Silverstone forced to tell 30,000 spectators to stay away

Soaked car parks leads to many ticket-holders being asked not to come as rain brings chaos

Mark Webber arrived for work on the back of a scooter dressed in his overalls ready to go, as you do when the helicopter is stood down. Red Bull sought the quickest solution, sending out the two-wheeler to bring in their boy before the bell went for first practice. For the punters there was no contingency to escape the carnage brought about when low cloud dumps a month's rainfall in a day.

"A country fair masquerading as a world-class event" was how Formula One commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone described the British Grand Prix one wet April 12 years ago: traffic jams clogging the main arteries around Silverstone, cars anchored in fields of mud, tractors mobilised to dig them out. A great deal of money has been spent since to bring the old airfield into the modern F1 age, not least on the new road network feeding into the circuit that was intended to prevent the return of Groundhog Day.

But the planners reckoned without the enthusiasm of the humble camper, in whom the spirit of this event is surely contained, and at whom the finger was pointed when the A43 reverted once more to a car park along the five-mile strip from Towcester to the circuit. The combined efforts of Silverstone, the Northants and Thames Valley police, the fire and ambulance services and the car-park operators proved unequal to Formula One man and his camper van.

"The campers are turning up at their campsites, whether it's the Silverstone campsite or other campsites in the area, and being turned away because of the ground," a Silverstone spokeswoman said. "The farmers who own the private campsites and our own official one – Silverstone Woodlands – are saying, 'We can't take any more, we're going to relocate you'. Local radio and Silverstone radio are putting that message out, to say, 'If you haven't booked, don't turn up'.

"We have literally got to the stage where we are now towing in camper vans one at a time. That is such a slow intake that it is slowing everything on the Dadford Road. We had something like 35mm of rain in 40 minutes on Wednesday night. That threw everything out. Richard Phillips [Silverstone managing director] said yesterday that we would be OK if we didn't get any more rain and then we got this today."

How different the picture looked on Thursday when the mercury hit 23 Celsius and the fields around Silverstone basked in dappled sunshine. A scene of bucolic splendour unfolded around barbecues and beers as the F1 flock gathered optimistically for the annual pilgrimage to the home of grand prix racing. The rain that would fall on campers for much of the night was a piffling inconvenience compared to the chaos that would hinder yesterday's migration.

A crowd of 80,000, a record for the opening day of the grand prix and a number that many would love to have on race day, was expected. By early afternoon, when it became clear there was no chance of seeing a car run, many gave up. With more rain forecast, there is no guarantee of an improvement today. The organisers are prepared for the worst.

"There will be a problem," the spokeswoman said. "If we get more rain we have to be honest about it, it will be slow. We've loaded all the hardstanding car parks today but we have used some of the other car parks that aren't hardstanding that may well be in a bad state tomorrow. So again we are looking at all sorts of alternatives for tomorrow."

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