My first visit to Silverstone was for the 1975 F1 International Trophy followed by that year’s British Grand Prix. A race-day general admission ticket cost £2.50 (£24 in today’s money), parking included. This year’s ticket cost £185 plus £65 for parking had I needed it. But has this huge hike in prices along with Silverstone’s multiple face-lifts actually done anything to improve the lot of the paying customer? My experience of attending every Grand Prix at the circuit in the intervening forty two years is – no it has not, in fact quite the reverse.
Firstly, there is Silverstone’s notorious traffic chaos. This was tolerated when parking was free and admission prices set at a reasonable level. Situated in a rural location with limited available public transport, the majority of customers have little choice but to use their own vehicles. But as the crowds got bigger the system simply could not cope. Attempts at reducing the volume of traffic by charging excessive parking fees, encouraging park and ride (cost £31) or using carriers such as ‘Megabus’ and dualling the A43 main road all fail to address the fundamental issue. It is the circuit’s own narrow perimeter lanes and tracks feeding into grass fields and inadequately surfaced parking areas that is the root problem. I have tried all of the recommended alternatives and still spent hours in traffic jams. In the extremely wet years of 2000 and 2012 Silverstone’s response was to close their car parks and advise ticket-holders not to attend
Coming up from the south, for years I would use the Whittlebury entrance, until someone in authority realised how efficient this was so designated it for VIP/accredited personnel only.
Fortunately, there are some independent campsites and landowners within walking or cycling distance that charge reasonable prices for parking.
Providing spectator viewing suitable for an international sporting event was always going to be a challenge for a flat, disused aerodrome but at today’s £185 a decent view should be a given and not just available to those prepared to arrive as the gates open and ‘dig-in’ at the front. Originally one of Silverstone’s redeeming features was that a few extra pounds would purchase a centre transfer ticket which not only opened up extra less-crowded spectator viewing areas but also got you adjacent to the F1 paddock and full access to the support race paddocks. Hanging out by the paddock gates as the drivers came and went, even sharing the same public toilet block was all part of the entertainment and made for a great atmosphere. The new ‘Paddock Diner’ and bar enabled the public to have a comfortable sit-down meal or drink away from the elements.
But year on year, as the admission price increased, so the access became further restricted. The areas adjacent to the F1 Paddock and motorhomes were fenced off and the public kept well away. The ‘Paddock Diner’ and bar became for ‘accredited’ personnel only and the support race paddocks became out of bounds. Then one year, to go along with the new clubhouse they had built themselves, the whole top section of the infield was reserved for BRDC members and their guests. This included the grassy hill at Farm Curve which had been my chosen viewing spot for several years giving a head-on view of the cars coming up from Club Corner. Exactly for whose benefit was the Grand Prix being held? Bernie Ecclestone’s comments about Silverstone being a country fair masquerading as an international sporting event did not seem far off the mark.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and ‘for safety reasons’ centre access was no longer available to the paying public. Instead it became the domain of owners of shiny VIP passes, apparently unaffected by the safety issue.
To be fair, a small section of infield was opened up for the general public this year but at an additional £40.
The track layout has changed considerably over the years but its challenge and speed still remain highly rated by the drivers. 180 mph through Copse and the sequence of Maggotts/Beckett’s/Chapel are considered to be amongst motor-racing’s most spectacular corners but each circuit modification has seen the spectators pushed further and further back. Such corners need high spectator banks and tall grandstands to appreciate the spectacle. The public areas and stands are so low profile and far away at Copse it is difficult to make out which car you are watching and at Beckett’s the cars may as well be going in a straight line.
A friend who attended last year’s Grand Prix, his first since the 1990s, commented at how seriously reduced the amount of visible track was compared to his previous visit. Now buildings and hospitality marquees block out anything other the piece of track directly in front of you.
The new pits building, ‘the Wing’ was introduced as a piece of defining architecture to bring the circuit into the twenty-first century. Great for the teams, press, sponsors, VIPs, Paddock Club and everyone else who uses it, but for the public? It should have come with a showpiece towering grandstand overlooking the garages and starting grid as does every other circuit, but the public who pay somewhere near £500 for the privilege are housed in a scaffolding tube structure with blue plastic seats and flapping fabric roof. Many of the seats are not high enough to even afford a view over the pit-lane wall.
Finally, I cannot help but feel that the triggering of the early release clause for the Grand Prix contract was cynically timed to provoke a backlash of ‘fan power’ by inducing a sense of injustice in those still high on this year’s event. Even the circuit owners must realise that their pricing policy of ‘charging what the market will bear’ has reached its ceiling and prices cannot be increased further to cover the lost millions caused by a flawed business plan.
Roll on London Docklands, Manchester, Glasgow or wherever. Just make it affordable, accessible and give us a decent view please.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.