As speculated, this year's British Grand Prix will take place on an fresh new layout at Silverstone, after circuit officials confirmed that, following approval from Formula One Management, the 'Arena Grand Prix Circuit' would sanctioned for use by Formula One machines.
Although the layout still requires homologation by the FIA, having initially been designed for the arrival of MotoGP at the historic Northamptonshire venue, July's tenth world championship round will run over an additional 760m per lap, utilising a new section between the Abbey chicane and Brooklands [see story here
The announcement only serves to underline the situation at Donington Park, which had been due to stage this year's British Grand Prix on a revised layout, only to fall behind schedule and eventually be canned due to financial pressures. The Leicestershire circuit currently lies dormant while owners decide how best to address the work that needs to be done to bring it back up to competition standard, while Silverstone - having been granted a 17-year deal to stage the British F1 round - presses ahead with its own answer to claims that it could not produce as dramatic a racing spectacle as its rival.
While the majority of Silverstone's familiar straights and high-speed corners are retained in the Arena layout, the significant change takes the drivers right at Abbey - instead of the previous left towards Farm Straight, Bridge and Priory - and sends them in the direction of Becketts and into the new Arena complex, which has been designed with a view to creating three new overtaking opportunities. The revised circuit then links up with the old National Straight before rejoining the previous Grand Prix layout at 'Brooklands'.
The Grand Prix circuit will remain in place after work is completed on the new section, and will be used for future events including historic races, while the new layout retains the essence of Silverstone's famous fast and flowing yet technically challenging nature.
“The new sections of circuit were initially brought in to comply with MotoGP safety regulations, but the 'Arena Complex' was always designed with both two and four-wheeled racing in mind," Silverstone Circuits MD Richard Phillips confirmed, "We have been very careful, working closely with drivers and riders, to make sure we are improving and enhancing what Silverstone already has to offer – from a drivers, riders and spectators point of view."
Scientific data, based on mathematical simulations and interpolations provided by Populous, the world's leading sports architecture firm who have consulted with drivers and riders to design the new circuit, has calculated that Silverstone will continue to be one of the quickest circuits on the F1 calendar. Despite the circuit length being increased by 760m, lap times for an F1 car will only be increased by four seconds, to around 1min 23secs.
“Some will miss not seeing modern day F1 cars accelerating through Bridge, but we have to move with the times and continue looking at ways to improve the overall experience," Phillips added, "The new layout will bring an extra dimension to Silverstone, a new challenge for the drivers, and will enable fans to get closer to the action. We have a very exciting year ahead of us, with F1, MotoGP and World Superbikes all coming to Silverstone, and I can't wait to see how the drivers and riders tackle the new circuit.”
Work currently being carried out on the new Arena circuit is scheduled for completion in March and will cap an initial investment in the Silverstone facility of more than £5m. To the end of January, some 180,000 tonnes of earth had been moved around the track – of which 50,000 tonnes had been used to elevate banks and improve spectator viewing areas. Additionally, 8000 tonnes of tarmac had been laid, 6000 metres of Armco erected and 2500 metres of FIA and FIM-approved kerbs laid. Around 230 people are constantly on-site, working specifically on the development.
Away from the track, the venue is making a number of improvements to its spectator viewing areas, with the construction of new elevated viewing banks and the relocation of existing grandstands and fence lines to bring fans closer to the action. Work on a new pit and paddock complex, to be located between Club and Abbey, is scheduled to be carried out between the spring of 2010 and the summer of 2011 and includes new garages, a race control building, media centre, hospitality and VIP spectator zones and the circuit's new primary paddock.
The first event to use the new Arena layout will be May's Silverstone Supercar, featuring the FIA GT Championship.