Wednesday June 20th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
The British Grand Prix's muddy car parks will be swept away by plans to turn Silverstone into a world-class circuit by 2003, organisers promised on Wednesday.
Triple Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), presented plans to develop the circuit as a "revolutionary step forward for British motorsport."
"The vision for Silverstone that we are presenting today is one of a centre of excellence for our sport and industry, something desperately needed and undoubtedly in the national interest," the Scot told a news conference.
Stewart spoke proudly of the achievements of British motorsport, an industry worth five billion pounds ($6.97 billion) a year and employing 125,000 people, but warned that the country needed to invest in the future. He said Silverstone needed to give the public the sort of facilities and levels of comfort taken for granted at theme parks such as Disney World.
British-based teams in Formula One have won 18 of the last 20 constructors' world titles but modern circuits such as Sepang in Malaysia put Silverstone's facilities to shame.
"It's no good us going along and playing the same tune over and again, we've got to find new ways of doing business or we'll die," said Stewart.
Rob Bain, chief executive of Octagon Motorsports who hold the rights to the British Grand Prix for the next 15 years, said $60 million had been committed already to the first phase of the renovation. The money has been contributed in equal measure by the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), who own Silverstone, Octagon and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM).
A further $60 million is being sought from the British government to allow for further phases of development including an interactive visitor centre and drivers' academy.
"With a little help from our friends in government, this circuit can be the best in the world," said Bain.
Last year's British Grand Prix was derided as a shambles after organisers were forced to close parking to the public on the Saturday, the day of official qualifying, because cars had become bogged down in the muddy fields. International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley warned in February that Silverstone could lose the British round if the conditions were not improved.
Bain said there would be no repeat this year, with much money already invested in improving access and car parking.
"We have widened gateway entrances and improved road approach angles, laid six kilometres of new access roads and installed 660,000 square feet of reinforced meshing for car parks," he said. "We are confident that the car parks will be dry and robust as they had been for most of the 50 years before last year's event."
The layout will be revamped for 2003, with a reconfigured circuit combined with 1.5 km of new track and a newly built parabolic curve allowing better overtaking opportunities. Bain said Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher and Briton David Coulthard had given their seal of approval to the layout designed by German Hermann Tilke, who created the Sepang circuit and is working on another in Moscow.
Stewart said the new corner was the brainchild of former Formula One driver Martin Brundle, the BRDC's chairman.
"It is a question of grouping the cars up in a position where they can overtake at the end of the straight," said Brundle.
Bain said the first phase of the redevelopment would also include improvement of the existing infrastructure such as pit lane and paddock. The new media centre would accommodate 700 people.