Thoughts from a beach hut...

Eddie Irvine, British GP 2002

Eddie Irvine, British GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

Sitting in a beach hut, gazing out to where the sea and the sky meet, one can appreciate the important things in life. The only worry is to check from time to time to see that down below on the beach the sand-castling is going well and that the Geneva Convention is respected when small children engage in fights over buckets, spades and beach balls.

Sitting in a beach hut, with a glass of Chardonnay in one's hand, one can forget the stresses and strains of the Formula 1 world and enjoy life. These are some of the silliest days in an F1 year as newspapers wind up stories in the run-up to the British Grand Prix. "David says this", "Eddie says that", "Ralf wants to go to Russia", "Don't forget me, says Jacques" and all the rest of it.

And, of course, we have the annual exchange of fire between General Sir Jackie Stewart (BRDC and Bar) and his tartan and tweed clans versus the evil dark forces of Mr. Mosley and Mr. Ecclestone.

Listening to the wind and watching seagulls is a lot more interesting that listening to this lot ranting and raving about the old airfield which, by a twist of fate, ended up being famous as a racing circuit.

One would suppose that anyone English would have a soft spot for the old Silverstone aerodrome but, as far as I am concerned, there is little love for Silverstone. When I think of the place I think of early mornings and traffic jams. I think of helicopters and of driving rain. There are from time to time those beautiful mornings which England has in the summer which make one think that there is no finer place on the earth, but they are few and far between. It used to be a pretty good circuit. The high speed sweepers were exciting and the commentators could rightly shout about "a Silverstone finish" but when you take a step back and analyze the situation Silverstone is a classic and magnificent piece of English botching.

They say that the difference between the European nations is that the Germans know how to plan and to execute a plan; the French know how to plan but its falls apart when things go wrong. The British are hopeless at planning but magnificent when the chips are down, and the Italians (bless them!) are not much good at either planning or execution. It is a rough guide to Europe which has a ring of truth about it.

It was in this tradition that Silverstone came into existence. The aerodrome was used for just two years to train pilots to fly bomber aircraft and then, when the war was over, it fell into disuse until some racing enthusiasts fell upon it and began to race their Frazer-Nashes and other such bolides on the runways, taxiways and perimeter roads. They say that the first event ended when one of the competitors collided with a sheep. From there on it was a history of one English botch job after another and that gave Silverstone some character. It is the blemishes, the scars and the laughter lines that make us all different and lovable. But under pressure from the outside world Silverstone has done everything it can to wipe out that character. The circuit has been butchered and the shortcomings have been papered-over. When compared to many of the other Formula 1 circuits, it falls short. You can argue that Brazil is worse and that Hockenheim needs new pits and that Imola has horrible facilities but, as Bernie Ecclestone says, Silverstone is the center of the motor racing world and it should be a facility that defines excellence. And so it should.

The BRDC, which owns Silverstone, says it does not have the money to do the work. This year Ecclestone and Mosley came up with a new argument: the BRDC has an annual income of $12m from the lease of the circuit. Mosley and Ecclestone argue that the club should borrow against this sum rather than paying a chunk of it in tax and dividends to certain club members. Jackie Stewart says this is not possible. To make matters worse for the BRDC this year the British Government announced that it was going to pump a lot of money into the motorsport industry but none of it was going directly to the Grand Prix.

Stewart's response was a tirade against how Ecclestone makes too much out of the sport (which is rather ungrateful given the fact that Bernie recently handed over $20m to Silverstone) and how Mosley has nice new offices in London. It was not perhaps the most intelligent response possible.

Sitting in a beach hut looking down on a beach, it sounds a lot like kids arguing because one has a bigger spade than the other. That's life, Sir Jackie. Bernie earns a pile because he was smart enough to make the sport what it is today. Max got his money because he was smart enough to negotiate a deal with Bernie. Silverstone is struggling because it has not done a better deal.

"I just do not understand why they are being so vicious about Silverstone," Stewart said the other day. "If they have an agenda I do not know what it is."

One hopes that this last remark is Sir Jackie being less than honest because everyone else in the business long ago twigged the fact that Bernie would like one day to own Silverstone. And, when you boil it all down, the best way to save the British Grand Prix is to sell him the circuit and let him get on with it. Would the British Grand Prix be safer if Ecclestone owned the circuit? Of course it would... Ecclestone has shown down at Paul Ricard that he is willing to invest to create good facilities and he would do the same at Silverstone.

So why does the BRDC not do the logical thing and sell the place (or even use a Mosley long-term lease) and go back to being what it was intended to be: an informal dining club which aimed to promote the interests of motorsport, to extend hospitality to drivers visiting from abroad and to further the efforts of British drivers who were competing abroad.

With the money raised the BRDC could do what the FIA has done and invest, perhaps buying a fancy clubhouse in Pall Mall (Bernie probably has a spare building or two in his property portfolio). If the organization really wants to go on organizing motor races it could pick up Snetterton, Oulton Park, Cadwell Park or Brands Hatch, which are all currently up for sale. It could build a club house, stick a golf course in the middle, and thus operate at a level which it can afford and leave the Big Game to the Big Game Hunters.

It may be heresy to say such things but this would save the British Grand Prix.

Any other argument is about ego, not about what is good for the sport.

Or at least that is how it looks from a beach hut.

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