Silverstone's grand prix future is clear as mud

The fallout from the great car park carry on must not cloud a serious investigation
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The Independent Online

Well, we all know what happened at Silverstone last week. Those fortunate to gain unmolested access on all three days; those hardy fans who wore out their shoe leather and their patience by walking up to seven miles; even those hapless souls who found their delayed way to motor sport's Holy Grail blocked by the damp arms of the law.

David Coulthard drove a super race to win the British GP for the second time, and Jenson Button upstaged almost everybody with a super-confident run to fifth. But everything that happened on the famous racetrack was overshadowed by its infamous car parks. Far from being the home of British motor sport last weekend, Silverstone would have done better to set itself up as a shrine to mud-wrestling.

So what happens now? Who will bear the consequences of the biggest fiasco in British motor racing history?

You'll like this. After giving the contract to run the race to Brands Hatch from 2002 until 2007, Bernie Ecclestone, the powerbroker of FIA, the sport's governing body, said over the weekend he now thought Silverstone deserved to keep the race, which you can take as read will revert to its traditional July date.

Ecclestone's altruistic remark is interesting, for normally the FIA like to deride the British Racing Drivers' Club's expenditure on keeping their circuit up to par. This is manifestly unfair, for few reinvest so much. When you look at what pass for facilities at, say, Interlagos, home of the Brazilian GP, such sentiments are laughable.

But by taking their eye so disastrously off the car-parking ball, the BRDC have laid themselves wide open. That problem was then compounded by the traffic aggravation, which is partly a factor of Silverstone's unhelpful rural geography. The much-vaunted Silverstone Bypass, hailed over the years as the Great Salvation, has proved as tangible as a Jaguar World Champion-ship point.

But knowing that there would be jams galore on Sunday, after banning spectators' private cars on Saturday, why did nobody within the BRDC have the wit to open the gates earlier than six in the morning to ease traffic flow?

The FIA could fine Silverstone and the BRDC. Precedents exist: only last month the governing body levied a $100,000 fine on the Brazilians. But that was because some advertising hoardings fell on to the track, not because the car parks resembledploughed fields.

A fine would do nothing, and is unlikely in the current climate. Ecclestone, FIA's president, Max Mosley, the BRDC and the RAC Motor Sports Association must sit down together and for once thrash out the problems that annually beset the British GP. Mosley says it is too soon to talk of what will happen, but concedes there will be discussion. "It's a commercial matter to be considered by Bernie and the other parties involved," he said, adding: "The whole thing was just very unlucky." Right.

The BRDC will hold their own enquiry, and need to in the light of the curious assertion by Silverstone's chief executive, Denys Rohan, that the loss of at least £1m, or 25 per cent of the circuit's annual Grand Prix profit, was "important but not catastrophic". Can he be serious?

When Ecclestone accused the BRDC of "doing what they normally do and not taking the weather into consideration," he had a point. If, as many suspect, the date-switch was part of Ecclestone's plan to destabilise the BRDC and make them more likely to hand over control of the race, then he succeeded beyond his expectations. But while Rohan has a point when he says that 200 acres of land cannot be tarmaced, his comment: "Even with the benefit of hindsight we still cannot see a different way," is cause for deep concern. Why not protect the car parks with the sort of plastic matting that every karting kid in Britain likes to use as an extra part of the race-track at places such as Buckmore Park?

So who is going to pay for the fiasco? Don't hold your breath. Nobody, is the likely answer. This is Formula One, where many transgress, but few are ever called to account. The BRDC have lost money and face; the rest of the bill has already been paid by the thousands of fans who were short-changed, emotionally if not financially.

Next weekend the Circuito di Catalunya is likely to host another McLaren-Mercedes victory, as the silver arrows continue slowly to claw back the deficit to Michael Schumacher and his bullet-proof Ferrari. The first race there was held in September 1991, and was sodden proof that there is a proper date for all things. Mercifully, since it was switched to May, the rain in Spain has fallen but rarely on the plain. Or the car parks.