7 Jul 2012

F1 - Silverstone - day 1. The blame game

 The first day of the 2012 British Grand Prix saw little movement on the track and off it.  At 6am race fans were already starting to bombard twitter with messages regarding the state of the traffic jams and the roads.  By late afternoon, when the action on track was over, some of those who hadn't set off at 4am were still queuing to get into the circuit.  Or rather they were stuck on the roads surrounding Silverstone and it's environs unable to move forwards or back.  The infamous forward facing speed camera near the Green Man on the A43 wouldn't have added a single penny to the Northamptonshire Constabulary's coffers.

80,000 race fans tried to get into the circuit.  No-one really knows how many actually made it there but for those who did the action was sparse.

On track the first practice session started at 10am and the rain, which had been coming down all night, was still pouring down.  A few hardy souls ventured out onto the circuit.  Most cars ran round for a lap or two to check out the conditions but no-one ran for any length of time.  Roman Grosjean set the fastest time of 1m 56.552s.  Neither Alonso nor DiResta even bothered to turn a lap.  The HRTs, suffering from a lack of downforce, were spinning around at the slightest hint of oversteer. Rain is meant to be a leveller in car racing but when the basic machine is so poor the drivers have no chance.

Meanwhile outside the circuit the car parks were turning into scenes reminiscent of the awful conditions of 2000.  Most of the parking at Silverstone is in fields which is normally fine in July but after the wettest spring on record the conditions were dire.  Unfortunate parking marshals and Silverstone's army of traffic controllers were stuck.  They couldn't allow more cars into the fields as those that were already there were sinking up to their axles in mud.  So they asked the traffic to turn around and go home - which is not easy when that traffic is, at times, three lanes wide and nose to tail for five miles.

Free practice two started at 2pm.  The session was busier than FP1 in terms of action on track.  Grosjean, Ricciardo, Webber and de la Rosa didn't bother to reward those fans who had actually managed to get into the track with an appearance.  Those drivers who did venture out generally put in a few laps and tried to set competitive times.  Hamilton, Kobayashi and Schumacher set the fastest times with Rosberg, Perez and Button just behind them.  Surprise of the day was the re-emerging star Heikki Kovalainen who was seventh.  It is also worth noting that Massa, never a master of wet conditions, was fourteenth.

There were plenty of spinners.  Most drivers suffered power oversteer.  It is good to see the cars squirming on track as the rear tyres release their grip and the drivers using their skill to try and save the skid.  Plenty skittled across the kerbs and infield, sometimes ploughing through deep puddles.  Towards the end of the session Alonso lost control and ended up in the wall - albeit not too heavily.  Bruno Senna, on the other hand, crashed head-on into the wall at Chapel and heavily damaged his Williams.

By 3.30pm the session was over.  And still the roads outside the circuit were packed with seething fans unable to get into the circuit.  Many team members were also caught in the traffic.  Caterham's Mike Gascoyne said it took him a total of seven hours to get in and out of the circuit.  Mark Webber was an hour late and GP2 commentator Will Buxton, who lives nearby the circuit, started his commentary with a moan about the traffic.  Many have blamed the race organisers and Silverstone MD, Richard Phillips, has apologised 'unreservedly' to the fans stuck in the traffic chaos.

But what must not be forgotten is that this years rainfall has been unprecedented and the vast majority of parking is on grassed fields.  It is not practical to tarmac hundreds of acres just for the two or three times a year they need to be called into action for races.  The weather colluded against the race organisers who, whilst they could have been better organised, did their best in extremely trying conditions.  The BRDC will no doubt make a loss on this years race as fans claim back the price of their tickets.  The fields will be no better for the rest of the weekend so many thousands of tickets will have to be refunded.  And don't forget that 80,000 is more than the spectator attendance at most F1 race days, never mind Friday practice.

We were there in 2000.  We had a 4 hour journey to the circuit and only had race day tickets so in order to avoid the inevitable jams early in the morning we drove our cars into the car park on Saturday evening.  After a few beers we slept in our cars and strolled up to the pedestrian entrance at 8am.

Perhaps next year some of the 80,000 will organise themselves better by turning up the evening before, utilising one of the many park and rides or simply riding into the circuit on motorcycles.

Despite the poor start to F1 at Silverstone in 2012 we're looking forward to an epic weekend of racing in what is turning out to be one of the best seasons in many, many years.