Thrillseekers should head for Copse


We live in an increasingly procrustean society.

We can’t do this, we can’t do that. And if we do this, or that, we will be fined or photographed. Or some other arbitrary judgement will be foisted upon us.

Only last week a man won compensation from a local authority after falling from a step ladder. He claimed that he had not received sufficient training in the use of such a device.

I mention this because next weekend we will be watching the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, assuming that we get as far as Silverstone without being fined or photographed for speeding, or smoking, or both.

Now I have nothing against Silverstone itself. On the contrary, I have enjoyed some wonderful racing on a circuit where some extremely fast corners demand great skill from the Grand Prix driver. Where I do have a problem, or an issue as they say these days, is the vast distance between me and the racing cars. And not just the distance, it’s also those wire fences through which we have to peer.

British Grand Prix Silverstone, Northamptonshire, England. 6th – 8th July 2007. Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2007 at Becketts.

Concern for our health and safety has dictated that, to enjoy the race, we will need to pack a pair of good binoculars and arrive in time to be in the very front row. I understand what it says on the back of the ticket – motor racing is dangerous – but equally a motor race has to be a thrill, has to raise a few goose bumps. I always used to like, for example, watching at Becketts where a Grand Prix car is absolutely on its limit of adhesion, or at the old Woodcote where late-brakers picked up a place or two. These days Becketts is somewhere in the distance, beyond the wire fence and beyond an enormous run-off area. Yes, it’s still a mighty combination of corners, but for the spectator – if not the driver – it doesn’t feel so good to be there any more.

Like any other sane person, I applaud and admire the hugely improved safety of the cars, and I appreciate that fences can be useful when bits are flying around. But it’s all gone a little too far, just as it has in the real world outside. Should you feel inclined, when you wake up in the morning, to run a risk assessment on your forthcoming day you might well decide to stay in bed. But that too can be dangerous.

Simply, we are being made to conform, often arbitrarily, and there is too much conformity, an excess of emphasis on the state protecting the individual. Sir Stirling Moss has long been of the opinion that a motor race must have some element of danger, some raw sense of drama, for both driver and spectator. This weekend at Silverstone I recommend you walk down to the entry of Copse Corner (below). Here you will be gut-wrenchingly reminded of just how brave is a top line 21st century Grand Prix driver. The sheer speed into this corner is breathtaking, a place where the driver must have absolute faith both in himself and in the equipment.

And it is one of the very few places where you can feel the speed, the danger and the drama. Find a spot as near to the fence as possible and revel in the fact that, despite the enormous improvements in health and safety, this is still a wonderful place to watch drivers at work. They have either not read, or ignored, the risk assessment.

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