Friday 23 February 2018

F1: Silverstone washout sparks chaotic scenes

Tom Cary at Silverstone

British Grand Prix organisers admit they are facing a "nightmare" scenario after heavy rain left thousands of fans stranded, with McLaren's Jenson Button predicting tomorrow's race could be called off if the bad weather persists.

Organisers have also urged fans with public car parking not to come to Silverstone today, saying only spectators with pre-booked park-and-ride or in local campsites were advised to attend the qualifying day. Fans would be refunded for unused tickets, and full details would be available next week.

An estimated 80,000 fans were expected at Silverstone yesterday, but thousands of cars were stuck all day in queues approaching the Northamptonshire circuit, with traffic on the A43 stretching back for miles. Many fans never made it to the circuit, missing both practice sessions.

Organisers fear that the situation could get worse over the weekend. Up to 125,000 people are expected on site tomorrow. About 40,000 of them are staying at campsites around the old airfield and it was their campervans which organisers say were at the heart of yesterday's chaos.

"The problem is that the campers are turning up at their campsites, and being turned away because of the ground," said Katie Tyler, Silverstone's head of communications. "The farmers who own the private campsites, along with our own official one, Silverstone Woodlands, are saying, 'We can't take anymore, we're going to relocate you'."

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton topped a largely meaningless day of practice yesterday, during which Williams' Bruno Senna and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso crashed.

Button said afterwards that he could not see the race being allowed to go ahead if the rain kept on coming. "You wouldn't want to be racing in those conditions," he said. "There's a lot of standing water. You have to memorise where the rivers are. One of the worst is the Hangar Straight before Stowe at 290kph, suddenly you cross a river which gives you wheel spin and at that speed it can snap out of control easily. If it is like this in qualifying (the session) will go ahead because it's one car at a time. I don't think we would want to race in those conditions.

"On your own it's okay but in a pack it's very difficult. I can't see us being allowed to race in these conditions. You can look like a hero until you spin off and hit the wall."

Silverstone's managing director Richard Phillips said on Thursday that there were contingency plans in place should the bad weather persist -- as is forecast. An extra mile of filter drainage had been put in to cope with the increased volume of rainwater, while two 4,000-gallon tankers were brought in to aid with water removal.

The circuit said they invested more than £1m each year to prepare and manage their car parks and traffic flow, with "top traffic management experts on site".

Seemingly, they were powerless to prevent yesterday's chaotic scenes. Andrew Robinson (63) said that he left Sheffield at the crack of dawn in order to make first practice, which began at 10.0. At 9.0 he turned off the M1 to be met by stationary traffic. Nine hours later, at 6.0, he had just made Silverstone's main entrance, only to be turned around as the sun began to shine.

"I haven't eaten breakfast, lunch or dinner," he said. "I've been coming here since 1973 and I've never known anything like it, not even in 2000 when Bernie Ecclestone made his famous quip about the British Grand Prix being a 'circus masquerading as a world-class event'.

"It is indescribable, really. There are hundreds of cars stuck out here, thousands of people. I will certainly be making a formal complaint. The scary thing is, what will they do tomorrow when there are three or four times the number?"

It was not only fans who were caught out. GP2 driver Jolyon Palmer, son of former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, had to ditch the car and run the last two miles to the circuit in order to make practice, which was a washout anyway.

Red Bull's Mark Webber sent for a scooter after his helicopter was unable to take off. Tyler said there was every possibility of more chaos, and people being unable to reach the track, today and tomorrow.

"It's a nightmare. If we get more rain we have to be honest about it, it will be slow and there will be problems.

"We had almost got over 2000, that is what is so frustrating. It seems we're about to go through it again. We know we've got a problem." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

British Grand Prix, Live, Tomorrow, BBC 2 & Sky Sports F1, 1.0

Irish Independent

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