John Watson

The former F1 driver thinks the BRDC will be a lot calmer now that Damon Hill has taken over from Jackie Stewart as president

You have probably never heard anyone remarking that Jackie Stewart wants to be Frank Sinatra, so let me be the first.

I believe the British Racing Drivers’ Club will be a lot calmer now that Damon Hill has taken over from Jackie as president. Jackie is a busy man by nature and operates at a high profile, bringing in David Burnside Associates to ease his way into Downing Street, for example.

What the presidency of the BRDC provided Jackie with was the platform for his particular aspirations, principle of which was to secure the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. But he wanted to emulate the old Sinatra song ‘I did it my way’. And Jackie ain’t Frank Sinatra...

One has to say that there has been enormous change in respect of the infrastructure around Silverstone, which is massively improved, but in relation to the sealing of the future of the British GP on his terms, or ‘in my way’, it didn’t happen. There is no doubt that there was not a lot of love involved between Jackie and Bernie Ecclestone. That became evident at the point when Damon was elected president and Bernie said, ‘I can do business with Damon’, or words to that effect. Which means, ‘Now that you’ve got rid of Jackie, let’s get on with sorting out the British GP.’

And let’s not directly involve the Government. There’s nothing in it for central Government to fund the most capital-intensive sport in the world; why should we expect the Government in a country as developed and with such a heritage in motor racing as the UK to divvy out £100 million or whatever to take Silverstone up to the standard of, say, the Shanghai International Circuit?

I truly believe the only way that Silverstone can address its issues is to flatten the damn place and start from scratch. As a former BRDC director at Silverstone, I know what we have had is a kind of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat circuit. We make things fit where basically they shouldn’t fit.

St Modwen’s deal was put to members by the previous board, where they went out and sought a commercial partner, was fundamentally right, but the members didn’t like it at all because of the way it was structured and the terms and conditions of the contract. That may well have been the right judgment in the case of that contract, but it was the wrong judgment in terms of the future of how we’re going to raise funding, so the circuit and its facilities remain in perpetuity.

Hopefully now we’re going into a period of stability for the club. We’ve got a new board and I like Ray Bellm – he has a clear vision of what needs to be done and doesn’t get as wrapped up in the emotion that most members do. Change doesn’t mean it’s worse, it could be better, and we have to move forward and accept significant change with a more commercial outlook – one not so affected by emotion. That’s always been a major stumbling block to the progression of the BRDC at Silverstone.