Motor Racing: Hill yet to excite the bulldogs: High prices and low turn out but circuit deserves another chance. Richard Williams reports

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The Independent Online
SO WHAT do you expect in England on Easter Day? A garden party? You expect rain and traffic jams, of course, and there can have been few more spectacular Bank Holiday traffic jams than the one that arrived at Redgate Corner just after 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Strangely enough, the congestion at the first corner of the Grand Prix of Europe turned out to be worse than anything experienced on the approaches to the circuit. For a grand prix at Silverstone, the prospective spectator needs to be a piper at the gates of dawn, on the road in the middle of the night and preparing to breakfast from a thermos in a 10-mile tailback at Towcester. It is part of the fun, sort of. Yesterday at Donington was very, very different, and strangely reminiscent of the pre-war slogan employed by the people who ran Brooklands before the war: 'The right crowd, and no crowding.'

Blank spaces yawned in the mud-banks above the treacherous Old Hairpin, huge gaps were left in the grandstands facing the final hairpin, and entire blocks of vacant seats looked down on the spectacular Craner Curves. Tom Wheatcroft had realised his dream, but it had not quite captured the imagination of the people who throng Silverstone in July. He had hoped to attract 80,000, but the official estimate last night was 50,000, and even that looked excessively optimistic.

There are good reasons for the low turn out , and bad ones, too. The good reasons include the likelihood of bad weather in April, and the admittedly slim possibility that there might still be some people who would prefer to go to church on Easter Sunday. Among the bad reasons, the most obvious is the sheer expense - pounds 60 to stand or pounds 120 to sit is a strong deterrent in the present climate, not least to those who would already have booked for Silverstone. The second bad reason is the absence of Nigel Mansell.

The paddock is certainly a less overtly acrimonious place this season, but the sophisticated vendetta currently going on between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost will never have the broad box-office appeal of Mansell's melodramatics. Nor can Damon Hill provide the instant antidote. Yesterday's second place was further evidence that he is turning into a fine driver, but his personality is too self-effacing to appeal to Mansell's bulldog breed of fans.

In fact, Prost seems to be making a bid for the absent world champion's role as arch- whinger. His post-race complaints about the gearbox, clutch, tyre pressures, wonky aerodynamics, a rusted-up sunroof and French tax laws made you think you probably would not have bet on him to get out of the Donington car park last night.

The Frenchman's catalogue of dissatisfaction also elicited the quote of the season from Ayrton Senna: 'Why don't you change cars with me?' Having beaten him in the race, Senna had now thrashed him in the press conference as well. It was the only dry moment of the whole day, and it was worth a soaking to hear it.

But they had also given us a proper motor race, on at least half of a proper motor racing circuit. Senna's opening lap, in which he accounted for Wendlinger, Schumacher, Hill and Prost as if they were so many trucks on the M1, is now part of motor racing history. And if the back leg of the track resembles any number of articial autodromes, the section from Redgrave to Coppice has a majestic parkland sweep reminiscent of Spa and the lamented Oesterreichring.

To watch the Williams pair rushing down through the Craner Curves as if tied together, or to hear the bellow of a whole field passing under Starkey's Bridge and climbing the hill to McLeans, was to remember that Nuvolari and Rosemeyer once practised their art here, and to hope that yesterday's race would not be just a single curtain call.