British Grand Prix: Silverstone loses its beating heart as F1 comes ‘home’ with fans nowhere to be seen

Four drivers on the grid grew up dreaming of winning the British Grand Prix in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, only for coronavirus to prevent any from being allowed into Silverstone this weekend

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Friday 31 July 2020 07:09
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F1: A lap of the British Grand Prix

Picture this: Lewis Hamilton crosses the line, punching the air as he records his seventh British Grand Prix.

Stretching his lead in the world championship battle with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton appears a shoe-in for a seventh Formula One title, which would draw him level with Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.

Determined to celebrate in typical Hamilton style, he climbs up onto the pit wall, lifts his head and what does he see staring back at him? Cattle.

With no fans allowed into Silverstone for this weekend’s British Grand Prix or next weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at the same track, campsite owners have taken the advantage to regenerate the fields normally used to home the thousands of fans who spend the week soaking in the British Grand Prix. Instead, crops have been allowed to grow and livestock have returned to make the most of nature’s reprieve.

Should that be the way Sunday’s Grand Prix plays out and Hamilton does collect a third consecutive race win this season, it will be this moment that Formula One realises it is living without its beating heart. The absence of fans has not been heavily felt so far given that there are no Austrian or Hungarian drivers on the 2020 grid.

But with Hamilton, Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon all set to return ‘home’ without anyone to cheer them on this weekend, things just won’t be the same.

“The atmosphere for me, it's night and day different,” Hamilton said this week. “At Silverstone, there's nothing like it. The whole year, it's the highlight of my year, the support is insane.

"It grows every year and I get to interact with the fans differently on that weekend and it's such an honour and privilege to be able to perform well and win a Grand Prix in your home country.

"It feels great to be out there because once you're in the zone you're in the zone, but I really do miss the energy they bring.

"At Silverstone, for sure - I don't have a lot of years left and that's going to be one year that I miss all the fans. But I do want them to stay safe and we're in that period of time where safety is everything."

Taking into Hamilton’s stunning GP2 double victory in 2006, Hamilton has made the most of the passionate Silverstone report for the last 14 years, claiming six F1 wins out of 13 in the process.

But for McLaren driver Norris, he finally got to experience last year what it feels like to be a Grand Prix superstar at your home Grand Prix.

“To go up to the campsites and go on the fan stage in front of the thousands and thousands of people. It was awesome,” he said. “So it’s really something I’m going to miss. And in some ways, they’re the people that make it a home race.”

Alongside Monza, Silverstone can boast the most passionate home fans that have been treated to several classic races in recent memory - Hamilton’s maiden home win in the wet conditions of 2008, a classic battle in 2012 between Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso and even last year’s duel between Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas that saw the British favourite prevail with a stunning move around the outside of Luffield.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas walk through the Silverstone paddock

It is for this reason why organisers fear fans may do whatever it takes to try and get a taste of the action this weekend, which is why an exclusion zone has been installed around the perimeter of the circuit.

"The government requirement is that you can run this event if people are not present," said Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle. "It therefore flies in the face of that completely if we allow people to be present - and that includes congregating at the front gate to see whether they can catch a glimpse of drivers coming in and out.

"And there's a lot of concern in the community around Silverstone. It's that these sporting events should not be a magnet to bring people to their locality and increase the risk of transmission of this virus.

"The plan we've put together is to comply with the government requirements. And we are doing it and we're doing a thorough job. We're just getting the messaging out there - get it out early, get it clear and get it backed up with a bit of authority - so that everybody knows you're serious."

That voice of authority came on Thursday when Northamptonshire Police superintendent Dennis Murray issued a firm reminder to fans to stay at home.

"I want to reinforce our previous messages - there will be an exclusion zone around the circuit and F1 fans must not travel to it, but should instead join the millions watching the races on TV," said Murray, the event commander for the both Silverstone races.

"My officers will be out and about to target anybody intent on committing crime and there will be teams of officers tightly controlling the area. It will not be possible to watch the race from the perimeter fences and anybody attempting to do so will be removed."

Hamilton, Norris and Co will have to celebrate any success without the fans this year, while the people that make the sport what it is will have to keep the Union Jacks tucked away for another year. Thankfully, many have, with 70 per cent of the 350,000 ticket holders keeping their allocation for next year’s event, meaning Silverstone can press on ahead with their plans for their first ever double-header confident that the show will go on without any cause for concern.

Fans will not be the only ones who miss out this weekend, with Sergio Perez the first F1 driver to test positive for coronavirus following a test on Thursday. The Racing Point driver saw one test return inconclusive, resulting in a second that confirmed he had contracted Covid-19.

“Sergio is physically well and in good spirits, but he will continue to self-isolate under the guidelines of the relevant public health authorities, with safety the ultimate priority for the team and the sport,” a Racing Point statement said.

“The entire team wishes Sergio well and looks forward to welcoming him back into the cockpit of the RP20 soon.”

Racing Point have confirmed that they still plan on racing two cars this weekend, with either Mercedes reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez or former Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg in the frame to drive alongside Lance Stroll.

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