The tools have been downed and the dust has now settled. The opening of the Silverstone Wing – the Northamptonshire track’s new pit and paddock facility – must be hailed as safeguarding Grand Prix motor racing in Britain for years to come.
The new complex, which took around 54 weeks to build at a cost of around £28 million, features 41 new garages with adequate space for hospitality, officials and the world’s media.
With its unconventional roof, shaped in honour of its military background, Silverstone is well on the way to regaining its position as one of the best equipped circuits on the planet – and a world leader in developing and promoting motor racing.
A whole host of figures – past and present – were in attendance at yesterday’s lavish opening of the new facility. The majority were full of praise of the tireless work of the BRDC, led by 1996 World champion Damon Hill, and Silverstone Circuits Limited – under the stewardship of Managing Director Richard Phillips.
“Silverstone, where it needs to be now, is going to be, I hope, a world leader in the next 10 years,” Nigel Mansell said in a report by Autosport. “We have always had the circuit here.
“Going forward, seeing what Damon [Hill, BRDC president] has done with his team and the board, and the BRDC members, you have now a 10-year opportunity to make this the best facility, bar none, in the world.
“The racing history of this circuit is second to none in the world. You have got every corner there – and to have a circuit that complements two wheels and four wheels is something very, very special too. So Silverstone now has moved forward in a massive way and hopefully it can be improved year-on-year.”
Mansell’s comments were echoed throughout the fraternity yesterday; Even F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone, who was in attendance, hailed the work of the BRDC in a message prior to the event.
“I am very sorry that I am unable to be with you on this important occasion for F1 and the future of Silverstone, but rest assured I have followed all the progress from planning through to the current launch of the Silverstone Wing.” he is quoted as saying by YallaF1.
“The new pit and paddock complex is a state-of-the-art facility and will form the backbone of Silverstone’s plans to be a world class facility of its type. I am delighted with the progress and prospects for the future of Silverstone. It is a great shame that it could not have been completed 10 years ago, but well done Silverstone.”
It is the final line of Ecclestone’s statement which should have great resonance with those who have been involved in wrangling over the event and it should act as a warning for future endeavours.
Although it now appears that Formula One will continue in Britain well into the next two decades, the mistakes of the previous 20-odd years should not be forgotten and should certainly not be repeated.
Through its desire to strengthen Silverstone’s place at the heart of Motorsport Valley and to foster the stars of tomorrow, the BRDC’s board and members must continue to work collectively and not allow for a separation of interests, such as those encountered in the short-sighted and reckless decision to attempt to invest in the retail arm of Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR organisation – a move which saw the board act irresponsibly and ultimately left the club with a net loss.
Equally common sense must prevail from all parties involved, including Formula One’s commercial right holder, to ensure that relations do not descend into the punch and counter-punch nature which dominated the years leading up to the current 17-year contract.
The race should be held in to best interests of everyone within the motorsport community in Britain and should not be used as barter when negotiating deals or holding organisers to account in order to upgrade facilities – and certainly not in a way which compromises this country’s other premier motor racing circuits.
Though it was in the best intentions of Brands Hatch Leisure Limited (BHL) to recapture the Grand Prix, at the turn of the century, it was clear from the start that the Kent track would not be able to evolve to suit the demands of modern Formula One. Yet a deal was still struck and through Octagon, the sports marketing and entertainment of the American Interpublic Group who later bought out the Foulston family’s control of BHL, was forced to enter into a lease with the BRDC when it became clear that Brands would never be ready for 2002.
Yes Octagon would invest heavily in Silverstone when it took over the tenancy – according to Alan Henry estimated £17 was spent in the first year alone on car parking and perimeter roads around the circuit – but the company was also quick to get out when its share price began to fall, leaving the BRDC to negotiate on its own and plans for an upgrade to the track’s facilities unrealised.
Ecclestone is right to say that Silverstone could have been modernised earlier, but he himself is not blameless, when he refused to sign up to the initial master plan in partnership with the BRDC and Octagon.
The ins and outs of this venture still remain unclear, and the prospect of gaining help from central government was certainly a long shot, but what is true is that the inability of both sides to agree on a long-term contract until 2009 was a big part in the failure of the BRDC to push on with their plans.
What’s more with the revamp nearing completion Silverstone should be respected as the only viable venue to host Grand Prix racing. Never should the example of Donington be allowed to happen again – where the circuit’s lease holders steamrolled into a deal in a climate of economic insecurity and ultimately left the Derbyshire circuit a shadow of its former self.
The true extent of the negotiations to save the race may well be never known, but what is clear is that significant damage was done to the motorsports industry as a whole and as a result lessons must be learned.
So whilst we must heap huge praise on the BRDC and all those concerned for the work they have done to Silverstone in recent years, the champagne should remain on ice for just a second to give time for contemplation.
Here’s to the healthy future of Silverstone and its continued modernisation, but let’s hope that all those involved with the venue and of the British Grand Prix heed the warnings of the past and ensure that mistakes are not made again.