Silverstone: Flushing away goodwill
JULY 11, 2012
When Paddy Lowe attempted to make a quick getaway through Silverstone's back gate at 6.45pm on Sunday, McLaren's technical director found the way barred. A farmer, for reasons best known to himself, had taken the unilateral decision to block the mile-long track adjoining his fields.
The man would not be moved and his indignant eleventh-hour stance summed up frustrations that took many forms during the weekend of the British Grand Prix. Eventually a tide of simmering anger, gathering strength with the arrival of more motorists, persuaded the objector to stand aside and glare at each passing car as if it was a threat to the farming community of rural England.
Having endured, by McLaren's expectation of excellence, a miserable weekend with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finishing eighth and tenth, this was probably the final straw for the man responsible for a car that clearly did not work on the day. But if Lowe thought he was in trouble, then a quick glance to the camp site on his left would have shown the plight of hundreds who were, literally, in the shit.
The entrance to the site resembled a scene from the Welsh Bog Snorkelling Championship in Llanwrtyd Wells where competitors swim up and down a 133-metre bog and say they're having fun.
F1 fans assuredly did have a good time - once they got into the circuit. But the strength of their enthusiasm and endurance had been severely tested by the journey to Silverstone and the conditions when they finally got there. Even by the British Grand Prix's soggy standards in the past, this one - no pun intended - plumbed new depths.
It's important to stress from the outset that this was one of the many corners of England that had endured exceptional rainfall during the previous month; a phenomenon that continues to have its effect this week as major outdoor events across the country are cancelled. But what stuck in the craw of many campers at Silverstone was the fact that record-breaking precipitation in June and the subsequent ground conditions appeared to have caught the landlords by surprise.
F1 fans, being the stoic bunch that they are, accept the British summer weather is what it is. But, as they delicately point out, the same applies to a more personal force of nature that also cannot be denied.
Malcolm Leyland, a photographer and keen follower of F1, heeded the warning about traffic chaos and, after an easy drive from the South East, arrived at the camp site at 1am on Saturday morning to join friends who had already pitched tent. The advice at the gate was to park wherever he could and expect a wait to be towed out on departure. After that, good luck.
"We managed to park near what little hard-standing there was," says Leyland. "We had to get pushed out of the mud when we went for a meal on Saturday night, but we managed. Even so, given the rain we'd had, I was surprised to find there was no metal tracking laid anywhere on the grass. You just had to get on with it and drive into the mud.
"But," continues Leyland, "the most unacceptable bit was the toilets. There were just five Portaloos. You tried not to use them but, eventually, you had no choice. They were disgusting and, as far as I could see, they weren't cleaned over the weekend. No effort had been made to place them on a hard-standing area. And there were no washing facilities at all. The whole thing had to be a health hazard. I won't begin to describe what it was like - except to say it was an affront to everyone's dignity."
Leyland and his partner spent ¬£800 on grandstand seats, camping and fuel. Yet, despite such a considerable outlay, the feeling of being a second-class citizen was unavoidable. "It wasn't welcoming," he says. "You get the impression there is an inner F1 circle with the glamour, and then the outer circle where the spectators get a very poor deal and nobody inside F1 really cares what happens to them."
That said, Leyland enjoyed a great race from Woodcote Grandstand and managed to make a reasonably quick - once they had been pushed out of mud, of course - exit. It took all of the next day to clean his car and their belongings.
Thousands of F1 fans were doing the same in other parts of the country. While no one can legislate for the weather, F1 and the Silverstone campsites need to make sure that goodwill wasn't being flushed down the drain along with the mud on Monday morning. It's to be hoped Paddy Lowe and his team manage a more dignified recovery.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.