Thursday May 17th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
British Grand Prix organisers plan a $60 million revamp of Silverstone to make it one of the world's best Formula One venues. Rob Bain, chief executive of Octagon Motorsports, said on Thursday that $250,000 had already been spent on work to upgrade car parks and ensure there was no repeat of last year's weather-hit fiasco.
The circuit, built on the site of a former World War Two airfield, was forced to close parking on the qualifying Saturday last year after persistent rain left cars stuck in the waterlogged and muddy fields.
International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley warned as recently as last February that Silverstone could lose the Grand Prix if the conditions were not improved.
Bain outlined a "dramatic revision of how Silverstone is organised" over the next five years and said a new government-funded bypass was also expected to be ready by late 2002 to ease traffic congestion to the area.
He said a new pit and paddock facility at the central England track was planned for 2003 with German Hermann Tilke, who designed the state-of-the-art Sepang track in Malaysia, overseeing the project. The plans are due to be formally unveiled next month.
Octagon, which owns four British circuits including one-time Formula One venue Brands Hatch, owns the rights to promote the race for ten years from 2002 with a further five-year option available.
Bain said $60 million had been raised with Octagon, the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone each putting up $20 million. That money would take care of the "must-have" refurbishments, Bain said.
The British government had also been approached in the hope of securing a further $60 million "which would put Silverstone back as the number one venue in the world."
Bain said Ecclestone was keen for Britain to have a facility that could showcase Formula One, rather than having to refer people to top class tracks in Spain or Malaysia. Silverstone could also host a round of the World
Superbike Championship, potentially from next year, with Donington Park's contract expiring at the end of 2001.
However, plans to replace the Copse Corner gravel trap with asphalt by 2002 posed a problem as bikers needed a softer surface to fall on. Bain said the revamp of Silverstone meant Brands Hatch's chances of hosting a Formula One race again were remote due to the huge amounts of money needed to catch up.
This year's British Grand Prix is back to its traditional mid-July date after being held in April last year.