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Saturday 25 April 2009

More Than an Airfield

This week has seen a faintly ridiculous idea floated: that the UK government should subsidise motorsport. And it won’t happen.

But this fact should not mask the possibility that Formula 1 is about to leave its very oldest venue. Because it was at Silverstone, on 13 May 1950, that the first F1 World Championship began. The circuit followed the perimeter track of a wartime airfield – hence the Hangar Straight – and at the time the paddock and pits were close to today’s Bridge Corner.

So what? Well, there are few motor racing circuits that were there at the beginning, and are still there. Monaco is one. The circuit in the park at Monza is another, although for decades without its notorious and occasionally lethal banking. Also there at the beginning was Spa-Francorchamps, though the Belgian track fell out of favour for many years until it was shortened and brought up to modern day safety standards. But Silverstone has been there throughout, although sometimes having to alternate with other venues such as Brands Hatch and Aintree.

So why leave? As with so much to do with F1, this leads to supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the man with the million pound donation. Bernie doesn’t think that Silverstone is up to it, and he’s done a deal to move the British F1 round to Donington Park. But those of us who’ve experienced the traffic aftermath of a Donington meeting know that staging an F1 Grand Prix there would make race day congestion around Silverstone look positively benign.

Moreover, work to improve the Donington Park circuit doesn’t seem to be making the necessary progress, added to which the owners of the venue have just started legal action against its leaseholders for a rent bill alleged to be well north of two million quid. So attention is being turned back to Silverstone. And this is when the idea of subsidy was floated, then quickly sunk – rightly so – by the Government.

What happens next? Ecclestone appears adamant that the F1 circus won’t return to Silverstone. British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) head man Damon Hill is trying to sound optimistic. But, so far, all the signs are that the line leading from that first race, won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo 158, is about to end.

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