The Silverstone premium

Last week I read an excellent piece on dailysportscar.com, which you should probably read before continuing with this. It’s here: DailySportsCar

If you’re far too busy to be clicking secondary blog links, allow me to summarise the main points here:

– the FIA (world motorsport’s governing body) runs two different high-profile World Championships, one for “single seaters” – Formula One – and one for sports cars of various types over longer distances – the World Endurance Championship;

– at Silverstone (“The [self-proclaimed] Home Of British Motorsport”), the WEC is vastly cheaper to get in to (like, a quarter of the price);

– when you get in, the WEC seems to want you there, while F1 would rather you weren’t;

– fans want to be as involved as possible, not (necessarily) sipping champagne at £stupid000 per Paddock Club ticket.

I don’t disagree with any of that. I’ve not been to a WEC event, but I’ve been to plenty of F1, BTCC, British GT and so on, and all the other series are far more welcoming and open than the deliberately closed shop that is F1. I just think the author, Richard Leach, is being a little too lenient on the circuit itself.

I need to add what I can legitimately call “The John Hindhaugh Disclaimer” here. I love F1. I watch every session, fascinated by the drivers, the technology, the circuits…but knowing it could be so much better.

The first time I went to an F1 race, I was a kid and it was on corporate hospitality, a decade and a half before such things were banned under the Bribery Act. In my memory, I actually saw Mansell giving Senna his famous lift back to the pits, but I’m pretty sure there were no Jumbotron screens and we were in the pit straight grandstand, so I’ve probably superimposed the image from the 876 times I’ve seen it on TV since.

When I’ve been paying the bill, I’ve been to eight races: Silverstone four times, Spa (Belgium) three times and Monza (Italy) once. And it’s the European experiences that make me less than impressed with the Northamptonshire version.

This year, as Richard said, Silverstone were trumpeting their “Centre Access”. For the first time in living memory, said the breathless blurb, fans with General Admission tickets would be able to stand on the bit of grass inside the circuit as well as the bit outside. GASP as you see the right-hand side of an F1 car. SWOON as you step aside for a Finnish man in mirrored shades and checked shorts before he hits you with his rucksack. GIVE THANKS as you part with an extra £60-odd for the privilege for the weekend.

In Belgium, the footpaths criss-cross the circuit. If you want, you can stand in the trees on the inside at the point where the track crosses L’Eau Rouge; the viewing bank at the Pouhon “Double Gauche” is entirely inside the circuit; the walk from La Source to L’Arrete d’Autobus (sorry, I’ll stop now) involves filing past the support race paddocks and last year watching Ted Kravitz filming his notebook.

Spa

Spa

In Italy, the track winds around the General Admission, rather than the other way round. The paddock exits into GA areas at both ends, so Ross Brawn strolls through the crowds with his briefcase, Lewis Hamilton signs autographs without a ten foot fence in the way, and Kimi Raikkonen still barges through in mirrored shades and checked shorts. The impression is much more of a park that happens to have a racetrack in it, than a military airfield behaving like, erm, a military airfield. This is probably why The Supreme High Ringmaster has started making noises about abandoning the place.

Parco di Monza

Parco di Monza

Then there’s the pit walks. Again, Silverstone trumpets its accessibility. LOOK! We’re letting you in to the pit lane on Thursday! Form an orderly queue, don’t loiter, move along please, everyone must have equal time to study the nose on the Caterham and admire the whine of the Red Bull driver – sorry, transmission. This is the first time EVER that such access has been allowed.

Unlike in Belgium. Or Italy. Where it’s been a well-known part of the weekend for years. And where you can stand outside Ferrari all afternoon if you want, until Fernando comes out and signs something for you. We decided on a less populated area…

20120906_172007

Quick! The safety car!

The point is, F1 manages perfectly well to be a little less aloof and untouchable outside the UK. And, comparatively, it also manages to be a lot less expensive.

Mrs Q and I are lucky enough to live within 20 miles of Silverstone’s front gate. We can go to a Grand Prix weekend and spend the nights in our own bed. If we want to drive our car there and park, the whole weekend (cheapest admission, fuel and parking) will cost us £425. Four hundred and twenty five pounds. £350 for the ticket, £60 for the parking, and a bit of diesel.

If we lived a similar distance from the Circuit Spa Francorchamps, the same thing would cost £258, even if we booked now, a few weeks before the event. If we’d got the early bird discount, even less expensive.

And if we had an apartment in Milan, we could do the whole Monza weekend for £197. Well under half the cost of Silverstone’s offering, with much less notice.

Let’s say for a minute we wanted to stay on site, to soak up the atmosphere, stock up on calories and be pestered by a slightly deranged Irish former team owner (Silverstone) or musically anaesthetised by a dozen completely deranged Dutch techno fans (Spa). And let’s say we were driving to the European races, not from a theoretical home 20 miles away, but from our actual home in Milton Keynes.

Silverstone including camping: £512. Spa including camping, driving there and back and a return Channel crossing: £508. Monza, ditto: £539. OK, that’s cheating a little bit, because you’d need an extra night either way to get to Monza and be comfortable, but you get the idea. In price terms, it’s no different to go to Belgium or flaming Italy than it is to go to somewhere on our doorstep.

OK, F1 as a sport doesn’t help itself. But Silverstone is complicit in making it appear even more inaccessible and expensive than it needs to be.

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