As the 2010 British Grand Prix approaches apace this weekend, Richard Phillips has conceded that famously exacting F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone 'was right' in his repeated criticism of Silverstone in recent years – revealing that 'I don't think we disagreed with what he was saying, we just needed that [financial] enablement'.
Having lost the blue riband
meeting on the British motorsport calendar to Donington Park – cruelly on the eve of the 2008 edition two years ago – the subsequent catastrophic and well-documented failure of its Leicestershire rival to even come close to fulfilling its redevelopment obligations in order to welcome the top flight passed the ball back into Silverstone's court once more, and early last December it was announced that the event would be staying put for at least the next ten years, with an option for a further seven.
Since them, tireless work has gone on at the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing' to redesign the track to accommodate both bikes and cars – having similarly secured MotoGP and World Superbikes for 2010 and beyond – and having received a positive reaction from riders last month, as he prepares to preside over his sixth British Grand Prix in charge, Silverstone MD Phillips is eager to gauge the thoughts of F1 stars too as the Northants circuit enters a bold new era.
“Bernie was right,” he confessed, alluding to the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive's perpetual and caustic denigration of Silverstone over the last decade or so, adding that the 79-year-old has yet to visit to see the changes first-hand. “The problem is it costs so much money [to make improvements], and who is paying for it? He wanted the government to put their hand in their pocket and pay up for it, and they would not do it – and certainly in the current economic climate, that's never going to happen. Other countries get the money.
“We are really emerging again now after our rebirth, and have been trying to cover an awful lot of ground in a very short period of time. We were running two business plans up until November – one with and one without the grand prix. Without F1 we would have survived, but we would have been a glorified club circuit.
“Now we have a 17-year deal, we can strive to be a major stadium for motorsport, sitting right up there on the world stage competing with the likes of Wimbledon, Twickenham and Wembley and other great sporting venues. We've got the opportunity to do a lot more than they do too by the very nature of our sport, because we can use the circuit all-year-round – it has a lot more strings to its bow. We want to build up the Silverstone brand so that it becomes more like a Tesco or a Virgin, as a brand that does a lot more than just run a motor racing circuit.
“We've taken this opportunity to change the track. We wanted to do it for many different reasons, and part of that is to improve the fans' experience. The grandstand at Woodcote is brand new, and you can see right into the pit garages from it, and 7,000 seats at Becketts have been brought right forwards – that's a fantastic view, probably the best around the circuit.
“We have built a new bank at Vale and had it re-profiled three times because we weren't happy with the sight-lines. We want to get fans really close to the action and improve their experience, so they can really feel what it's like to be close to the cars. Next year, the whole of Club will have new grandstands – an awful lot of money has been spent on that aspect of things as well.
“Hopefully all the issues [Ecclestone] ever had have gone away now. We always wanted to improve the place – I don't think we disagreed with what he was saying, we just needed that enablement.”