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Silverstone's nightmare weekend

THE British Racing Drivers' Club, the organizing body of the British Grand Prix, had a disastrous weekend with poor weather causing severe problems. Rain in the weeks before the event meant that the 200 acres of grass parking were water-logged and the influx of cars on Thursday churned up the earth to such an extent that on Friday afternoon the BRDC was forced to announce that it would not be opening the parking on Saturday so that extra work could be done to ensure that the circuit would be able to cope with the expected 28,000 cars on Sunday and to preserve the car parks for race day. In the course of Saturday night one and a quarter miles of roadway was laid and repairs were done to damage inflicted on Thursday and Friday.

But on Sunday morning dense fog added to the problems as the thousands of people who are usually airlifted into the circuit by helicopter had to take to the roads. Police traffic control helicopters were also grounded and with the problems in the car parks a vast traffic jam developed.

The main access road to the track - the A43 - was tailing back 10 miles to the A1 motorway to the east and 15 miles to the M40 motorway to the west. By mid-morning the police were trying to stop more people joining the jam and tried to institute a park and walk scheme with car parking on a hard surface being made available at the Turweston aerodrome (eight miles to the west) and at the Towcester racecourse (four miles to the east).

The chief executive of Silverstone Circuits Denys Rohan issued a public apology to race fans who were forced to miss the race. The circuit said that it did not want the April date given to the British GP by the FIA but despite lobbying for a change, it had been unable to do anything.

The cost of refunding tickets, lost revenue, repairs and improvement could cost the circuit as much as $6m, which will cancel out any profits made by the race.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said he was not to blame for the change of date. "I don't want to go into the reasons why it's in April, but it really is nothing to do with me," he said. "I get the blame for most things but I do not deserve the blame forĘthis."

Our sources suggest that the date switch was useful to help Ecclestone exert some pressure on Silverstone as part of the ongoing battle about the future of the British Grand Prix but that the actual decision was caused by the fact that the organizers of the French GP convinced the FIA that they could exert some influence in French government circles to help settle a long-running dispute between the FIA and the French tax authorities. This dispute led to the FIA relocating to Switzerland after the French began to make tax demands on the governing body because it was making too much money to continue to be classified as a non-profit-making organization.

Ecclestone said that he thinks that the race should stay at Silverstone in the future but the BRDC must now organize a deal with Brands Hatch, which has the contract to run the race in 2002, because Brands Hatch is unlikely to finish necessary rebuilding work because of environmentalist protests.

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