Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am

I imagine the Formula One teams will arrive at Hockenheim this week with more than a little relief after the tumultuous weekend that was the British Grand Prix. The Germans can at least be relied on for an efficient grand prix run like clockwork and most importantly with no big surprises.

The rain might have been bad enough in England, but most people in the paddock spent the weekend digesting the news that the British Grand Prix is to move to Donington Park from 2010. It has to be said that Bernie Ecclestone, the man who made the announcement just before Silverstone's big weekend, was taking cover.

He was at the track, but for a lot of Saturday at least, he wasn't stepping foot outside his motorhome. I bumped into a friend in the paddock who is well connected with Mr E, and he told me he had tried four times to see him over a pressing matter, with little success. Even the big interview with host broadcaster ITV was carried out behind the safety of the net curtains.

Mind you, he had a point about the state of the facilities at Silverstone. I was in the pit lane just after practice finished on Saturday morning. A hydraulic platform had been hurried out and a workman was taping up a leaking water pipe on the overhead gantry to stop it spilling water on to the tarmac below. Not exactly an advertisement for progress that Silverstone claims.

The main sentiment around the paddock was that although it was sad for Silverstone to lose the grand prix, at least the British Grand Prix had been saved. Call me a cynic, but I'm not so sure. Donington needs around US$200 million to bring it up to scratch. There is much to do to the track and the facilities. That's not to mention the access road, which is wholly inadequate.

Funding is less than certain and with Bernie saying the race will definitely not go back to Silverstone, you can see a scenario where Donington isn't ready or can't stump up the cash. Then the British GP could be a thing of the past. Perhaps it's no coincidence that I was told at Silverstone by a man who should know that the Indian Grand Prix is a definite for 2010.

Silverstone also proved conclusively one thing about Lewis Hamilton. He can have his cake and eat it. Those that expressed doubts he could maintain his playboy lifestyle and his championship challenge have been blown away like the rest of the grid at Silverstone.

His start in appalling conditions brought comparisons with Ayrton Senna and his stellar wet lap at Donington of all places in 1993. There couldn't be a much greater compliment. To be over a minute ahead of the competition, having lapped most of the field, is the dictionary definition of dominance.

His performance is even more astounding considering his diary in the week leading up to the race. To say it was packed was an understatement. Meeting Nelson Mandela a handful of times, unveiling more commercial deals, chinning himself while kayaking and sailing in a race off the south coast of England. Not the most relaxing way to prepare for your home race, or the most focused you might argue.

But to criticise him is to forget one important fact. He's just 23. At that age the boredom factor is very low. You just don't want to sit at home and think about the day job every spare minute. Spare time is for fun, and when you happen to be a Formula One superstar, there tends to be more appealing options for fun than the average 23-year-old. I know I wouldn't turn down the chance to meet Mandela or race (and crash) an ocean-going yacht.

I think that middle-age sports writers need to remember how they felt in the first flush of youth and realise that drivers aren't like them. The same writers who bemoaned the lack of characters in the sport during the Schumacher era should be grateful that these young men give them something spectacular to write about, both on and off the track.