There is something in the water in Northamptonshire. We have been advised, by Anglian Water, not to drink their product from the taps. Good news for suppliers of the bottled stuff but bad news for some mechanics from Red Bull Racing who, allegedly, did not hear the advice in time.
And there is something in the air. There was tangible tension in the paddock from early this morning, a sense that something was up, something dramatic was about to be revealed. When it came, it was like a bomb going off. Perhaps it wasn’t the surprise of the century but for the BRDC, and for many British fans, it was a blow in the stomach.
The British Grand will no longer be held at Silverstone. From 2010 the new home of our Grand Prix will be Donington Park. What a time, what a place, to make this announcement. OK, it may not be the smartest, chicest place on the planet, but it’s a great race track and a wonderful place to watch racing cars at high speed.
At 11.30 this morning the FIA issued a single sheet of paper headed ‘The British Grand Prix’, dated 4 July in Paris. It read as follows:
“After many years of patient but fruitless negotiation with the BRDC, we are delighted that Bernie has nevertheless been able to ensure that the British Grand Prix will keep its place on the Formula One World Championship calendar,” said Max Mosley, “ and British fans will get the Grand Prix venue they deserve.” Meanwhile Mr Ecclestone, pacing around, spry, trim and succinct as ever and with mobile phone pressed to his ear, said: “Finally the uncertainty is over. A contract has been signed with Donington Park and the future of the British Grand Prix is now secure. I am sorry that we could not have helped Silverstone raise the money to carry out the circuit improvements and run Formula One. I believe that the government should have supported them which would have cost probably less than .002% of the government’s commitment for the Olympic Games.”
Dressed, as ever, in immaculate white shirt with the logo of his F1 empire on the collar, he spoke briefly to reporters who were in the right place at the right time outside his motor home in the paddock. Then he disappeared, into his bus, leaving in his wake many of us who wanted to know a little bit more. But that is his way.
So, make the best of this weekend, and next July, when the Grand Prix will be run for the last time, for the foreseeable future anyway, at Silverstone. No doubt Damon Hill, President of the BRDC, will have something to say later in the day. It will surely be a bitter blow.
Just writing this today, it seems inconceivable that the glorious history of this place is coming to an end, and somehow I sense there may be many more twists and turns along the way. Grand Prix racing is going through a turbulent period. And the chaps at Donington Park will surely have a few sleepless nights between now and the summer of 2010. Mr Ecclestone said today that the development plans for Donington will give us a venue to be proud of, a venue that will put British motor sport back on the map. Blimey, there is much work to be done in Derbyshire, then.
Yesterday Max Mosley described the current situation as ‘unsustainable’ and called on the team owners to suggest ways in which costs could be drastically cut and ways in which energy (fuel) consumption could be reduced by 50% by 2015. Teams are already faced with new rules and new cars for 2009 and now the FIA is threatening to impose another set of new rules in 2011 unless the teams can first suggest ways of solving the crisis within the next three months. Challenging stuff.
Early this morning the circuit was already busy, and by 10 o’clock the grandstands were remarkably full. A lot of people have taken this Friday off work… blissfully unaware that this is the penultimate chance for them to see Grand Prix cars at Silverstone.
Standing at Copse corner, as the cars came out for first practice, I was suddenly reminded of how all this began for me, sitting in the grandstand at Stowe with my Dad, on the edge of my seat with anticipation of the weekend to come. And I love it now as I loved it then, the noise, the colour, the sheer performance and refinement of a Grand Prix car. Through Copse the modern car is truly sensational. Through Becketts, the way in which these cars change direction at high speed defies belief. Must be a wonderful corner to drive.
For those of you who have not taken today off work, let me tell you what’s going on in Northamptonshire. Everybody is talking about the weather. No surprises there, this is England in the summer and it’s the Wimbledon finals this weekend as well. David Coulthard has announced that he will retire at the end of the season. No surprises there either. He will probably appear on the BBC TV coverage of the 2009 season. Wonder how long it will be before Rubens Barrichello calls it a day too, perhaps he will wait until he gets to Interlagos to make his farewells.
In morning practice the Ferraris and the McLarens were the class of the field. Still no surprises. Down the timesheets, both Vettel and Piquet looked good, just a second off the pace and making the best of a track they know intimately. Massa was top of the pile, on 1.19.575, followed by Kovalainen, Hamilton, Raikonen and Kubica. Some things stay the same, but not for long.
This is shaping up to be a big, big weekend in many different ways. And the rain hasn’t started falling yet.