British Grand Prix: Fifty shades of grey fail to deter fans from Silverstone

After rainy start, stands were full when cars eventually took to the track

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The Independent Online

This is the week of Laura and Andy on London lawns, of Lions duelling for the crown Down Under. It is also the week of the British Grand Prix, a constituency of enthusiasts all its own and every bit as important to the summer's sporting canon.

Such is the commitment of the Formula One priesthood there is money on Jenson Button winning in a McLaren. Not this year. Love truly is blind. On Thursday as the drivers began to arrive the main entrance to the circuit was festooned with star spotters of all ages holding station for the moment their heroes arrived. You don't get that in Kuala Lumpur or Korea.

Even today when blessed June lay 50 shades of grey across the Rose of the Shires, the stands were full when the cars eventually took to the track. The reluctance of teams to make maximum use of Fridays at grand prix weekends is something the sport needs to look at. The cheers that greeted those screaming engines made a nonsense of scare stories about falling attendance.

While it is true last year's figure might not be matched Silverstone is still expecting more than 300,000 punters through the doors. Among the attractions off the circuit on Thursday night was a German comedian playing to a 5,000 audience in a campsite free of the mud that characteristically attends this, to quote Bernie Ecclestone, 'country fare masquerading as a world class event'. Well it is the era of Sebastian Vettel.

To protect against the vagaries of the British climate the hosts poured six figure sums into the site to lower the water table. And irony of ironies, they can't drive a stake in a surface hardened by a lack of local rain in recent weeks. "We are into dust suppression at the minute. That is what we were doing on Thursday," said Silverstone chief executive Richard Phillips, a man who looked ready to end it all a year ago when he was turning people away from car parks under water. You might way he was lighter on his feet when the flood gates opened today.

"If you look at the weather we had last year and the weather over the winter you would have thought we might struggle. But confidence is back," Phillips said. "I'm pleased to be back to where we are. We spent the first three months after last year's event sorting out refunds and doing the right thing by people. The cost of that was a little over £1m. Some of that was met by insurance but we compensated some who would not have been covered. The needle has moved in terms of when people buy but they are buying. And we need a big crowd because we are the only independent circuit that stands on its own two feet and makes a profit. Many are subsidised but we are not."

Contrary to popular myth the cost of tickets have not been an issue. Those in greatest demand, £400 for three days, were at the top end of premium and up 15 per cent on last year. Entry level tickets going for £145 are also sold out. "We have done well, this will certainly be the third best we have ever done. We switched to park and ride last year so we have capacity at the circuit. That was always the problem with selling tickets on the gate. We couldn't get people in. Now we can. We sold a few more this morning and are already close to 300,000, pretty much capacity. It's still a massive turnout and we are really happy with it."