Formula 1 fans rejoiced in December when Silverstone announced that it had secured the future of the British Grand Prix – ending fears that the event could slip from the calendar completely. Since then, the Northamptonshire track has been working flat-out on making its preparations – which is no mean feat considering the extent of the revamp going on at the venue.
Silverstone's managing director Richard Phillips took to the main stage at AUTOSPORT International on Thursday to provide an update on how work is going, what fans can expect and why we should know soon on exactly what circuit it will take place.
Q. Getting the British Grand Prix back must have been a great moment for you?
Richard Phillips: It was a very close-run thing at the end there. We were holding our breath for 18 months after the Donington issue but we got there in the end. It was very good.
Q. Were you surprised you got such a long deal?
RP: Yes. It is unprecedented we should get a 17-year deal. We would have been very happy with 10, but to get 17 means we can invest in the circuit and get the development away. So it is a good thing for Silverstone and also for the motorsport industry.
Q. You have lots of exciting plans for the circuit. What can you tell us about the layout and which race will be on which track?
RP: We are doing a lot of work at the moment. If you went to Silverstone now you would not recognize it. We are building the new Arena circuit. It has gone into the FIA for [F1] homologation so we should be able to run FIM MotoGP and F1 on it. The issue really for 2010 is whether we can do that logistically. So we have issues with maybe Paddock Club, and Paddock Club parking and things like that to resolve. I am meeting with them tomorrow and, hopefully, in the next few days we will be able to know which circuit we are going to use.
Q. The Arena circuit was originally built for MotoGP's return to Silverstone – which is another massive coup for you guys, isn't it?
RP: It is back in the 1980s that we had the last motorbike GP at Silverstone. We are delighted to have it back and this new circuit has been designed for bikes and cars so it is quite interesting in places with some of the curbs that we are putting in.
Q. Does it give you a logistical problem when you have to cater for both needs?
RP: Yes. You have negative or neutral curbs for bikes and it is not quite the same for F1 cars. And some of the curbs now will be both, so they will be quite wide in certain areas. But we are getting over that at the moment. The FIA seems quite excited about the new circuit. If there are any issues, then they will maybe be at Copse where we have quite a long run-off at the moment, and there will have to be a gravel trap at the back – that is an area that we have to look at.
Q. The new Arena Circuit, you turn right at Abbey don't you?
RP: You get the right-hander at Abbey and then there is a curve going up into the new section. Then there is another right-hander, a left-hander and it comes back onto the national straight. But there is a huge amount of run-off gone into that part. So I think the average speed we reckon will happen there is probably the fastest in the world for both bikes and F1 cars.
Q. What do you think it was that finally persuaded Bernie Ecclestone to put an end to years and years of needle between himself and the BRDC?
RP: I think in 2009, it was an interesting year. The grand prix crowd that we had, and the success that we had, was absolutely phenomenal. Most of the other grands prix in the world were remarkably down, and that, plus the situation that was happening at Donington, and were they going to get their finance in place or not, coincided. That probably moved the needle.
Q. Does the enthusiast in you feel some sympathy for Donington Park and what has happened?
RP: I am glad we have got the contract but I don't think it is a great thing that Donington Park is in the state it is in. It is now in receivership, and that is a terrible shame. It didn't need to get to that state. Hopefully someone will come along and take it on and it will return to prime motorsport. But it will take some money to put it back into shape I think.
Q. Jonathan Palmer said here earlier that he would be interested in having some dialogue with Donington Park. It does need someone with the Midas touch, doesn't it?
RP: Yes. It is a great circuit. It has got lovely viewing and needs some investment to bring it up to scratch, but the location is good. Somebody needs to take it on who has got their heart in motorsport – somebody who is perhaps a caretaker for the time being, can build it back up and move it on.
Q. Was it comforting for you guys at Silverstone that everybody came out when all this nonsense was going on, and that cruel press release that did the rounds in 2008, and said that Silverstone was great and we all loved it?
RP: Yes. We went into real shock around the 2008 grand prix. To have an announcement like that on a Friday, to go through three days of a major event, can be pretty traumatic. Now the support we got from everybody, from the industry, from the press, the public, was absolutely phenomenal. And ever since as well. I haven't met too many people who really thought that the Donington bid was that credible, but nevertheless it was a hard time to go through.
Q. Time-line wise, what can we expect in the coming months in terms of moving pits and paddock?
RP: There is an awful lot going on at the moment because the Stowe circuit is being extended as well – with the bits going on there. There are low-friction surfaces, irrigation surfaces and so on, and the work we are doing on the new F1 circuit and MotoGP circuit should be finished mid-March. Then we are looking to start the pits – and the pit wall can maybe start this month. So things are moving quite quickly.
Q. There are two British World Champions on the grid, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari. You are going to have to turn people away aren't you?
RP: I wouldn't go quite as far as saying that yet, but ticket sales are going quite well. We are catching up quite quickly at the moment, so we are looking forward to a big event again in the summer.