x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

British Grand Prix will enjoy the home support

A large crowd on Sunday will back the evidence of F1’s popularity with the British public.

Spectators at last year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone watch Sebastian Vettel in action in his Red Bull Racing car. A crowd of 120,000 attended that race, and a similar crowd is expected for this Sunday’s race, making it one of the most well attended sporting events in Britain.
Spectators at last year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone watch Sebastian Vettel in action in his Red Bull Racing car. A crowd of 120,000 attended that race, and a similar crowd is expected for this Sunday’s race, making it one of the most well attended sporting events in Britain.

Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula One world champion was dressed in a baby-blue morning suit as he sat a couple of seats away from Rory McIlroy, the US Open-winning golfer at the All England Club last week.

The two British sportsmen had no doubt hoped they would be watching compatriot Andy Murray rather than Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon men's tennis final.

McIlroy had flown in especially from Germany, where he had been watching English boxer David Haye fight the previous night for the right to be called the unified heavyweight champion.

Regardless of Murray's absence and Haye's defeat, there is no denying the United Kingdom is enjoying its position at the top table of competitive sport and this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone will provide the country's patriotic public with one more chance to show their support.

And they are certainly planning on doing so.

All 120,000 tickets for Sunday's race have already sold out, a feat no doubt helped by the fact Button and his McLaren-Mercedes' teammate Lewis Hamilton, as well as Force India's British rookie Paul di Resta, are all competing.

But where does Formula One stand in the grand scheme of British sport?

The Fifa World Cup and the Olympics are often reported as the only events that attract viewing figures as high as F1, but at a far lesser frequency.

Yet English Premier League football dominates the country's newspapers: one national paper yesterday dedicated five pages to football, two to cricket and only one to cycling and Formula One.

The drivers, however, are content with the growth the sport is experiencing.

"I've never really compared it before, but I'd say [Formula One is] doing all right as a sport," Button said.

"In the history of motor racing, there has pretty much always been a British driver fighting at the front, so I'd say we're looking pretty good."

Button and Hamilton are both former champions. Before the McLaren duo, the last time Silverstone witnessed two British champions on track simultaneously was in 1973 when Sir Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill competed.

"We're doing really well in golf at the moment, which is great, also in cycling - [Mark] Cavendish won [a stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday], which is good to see," Button said.

"There are many other sports that we are doing well in, so we should be really happy with how competitive we are at the moment, what we have achieved over the past few years and hopefully what we can go on and achieve in the future."

Hamilton said he is not sure why Britain offers so many elite athletes, but is thankful for the passionate support he is shown.

"I am very proud to be a part of British sport," he said. "We challenge competitively in pretty much every sport and, for some reason, there is always somebody competing and pushing hard.

"We are all very much devoted to achieving our goals and to winning, so I think the British public and British sportsmen generally have a very good pedigree for sport and that is very impressive.

"The more support we can get from the fans makes such a huge difference to us all."

Button said the support he is shown here makes him all the more motivated to finally finish on the podium this weekend after failing to finish higher than fourth in 12 attempts. Hamilton won here in 2008.

"Your home grand prix is the one you would love to win," Button said "It is the one I haven't achieved yet, so that is something I will be fighting for.

"This is a special race for us Brits - we get a lot of support here - so many Union Jacks and St George's crosses around the place and rocket red caps.

"It's a really nice atmosphere and hopefully we can put on a good show for them this weekend."

Among those enjoying the atmosphere this weekend is Andrew Flintoff. The Ashes-winning cricketer and sports ambassador for Dubai added to the sporting spectacle on offer appearing at Silverstone's new revamped paddock.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae