x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Changing times for campers at British Grand Prix

A new upmarket site for Silverstone visitors to pitch their tent has not gone down well with everyone.

Many Formula One fans choose to camp at Silverstone over the race weekend.
Many Formula One fans choose to camp at Silverstone over the race weekend.

Men with tired faces and towels slung over their shoulders line the trampled grass. As they await access to a hot shower, others emerge from tents with cups of steaming hot tea in hand. Flags fly, shoes dry and sausages fry.

On British Grand Prix weekend, camping is a time-served tradition at Silverstone, a quaint village deep in the heart of England's self-proclaimed Motorsport Valley.

Yet with the recent emergence of an expansive site owned by the hamlet's international racing circuit, nearby family-run campsites are being forced out of business.

"We can accommodate about 400 people, but this year we only have around 150," said Niki Thomas, who along with husband Andy owns Cavalier Fields and have together been providing race enthusiasts with a place to pitch up for the past 10 years.

"We hire toilets and showers and it all costs money, but with everyone now choosing to stay down at the circuit, I'm not sure we'll be able to do it next year."

The Thomases charge £70 (Dh412) per pitch for three nights, a price that reflects their location about 40 minutes by foot from the circuit.

"People bring their bikes and they're at the track within 15 minutes," she said. "We get the same customers each year and have built a core group of campers. They often book the following year not long after they leave, but this year numbers are down because a lot of them are going to the Silverstone campsite."

David Wilson, owner of the Hamilton Fields campsite, said his business has also "felt the pinch in the past two years" since the opening of the vast Silverstone Woodlands Camp Site in 2010.

The official site can accommodate more than 11,000 people, while Wilson's is capable of hosting around 1,000. This weekend Hamilton Field is being called home by "around 600 campers" with a pitch costing around £35 each night.

"It's a shame for the local industry," Wilson said. "But there's not a great deal we can do, to be honest. All we can hope is the people feel maybe it's too crowded down there and decide to come back to those who have treated them well in the past."

Richard Phillips, the managing director at Silverstone, said the intention was never to hurt local business, but rather to encourage improvement.

"We were keen to upgrade the camping around Silverstone because people associate everything that happens around the British Grand Prix with us and sometimes it's not us," Phillips said.

"There has been quite a lot of investment there because camping in a farmer's field is one thing, but camping in a place that is custom-built is altogether different."

The Silverstone Woodlands Camp Site is located directly behind the circuit's famous Stowe Corner, offers various food outlets and a fully licensed bar and provides live music from local bands. A three-night stay for an adult costs £60. While Phillips conceded that the price includes a small percentage mark-up he added that "we certainly won't be retiring off the proceeds",

"It's not about the money," he said. "We are hoping other camp sites now will want to compete with [us] and will upgrade as well. Obviously, we need hotels too, but that is the way we see that sort of accommodation around Silverstone moving forward."

The Litchlake Field site, about a five-minute walk to the circuit entrance, is one such venue to upgrade. It now offers an F1 village complete with official merchandise shops, licensed bar and a selection or food options ranging from traditional fish and chips to Asian-style noodles.

Leigh Smith, sheltering inside his tent from the morning drizzle yesterday, said he would continue staying at Litchlake Field because "It's tradition; I always stay here."

He added, between bites of a home-made sausage sandwich: "You're here all weekend and you get to know the people around you. It makes for a great atmosphere and is only £20 a night."

Not all campsites involve tent pegs and wind sheets, however. The only campsite within the circuit grounds belongs to the British Racing Drivers Club and its list of residents this weekend reads like a Who's Who of Formula One.

"This is proper 'glamping'," said Nathan, a British soldier dressed in fatigues and guarding the exclusive site filled with luxurious rented motorhomes.

"Sebastian Vettel is staying here, Jenson Button's here, Paul di Resta, David Coulthard, Nigel Mansell … there's a lot of them."

The site is split by a small asphalt road, the visible divide between homes of F1 personnel and that of BRDC members.

Golf buggies shuttle residents from campsite to clubhouse, while drivers tend to travel to the paddock by moped.

A grandiose statue of Icarus sporting a pair of exhausts rather than a set of feathered wings greets members on entry to the temporary VIP lounge.

"Most of this isn't here outside race week," Nathan said. "It's rented just for the weekend and a lot of us think it's all a bit over the top."

On Friday, a red Ferrari was parked outside Vettel's motorhome, while Rubens Barrichello's was identifiable by a yellow Porsche. The bins contained empty bottles of Evian water rather than aluminium cans, and bananas prove more popular with "glampers" than Pot Noodles. There also was no queue for the showers.