Kevin Garside: London Grand Prix is likely to remain a harmless fantasy

What sets the British Grand Prix apart is the devotion of the crowd

The weather forecast is grim. Fantastic. For the devotee, the sun always shines on the British Grand Prix. There is something comforting about a brisk sou'wester, spreading over the Rose of the Shires a rolling roof of grey cloud and carrying with it the ever-present threat of rain. In this business falling water is gold. Pirelli have gone to extraordinary lengths this year to produce a tyre that turns to pulp in 20 minutes, introducing a variable that nature offers for free. Aside from the interest stirred by climatic change, there is a restorative quality to a Silverstone weekend that comes from mopping out the tent and digging the motor out of a field.

For all the impressive swagger and grandeur at the top end of the Formula One food chain, it is good to be reminded of the core values that brought us to an old airfield in the first place. I know there are plenty out there who don't get it, for whom the love of screaming machinery is anathema on a lazy, Sunday afternoon, but for those admitted to the grand prix priesthood, Silverstone is a pilgrimage like few others.

Formula One impresario Bernie Ecclestone was a prime mover in the elevation of the viewing experience for those spending the corporate pound, and with it dragged the bottom end into a comfort zone now taken for granted. Anyone who has wandered the paddock clubs of the world, sipped at the high table of commercial largesse, will recognise how the bar has shifted upwards. The paddock club motif has been adopted across the sporting landscape. At Wimbledon, Wembley, Twickenham, Old Trafford, Lord's, the Emirates, at any Open golf venue you care to mention, the high-net-worth fan can eat like a lord.

But none of that matters without the patronage of the rank and file crashing through the turnstiles. Magnificent as Formula One's eastern parade rings might be, there is nothing like the exotica of racing's traditional heartlands to fire the soul. Silverstone's nod to the grand palazzos of China and Abu Dhabi, Malaysia and Bahrain is the new pit and paddock complex called the Silverstone Wing, a silver-grey tribute to the circuit's flying past. Necessary it was, too, but the one component offered next week that sets the British Grand Prix and, to be fair, a handful of other traditional circuits apart is the devotion of the crowd.

It can be a deflating experience walking into an empty circuit in Malaysia, Bahrain, China, etc on a Thursday and Friday. On Saturday numbers might pick up with expat interest, but nothing like the exuberance of Silverstone, which is banged out on even Thursday. Simply Red's lead singer, Mick Hucknell, who has been known to wander the Formula One precincts, was once asked to explain the enduring popularity of the band. "You have to stay relevant in your culture," he said. He might have been talking about Formula One. The first World Championship was held at Silverstone 62 years ago. It means something to those coming through the gates. They care about the winners and losers.

Ecclestone secretly understands this, though it would never do to weaken a bargaining position by acknowledging that detail in public, which brings us to the glorious madness of the London Grand Prix. Before Blue Boris it was Red Ken presiding over capital affairs. Instead of the offices of the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, a reception of sorts was held at Hamley's, the children's emporium on Regent Street. It was 2004, days before the British Grand Prix. Ecclestone was at war with the British Racing Drivers Club, owners of Silverstone, over their reluctance to upgrade the old airfield to bring it into line with the circuits rising in the East. London would do very nicely as a stick with which to beat the old duffers at the BRDC.

So there we gathered, much like last week's "unveiling", to test the notion of a grand prix on the streets of London. Mayor Livingstone talked enthusiastically about route feasibility studies, economic imperatives and a possible launch date of 2007. The cars would thunder, he said, around the same London landmarks outlined in the Santander plan. For Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on a simulator read Eddie Irvine thrashing around Pall Mall and Regent Street in a Jaguar Formula One car, watched by a crowd estimated at half a million.

It was a plausible wheeze, substantiated by the involvement of Livingstone. Bernie would love to pull it off. If there were the slightest encouragement from the state apparatus we'd all be heading down the Mall this week with our paddock passes. The point is this harmless fantasy pushed Formula One, the sport he transformed into a global empire, to the forefront of media coverage with one of the biggest races on the calendar approaching. Speculate all you like about the reasons why Ecclestone might want to do that; deflecting attention from an incarcerated German banker was probably a happy coincidence. Ecclestone was simply going about his business, as he is every second of every day. Start those engines.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform