Strangely for a year that has been so political (again) most of the politicking has been going on off-track and has had little bearing on any of the races. Apart from the eeny-meeny-miny-mo approach to qualifying penalties.
At Silverstone last weekend the two major elements of political discussion were the proposed Formula Two category and the move of the British Grand Prix to Donington Park.
To those of a whiter heart than mine, both announcements suggest significant developments in the structure of European motorsport. However, there is an extremely large school of thought which believes that both announcements amount to little more than sabre rattling.
The F2 proposal I believe can be dealt with quickly. I spoke to an international level team principal about the plans for F2 and his response is unprintable. In short the view of the established motorsport teams (F3, WSR and GP2) is that F2 is nothing more than a posturing exercise and that as a result no team of any worth is investing any time or resource in putting together plans for an entry.
This is pretty damning for the FIA in that none of the international motorsports community is taking the announcement with anything more than bemusement and incredulity.
The move of the British Grand Prix to Donington Park has provoked an similarly split response. Bernie Ecclestone has made it clear for some time that the British Grand Prix will move from Silverstone (largely, I’m led to believe, because the BRDC wish to do business in a more conventional manner than Bernie would like), although his argument of inferior facilities looks a little weak in a year when two street circuits have been added to the calendar.
So, off to Donington it is. Or isn’t.
On one hand Donington is a great circuit, undulating a way that modern F1 tracks aren’t, and thanks to a spot of rain 15 years ago has already achieved legendary status on the eyes of many F1 fans.
However for many the most notable of Donington’s characteristics is that for any meeting with a larger attendance than two men and a dog getting out of the car park is the stuff of nightmares. Furthermore, I remember a couple of years ago the return of F1 to Donington being dismissed because there was insufficient run off. I agree, given the speeds of modern F1 cars, on certain corners an large accident would resemble a 747 going down at the neighbouring East Midlands Airport.
To get Donington Park into a Grand Prix-ready state for teams and fans alike an enormous amount of work must be completed. For there to be anything like a sensible level of access, I would say that a new exit from the M1 must be built providing fans with a dual carriageway direct from motorway to car park. At the last Moto GP some spectators were stuck in the car parks for five hours post-race.
The present scenario of motorway up to the last 5 miles of country roads is simply untenable, and many knowledgeable fans would vote with their feet – by putting them up on the settee at home.
For the teams a massive amount of run off remodelling needs to be completed. At the Old Hairpin for example F1 cars will be approaching at 160mph+ and are confronted with approx 10-15metres of gravel and a tyre wall. Not really enough. However to move that wall back will require the removal of an entire hill, and one of the best spectating points in world motorsport (See picture below).
For Donington Park both the access and the run-off are both massive projects and in my view simply impossible within a two year period. The investment required is enormous, and I don’t see the government dipping back into their pocket after the money that was spent on the A43 near Silverstone just six years ago. Equally, unless the circuit owners want to chuck money down a black hole then, under current FOM terms of business, there is no way of earning that outlay back.
It is for these reasons that many view the announcement of the move to Donington as nothing more than pontificating from Ecclestone, trying to force Silverstone into capitulation. This has happened before, back in 2000 with the announcement of Brands Hatch as the new home of the British Grand Prix.
Personally I think that there is more meat on it than that, but at the same time Silverstone remains the only F1-ready venue in the UK a scenario and that seems unlikely to change by 2010.
Ultimately the Donington announcement is good news as it demonstrates that F1 understands that Britain must have a Grand Prix, something which the industry and fans have recognised for some time. In the wider scheme of things whether the 2010 British Grand Prix is at Silverstone or Donington doesn’t really matter. The key is that one of motorsport’s heartlands is keeping its race while others are losing theirs.