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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick