An appetiser for the Belgian Grand Prix


Wouldn’t it be just great if there was an Olympic Grand Prix? Imagine, a race around the Olympic park for the fastest, most sophisticated racing cars in the world, driven by the sport’s top athletes including six World Champions, representing 12 nations. Gold, silver and bronze medals, and bunches of flowers, for the top three. And maybe a gold for one of the Brits, adding to our rather meagre total so far.

And how about Bradley Wiggins setting the pace with a couple of flying laps on his sprint bike before the warm-up lap? It is many years since a British athlete captured the imagination of the wider public in the way that Wiggins has done. There are lessons to be learned from his approach to his media commitments and public appearances, while remaining fiercely focused on his job.

Maybe I am missing something, but surely this would be great for the image of a sport that is so often tarnished with ill-informed comments about the environment, the extravagance and the elitism. The cars at the front are driven by some of the best athletes in the world, the truly talented, and they would be on a truly global stage, in London, alongside the greatest from almost every other sporting arena. Sounds great to me.

So, yes, I support Bernie Ecclestone’s vision for London, whether he really meant it or not.

As it is, Formula One is on holiday until the end of August when they return to the fray at Spa.

Speaking of Spa, last weekend’s epic 24 Hours, run under Blancpain Endurace Series regs, was a joyful reminder of what a wonderful place for racing cars is Spa-Francorchamps. Improved safety has, to an extent, emasculated the fearsome old circuit we remember, but it remains a huge challenge. On Saturday night, about five hours into the race, there was a dramatic storm. Torrential rain, thunder and lightning, rivers of water on the track, all so familiar from visits to the Ardennes over the decades. Familiar maybe, but always spellbinding to watch as drivers follow that fine line between staying on the asphalt  and powerboating over the grass into the barriers. Unlike modern F1 cars, GT cars can be raced in a monsoon. Through the darkness, in virtually zero visibility, the skilful quietly made up time, judging the lakes and rivers to perfection. Spa at night is very dark, the only overhead lights being into, and out of, La Source past the pits and paddock.

I will tell a longer story in my Dispatches column next month. Meanwhile let’s admire Audi Sport for allowing their two factory cars to race each other to the flag when it would have been safer to rein them in. In the end Stippler/Piccini/Rast won from 29th on the grid, while Kristensen/Lotterer/Fassler came back to sixth from 63rd after a collision with an errant McLaren. Extraordinary performances both. BMW chased the Audis down but it wasn’t to be their day, allowing the men from Ingolstadt to celebrate their third 24-hour race win in less than three months. But it’s never the bare statistics that tell the whole story. McLaren, with their beautiful MP4-12C GT3 have much work to do if they are to get on terms with the German teams. The speed is there, but not the reliability. And we all know that to finish first – well, you know the rest.

If you haven’t been to a Grand Prix this year, you can do no better than Spa at the end of the month. Despite modernisation, it remains a gripping place to watch motor racing. So, while I applaud Mr Ecclestone’s ambitions for London, I trust he will never take the Belgian Grand Prix from the calendar. That would be a sacrilege.

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