Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2008, 12:00am

I'm off to Silverstone this weekend, and I can't wait. There is a very special atmosphere about the place which I love, and which I imagine is the very thing that makes Bernie Ecclestone hate it.

One of the defining things about England in summer is the country fair. Whether it is the small affair around the village green or the big county show, the idea is the same. People turn up to trudge around the grass (or mud if you're unlucky) to be entertained and eat food turned out in tented kitchens or fast-food vans.

When it comes to the British Grand Prix, the entertainment is more than a tad better than the average country fair, but a lot of the elements are similar. From car parking in fields to paying a fortune for a dodgy burger, it's just like going to a country show, balloon fiesta or other such English summer madness.

I think that's why the average British race goer isn't complaining too loudly. That sort of service is imprinted on their DNA. It's not the same for Ecclestone, who lives in the rarefied surroundings of corporate grandness. For the beautiful people, Silverstone isn't quite Monaco.

Last year, I had the good fortune to have a pass to the Paddock Club, the hottest ticket at the circuit. I didn't have to bother with burger vans because I was tucking into fine food at the Toyota tent. That's right, the Paddock Club is a tented village at Silverstone, and although I was as happy as a pig in mud, I imagine some higher-end clientele might be allergic to canvas.

Of course, facilities for the teams are far from ideal and the pits are not up to scratch for F1. But the track's owners have plans to upgrade those soon. One thing they are not able to change is the amount they pay to Ecclestone's organisation to hold the event. It's a lot of money, US$22 million, but just a third of the cash that the new Asian and Middle Eastern tracks rustle up annually.

That may explain the yearly grumble from Bernie and his threat to remove this historic race from the calendar, or send it up the road to Donington Park. New, Hermann Tilke-designed tracks in places that have never heard of the credit crunch are the vogue nowadays as the super rich flock with shiny passes around their necks. But surely there is space to tear around an old aerodrome, while we of the great unwashed sit on a grassy bank and watch the race munching on a burger. It's the British thing to do.

The big puzzle is who will we see triumph at Silverstone after a start to the season that has been nothing if not unpredictable. Who would have thought Robert Kubica would have had his moment at the top of the championship? And now Felipe Massa is enjoying his moment in the sun. It's surprising, considering how he was meant to be in the shade of Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. After a disastrous first two rounds it seemed to be going that way. But now he has three wins under his belt, and you wouldn't be branded mad for having a flutter on him to win the championship.

I interviewed him a few years back, when he was at Sauber. A charming man, you sensed he had an immense inner belief. He's shown a bit of steel to come back from his misfortunes at the start of the year. The paddock whisperers who said he'd soon be gone in favour of Fernando Alonso should be blushing as red as a Ferrari.