The revised Silverstone Arena Circuit, which will hold the 2010 British Grand Prix, was formally opened today by the Duke of York in a ceremony at the track.
BRDC President Damon Hill drove the Duke around the circuit. Current and past F1 drivers were on hand for the unveiling of the track including Mark Webber and David Coulthard.
Webber praised the new circuit and said he expects it to play to the strengths of his Red Bull RB6:
I think the track will suit our car. We’re competitive at all circuits at the moment, and the new section has high-speed and low-speed corners. It’s also got some undulation which is hard to see we’ll definitely notice it in the F1 cars.
Red Bull estimate F1 cars will hit 185mph through the two fast corners which direct them off the old track. The right-hander keeps the name Abbey, and the left-hander it feeds into is called Farm.
They are now followed by a sharp right at Village, then a pair of left-handers called The Loop. From there the cars re-join the existing track via the Wellington Straight, which could surpass the Hangar Straight as the fastest point on the Silverstone circuit when the F1 cars race there in July.
The revised track is expected to have a similar average speed to the previous track, with a slightly longer lap time.
David Coulthard became the first person to drive an F1 car around the new circuit after its official opening, piloting the Red Bull running showcar. His first impressions of the new section were positive and he feels the track has retained its high-speed character:
It’s very fast on the way into Abbey.
But we still have all the hallmarks of the original circuit. The corners are very high speed and some of the entries are blind because it’s built on an airfield.
Damon Hill praised the construction work done to prepare the new circuit – with one access road only being completed the day before the opening. A harsh winter with weeks of heavy snow delayed the building work. Hill said:
The team have done a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances.
He also declared his relief that after years of dispute Silverstone finally has a long-term contract to hold the British Grand Prix:
We’re very happy we’ve beaten down Mr Ecclestone as far as possible to get as good a deal we can on this ten year contract, with a potential extension for 17 years. We are now the only private enterprise running a Grand Prix.
Now we have a new circuit for a new generation of people to enjoy motor sport the way we think they should.
The circuit extension was formally opened by the Duke of York who said:
High performance engineering is very important to the UK economy. Motor sport is at the pinnacle of this industry and it’s through events like Formula 1 and bikes that we can demonstrate our expertise. I hope the future will be bright for Formula 1 and high performance engineering in the UK.
He was later taken around the track in a two-seater racing car by Hill. “He hasn’t been around the circuit yet” said the Duke. “I’m not sure what I’m letting myself in for.”
Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips explained that the need to re-configure the track came from the desire to accommodate Moto GP, which has moved its British round from Donington to Silverstone:
The old bike circuit with the chicane in front of the pits wasn’t very well-liked. This whole section was needed so that we could avoid Bridge.
More work will be done before the Grand Prix. The grandstand in front of Village will be ten times larger and raised higher to improve the sight lines for the spectators.
It’s been inspected by FIA and has grade one licence for the next three years. Bernie Ecclestone has said he likes the track but he hasn’t been to see it yet. It would have been nice to see him here today, but he doesn’t like large gatherings.
The Silverstone Arena track will hold its first major international race meeting this weekend – the GT1 series – ahead of the British Grand Prix in July.
Update: Read more of Phillips’ thoughts on the track here: Silverstone boss explains why they didn’t use Tilke for Arena track upgrades
Silverstone Arena launch pictures
Silverstone Arena circuit