x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Plenty of splash but little in the way of dash at British Grand Prix

Disgruntled fans tell Gary Meenaghan they got no value for money as teams chose to take the practice session easy and traffic chaos did not help their mood.

Fans watch in wet and muddy conditions during practice for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit today. More rain is expected tomorrow and with it plenty of logistical problems as well. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Fans watch in wet and muddy conditions during practice for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit today. More rain is expected tomorrow and with it plenty of logistical problems as well. Clive Mason / Getty Images

"Welcome to Silverstone", reads the sign at the entrance to Great Britain's most famous racing circuit. Inside, despite the large television screens indicating free practice is underway, two men sit bored on white plastic chairs; a viscous and muddy puddle rising up to lap at their shins.

Farther along, a girl in sandals looks at her toes instead of the empty track. Her hot-pink nails are cold, brown and caked in filth.

People walk around aimlessly, looking miserable, complaining aloud and ducking their heads routinely to avoid having their face poked at by rogue umbrellas. And these folks - these dedicated, Formula One-loving spectators – are the fortunate ones.

There is nothing like a traffic jam to dampen the atmosphere and today's opening day of the annual British Grand Prix was as damp as could be.

Meteorologists had forecast a month's worth of rain may fall in the space of two days and with large parts of England already under flood alert, a morning downpour quickly produced lengthy tailbacks on the asphalt arteries that lead to the heart of Motorsport Valley.

Mark Webber, the Red Bull Racing driver who lives in nearby Buckinghamshire, arrived 45 minutes later at the circuit than he had planned.

Jolyon Palmer, a British driver competing in F1's feeder series, was so delayed he looked destined to miss the opening GP2 practice session until a motorbike was dispatched to collect him.

Fans spoke of four-hour commutes and long periods of stationary waits.

However, while the roads surrounding Silverstone were jammed with cars, the track itself was ironically absent of them as tricky conditions and a limited number of wet-weather tyres convinced the majority of teams to limit their running.

The result was after the 90-minute session, only 189 timed laps had been completed by the 24 drivers. For perspective, the first practice at last month's European Grand Prix saw 484 laps completed.

Derek Sanderson, a Welsh spectator hiding underneath a dark green umbrella, said he had experienced no trouble getting to the circuit, but was left disappointed by the lack of action.

"I left my house before 6am, so had no problem getting here, but it's an absolute disgrace that people are asked to pay £60 [Dh341] for a ticket and then have nothing to watch but the cars sitting in the pits," he said.

Andy Daniels, from Ipswich, walked to the track from his nearby campsite in less than 20 minutes, but left frustrated after the lack of action.

"We pay a lot of money and I don't begrudge it, but when the drivers can't get out and do a few more laps, it's very disappointing," he said.

"I know they say they appreciate the fans turning up, but they could show that by doing a bit more on the track. We're sitting in the grandstand, freezing cold, waiting for them to come around, then they come out for 10 or 15 minutes of an hour-and-a-half session."

Webber expressed his sympathy for the spectators and called for the sport's authorities to change the rule that restricts the number of sets of each tyre compound available over a race weekend.

As it stands, teams only have three sets of wet-weather tyres to last the entire weekend.

With tomorrow and Sunday expected to be wet also, each marque is being extra cautious with their rubber.

"It wasn't the best day for the fans," Webber said. "It is cold and miserable, it is the middle of the summer, it has been a very, very tough day for everybody and it is just incredibly frustrating because they did not get to see what they would have liked to have seen."

Daniels has attended the British Grand Prix for more than 10 years and called today the worst experience he can remember.

"We come every year and this is the worst I've known it, ever," he said, his hood pulled tightly around his face. "The weather has been awful and the organisers have been caught out again. I've never known anything like it."

More rain is expected tomorrow and Katie Tyler, head of communications at Silverstone, admitted more issues are foreseeable.

"If we get more rain we have to be honest about it: it will be slow and there will be problems," she said. "Worst case scenarios are planned for, but at the end of the day we are surrounded by fields, and the cost of tarmacing the whole site is not feasible."

Not everybody, however, was disappointed with the wet conditions. A small delegation from Yas Marina Circuit are hosting an Abu Dhabi Fanzone in a nearby campsite all weekend.

As well as providing free internet access, the team is also handing out merchandise bearing a slogan that will seem doubly enticing to Silverstone's sodden spectators. It reads: "It Never Rains in Abu Dhabi".

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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