Leave East Finchley, where I stayed overnight courtesy of my friend Cedric Selzer, mechanic to Jim Clark when the Lotus driver dominated the 1963 Formula 1 season.Silverstone had secured the future of the British Grand Prix.
Clearly the deal was sealed after some hard bargaining after the BRDC, owner of the circuit, triggered an exit clause on its onerous contract in 2017. The gamble clearly paid off.
The early start from London is necessary as I’m heading not for the circuit first thing, but across the road to Racing Point, where Britain’s Motorsports Industry Association – the sport’s only such body I believe – is hosting its Business Growth Conference, and has lined up an excellent list of speakers, including my South African compatriot Brian Gush – Bentley’s motorsport director – and F1’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds.
MIA registration, coffee and pastries plus a banana, then networking rounds: Britain’s ‘Motorsport Valley’ really is the industry’s equivalent of ‘Silicon Valley’, with an estimated £10bn in annual sales generated by 4,500 businesses employing 45,000 heads. Plus, of course, eight out of 10 F1 teams have bases here. How F1 may have thought it could get away with scrapping a race hosted in the middle of all this is absolutely beyond me.
I grab John Grant, BRDC chairman and the man who headed Silverstone’s negotiating team, and he kindly provides some details on the deal, and while he’s not at liberty to reveal commercial details, it’s clear risk has been either removed or minimised. A concern had been that income would be hit massively should Lewis Hamilton retire, but with Lando Norris, George Russell and London-born Thai driver Alexander Albon on the grid, Britian’s F1 future seems rosy.
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A fascinating presentation about how motor industry trends will impact on motorsport by Professor Steve Sapsford – it’s far from doomsday. Then Brian, Michael Resl of engineering consultancy AVL and Pat – speaking on F1’s future regulations and their implications – run us through their visions for the future, with a subsequent panel discussion being particularly revealing. Look out for more on these in our future coverage.
The gates open and the fans swarm in to the stands. It is remarkable how well-supported this race is – it looks like there are more people in the seats on the day before track action begins than we’ve seen at some races this year.
After a ‘walking buffet’ lunch I head across the road to the circuit. 22 years ago the British Grand Prix marked my first event as an international journalist, and as I drive through the gates for my 23rd consecutive BGP I recall with a smile how excitedly I flashed my pass back in 1997. The sport has surely changed since, and not only due to the fact that we faxed our (printed) articles back then.
Once in the paddock I do the rounds before interviews start, and am extremely pleased to see Frank Williams smiling broadly as he is wheeled about the paddock. He has obviously recovered from his recent pneumonia, and will be spending the weekend with his team. A remarkable man, Frank: He’s also hoping to be at the Belgian Grand Prix, as Spa is accessible by road, and therefore he can be transferred there more easily.
Early end to paddock activities as its time to head for the BRDC Clubhouse, where the adjacent marquee hosts the Charlie Whiting Memorial, starting at 6pm.
The man in my book deserves the title of Mr Formula 1 more than any other and the paddock paid their respects in superb fashion. Those who attended were asked not to share quotes or pictures from the event, however there were some extremely moving eulogies, with Sebastian Vettel in particular expressing what we all thought and felt.
Clearly Charlie was much loved in all walks of his life, and is and will be much missed.
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End of service, and time to hit the road for my bed and breakfast. On the way to my car I spy Audi’s five times Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro, who had kindly agreed to autograph my TTS if he found himself in close proximity to the car. Thus it now sports three signatures: his, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, who have 14 Le Mans 24 Hour wins between them,
One of the real pleasures of this job is meeting some truly wonderful people, and Audi’s trio firmly fits into that category.
Arrive at the bed and breakfast near Daventry. I’ve stayed here before, and provides the perfect mix of price, commute, comfort and a hearty English breakfast. When I find a good place regardless of where in the world I stick to it.
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