Fears over Silverstone’s new surface materialised on Sunday when the British Grand Prix became the first MotoGP race to be cancelled due to unsafe track conditions since 1980, leaving the home of motorsport facing embarrassment over their multi-million pound resurfacing.
The Silverstone owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, decided to fully resurface the track in February this year in order to remove the bumps that affected last season’s MotoGP race. But after criticism over the weekend that the bumps were worse than ever, Sunday’s race action was completely washed out, with MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 all cancelled as well as the British Talent Cup support race.
MotoGP race director Mike Webb held an extraordinary press conference after a decision was taken shortly after 4.00pm to call off the race, and explained that the new surface was to blame for the cancellation given that racing has been possible in similar conditions at Silverstone in the past - most recently in 2015.
“We’ve had a number of years experience here in wet conditions recently with the old surface and we’ve been able to run races,” Webb said. “This year with the new surface is the first time that we’ve encountered quite so much standing water in critical places on the track. So yes, it’s a direct result of the track surface.”
Having been criticised by a number of riders on Saturday following the rain-affected free practice session, plenty of scrutiny was on how the track would hold up on race day with a deluge of rain expected throughout the day. Saturday’s final practice session was red flagged when rain at the Stowe corner caused a number of riders to aquaplane off the track and into the gravel trap, where Avintia Ducati rider Tito Rabat was hit by Franco Morbidelli’s Marc VDS Honda and Alex Rins was seen to jump off his Suzuki at well over 100mph to avoid hitting the tyre barrier.
Rabat underwent successful surgery on Saturday night on fractures to his femur, tibia and fibula at the nearby University Coventry Hospital where he will remain under observation for the next few days, while reigning world champion Marc Marquez claimed that water was remaining on the track in-between the bumps that was causing the bikes to aquaplane at speeds approaching 200mph.
However, Sunday saw Silverstone officials try everything within their power to get action underway as their fleet of BMW safety cars circulated throughout the day to try and clear water off the track, as well as road sweepers attempting to soak up the standing water.
“I must say from the circuit point of view, the staff have done an unbelievable effort over the whole weekend, not just today, but an enormous effort to try and make the track safe and until the last minute they were still working but unfortunately we couldn’t battle nature,” Webb added.
However, safety advisor and former rider Loris Capirossi said that the decision was taken by the majority of riders not to race due to fears over their safety even though a select few wanted to race. It’s understood that Johan Zarco, Jack Miller and home rider Scott Redding were all in favour of starting the race, but the rest of the paddock voted to cancel the race.
“After a meeting between IRTA officials and the MotoGP riders, a decision has been made to cancel the GoPro British Grand Prix due to track conditions being deemed too unsafe,” a Dorna statement read.
Webb added: “It’ pretty straightforward, we’ve been forced to cancel today’s event due to the track condition. Primarily, it’s due to water accumulated on the surface, and I think you’ve all seen the results of when we’ve been running in heavy rain that the circuit in some places is not safe because of the way the water does not drain from the surface.
“We attempted to start the race this morning, it was obvious that track conditions were not safe. After that and consultation with the riders we delayed the start to discuss the situation further. When it was obvious that the track conditions were not improving - even when the rain abated a little - the track surface was still too wet. We discussed several options including running tomorrow, that was discussed with the teams and with the circuit promoter and organisers. It was concluded that that was not a possibility and so the other possibility that the circuit requested that we agreed with was to delay today as much as possible until such time that conditions were safe. We’ve reached the point where even though the rain is getting less, it is still not in a condition that we could safely run races.”
It means that Marquez takes one step closer towards claiming a fifth MotoGP world championship in six years as he retains his 59-point lead over Valentino Rossi with seven races remaining, starting with the San Marino Grand Prix at Misano in two weeks’ time.
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