Damon Hill admitted that he could scarcely conceal his pride at what Silverstone has achieved in recent months at the official unveiling of the new 'Arena Grand Prix' circuit – as the 1996 F1 World Champion reflected that with Britain back on top at the pinnacle of international motorsport once more, the timing could hardly be any better.
The past two years or so have been a rollercoaster ride-and-a-half for the self-styled 'Home of British Motor Racing'. First, it lost its blue riband
event – the British round on the F1 World Championship calendar – to Donington Park on the eve of the 2008 race, and then subsequently secured a five-year deal that will see MotoGP return to the Northants venue for the first time in more than two decades from June onwards.
Track owners the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) similarly tied up an agreement with the World Superbike Championship, and then most recently regained the British Grand Prix after all when Donington – predictably, some might say – proved financially incapable of fulfilling its side of the 17-year agreement it had struck with F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone.
With the motorsport equivalent of the 'holy trinity' now all on its schedule, it is game, set and match for Silverstone – and in celebration of the triple coup, the newly-revised layout was inaugurated by a selection of the sport's luminaries and HRH The Duke of York, who had the pleasure of being driven around the track by Hill in a Santander-sponsored two-seater F1 car. It has been, all-told, the culmination of a veritable labour of love.
“I'm delighted that we've got to this point,” BRDC President Hill told Crash.net Radio
, “and very, very proud of the team and the effort that has been put in by the staff here at Silverstone and the BRDC members. They have backed our plans and proposals and are willing to stake quite a lot on Silverstone providing the very best venue we can so that British motorsport has a grand prix and that the fans get the best experience they can.
“I think a lot of people were very sceptical from the word 'go' that [Donington Park] was perhaps a little too ambitious. I personally was watching that space, and I wasn't really sure what would happen. It's not a good thing that happened to Donington; it's not good that they are still in financial trouble and that a very, very good circuit and one that many racing drivers and riders love to go to is temporarily out-of-action.
“I'm not sure it was a sensible choice to redevelop as a grand prix venue. The infrastructure here at Silverstone was already in-place. It just seemed to me an extra expense for no real purpose to try and host the grand prix somewhere else.”
With Silverstone going from strength-to-strength and Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton both firmly in F1 2010 title contention – and the former, indeed, making the early running this season much as he did twelve months ago – Hill admits that the future of motor racing in the country has never looked brighter. In the 60-year history of the world championship, no fewer than ten Brits have clinched the drivers' crown. To put that into perspective, no other nation can boast more than three.
“I think the timing is very important,” acknowledged the 22-time grand prix-winner. “It's not something you can always get right, but we're in the right place at the right time here with two British drivers at the front of the F1 World Championship. We've always been at the front with our drivers in world-class competition, and that's why the British Racing Drivers' Club is very proud to claim that it drives British motorsport, because when we win out on the track it just keeps the industry generated in the UK.”
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