays. That’s not good, nor bad — it’s just the way it is.

I realised this as I drove, nay splashed, into Silverstone a couple of hours or so before qualifying for the 2000 British GP. That was the one rescheduled for April, a move recognised by the sport’s insiders as Bernie Ecclestone’s first big dig at the track, the BRDC and Octagon.

It poured down. The green and pleasant fields… er, car parks, where British fans had once gleefully set fire to the Michael Schumacher Fan Club’s motorhome, were knee-deep in mud — and shorn of spectators. They’d been told to stay away.

If you had a pass of any kind, of course, it was bliss: no traffic jams. For once at our GP, you swept in, in the manner to which Mr E is accustomed at other circuits. Selfishly, I could see what he was getting at.

Of course, that was to ignore the diehard fans, all thermal underwear and Thermos flasks, wading in from the fringes of the exclusion zone. There was more to this exodus than British pluck, of having paid top dollar and going come what may; this was a pilgrimage, devotees heading to their Mecca.

Fans attending events is a fundamental of every sport — except ours. In Formula One, TV is king. Sure, it’s nice to pan your camera across stands seething and swaying with people — but it’s not vital. And anyway, such are the vast sums of money involved in today’s F1, gate receipts will barely register on its scope. Its future is in the hands of the global megacorps, of which Ford, soon to depart the paddock, is one of the biggest…

At the lower levels, the sport is self-financing: competitors’ fees pay for the circuit hire and the organisation of the meeting. If anyone turns up to spectate, it’s a (small) bonus. Certainly, track owners do not hold their breath over such matters.

And so the fan is pretty much left to his or her own devices, doomed for all eternity to eat rubbery burgers and carry their own toilet roll. We will grumble and groan until Silverstone-gate has been resolved. Shudder at the ticket prices, presuming we get the opportunity in 2005. Then pay up and rock up, wherever the big race may be.

As for the smaller races, maybe a Mallory or Castle Combe: breeze in, park on the bank, butties out for a fun day. Oh, and Loton Park is lovely. As is a stroll through the car park at VSCC Prescott.

Then there’s the Goodwoods. Oh yeah, got to go to them.

British fans do not need much cosseting to be honest, but the odd event where they feel welcome can’t do their self-worth any harm.

Oh, and a home GP would be nice, too.

Not too much to ask, is it?

It would seem that it is.