Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's the fans who make Silverstone so special

This blog is dedicated to a lady who will be celebrating her birthday on the 20th July this year. I don't know her name or where she lives. But as far as I'm concerned, she epitomizes the passion and dedication of British motor racing fans.

Every year, our aim with the BBC coverage of the British Grand Prix is to convey the love, the atmosphere, the humour and the uniqueness of the event to the millions across the UK who would like to be there but aren't. It's our job to get you as close to Silverstone as possible. I'd love to 'borrow' one of Bernie's planes, pick you all up and drop you off in Northamptonshire, but sadly that's not going to happen!

Last year Eddie Jordan and I set out to do a BBQ for some of the 30,000 campers who help generate Silverstone's unique atmosphere as part of a feature for the BBC 1 coverage. This year we decided to do something a little different - a touch more challenging.

On Thursday, as it pelted down with rain, EJ boldly announced: "I started out selling smoked salmon on the streets of Dublin. I can sell anything!" So off we went to try and sell ice-creams, in the pouring rain, on a chilly and overcast Friday afternoon.

I had images of two slightly crest-fallen guys, a very empty field, and a grumpy ice-cream van owner. In reality I was blown away by the hundreds of fans who were literally soaking up the atmosphere.

One sight that really made me chuckle was the family of five huddled outside on a picnic table, eating fish and chips with only one umbrella between them. They bravely struggled on in a very British way.

Once EJ and I started selling a few ice-creams, we got to chatting to the crowd and the first person I spoke to about the race told me the most awesome story: She was born whilst her parents travelled home from the 1963 Grand Prix!

That race was won by Jim Clark in his Lotus-Climax the year he won his first World Championship. Jim shared the podium with John Surtees and Graham Hill and her story summed up what is special about the British Grand Prix: History.

It's part of the fabric of our nation, part of our culture, our past and our present, something that we can all relate to. Even the most non-F1 loving friend of yours could no doubt recall Nigel Mansell's heroics in 1987 or Lewis Hamilton in the rain 21 years later.

I love some of the new circuits and they have a place in modern Formula One, but all the money in the Middle East won't buy you history. It sends a shiver down your spine as you enter the circuit year after year.

Take a look at the video here and remember that this was filmed last Friday, 24 hours before there was any competitive action on the track!

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Without the fans the British Grand Prix wouldn't be what it is and the same applies to the BBC's F1 coverage. It's you, the viewer, that make it. So it was great to jump on a three-seater bicycle with David Coulthard, a two-time Silverstone winner and Eddie to get around the campsites and local villages.

David made a great point, that as an F1 driver you never really appreciate this level of fanaticism as you arrive by helicopter, leave by helicopter, and the rest of the time you're just focused on delivering on the track.

By Thursday morning at 9am the fields were each like mini-metropolises. People not only had their tents up, but there were fully-stocked kitchen areas, communal living spaces where all the fans could get together and talk F1. Not to mention Coulthard flags, Jordan flags and many of the tents were daubed with a certain driver or team name...serious planning had gone into the whole thing. And they still had time to push us out of the mud!

Many of those campers have been doing it for years and have spent plenty of money cheering on DC or the Jordan team over the years, so it was great that we were able to get their heroes on the back of my bike to meet the people who make F1 so special.

The only slightly confusing moment was when the family in their pyjamas referred to EJ as 'Sexy Eddie', neither DC nor myself quite understood it!

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So while it's fans, old and new, and the sense that you are connecting with history by being at Silverstone. It's still essential that the old girl can compete with the Abu Dhabis and Singapores of this world. And that leads me onto the Silverstone Wing.

It did feel odd shifting the whole focus of the circuit away from the old pits/paddock complex but it's a bold move that the BRDC has been applauded for.

I remember watching one of the Red Bull's pit during the race and as the camera panned along the pitlane, following the car, I couldn't believe it was Silverstone that we were looking at.

There will most definitely be changes and it may be that the focus of the in-field section moves towards the new building. There is a view that Silverstone must avoid a 'them and us' situation where the privileged minority in the paddock with the drivers and cars whilst the fans are in a totally different place. I'd also expect the pit-lane order to change so the grandstand can see the fast teams doing their stops.

However, I think this year's race goes down as a huge success. Building a new pit complex and putting in the infrastructure to match, however, wouldn't have made it a weekend to remember. It was the fact that despite the inevitable, slow march of time meaning Silverstone has to change - one thing remained. The fans, and it is they who truly make Silverstone a race weekend to remember.


Mike Wallace JD Motorsports Chevrolet Hermie Sadler III Virginia Commonwealth University Ford Brian Scott BigSpot com Toyota Carl Long

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