Silverstone has 'something these emerging circuits around the world will never have' and has the potential to be 'the best track in the world' – that is the boast of the Northants circuit's managing director Richard Phillips on the eve of this weekend's 2010 British Grand Prix, a race that will mark the dawn of a new era for the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing'.
Having agreed a new 17-year contract with Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone last December – 17 months on from having lost the blue riband
event on the British motorsport calendar to Leicestershire rival Donington Park, which swiftly turned into a sorry and well-documented débâcle
– a frantic programme of development began to enable the venue to accommodate and adequately cater to MotoGP and World Superbikes as well as F1.
Both the track and facilities have undergone substantial changes and improvements over the past seven months, but Richards insists this is only 'the beginning of a long road' of expenditure and expansion, as he retains his focus very much on the long-term and Silverstone's international profile, on regenerating the local automotive industry and increasingly diversifying what the circuit has to offer – even if, he asserts, the soul and character that so famously sets it apart from many much more modern venues will never be diluted.
“We've been future-proofing,” he revealed. “We are at the beginning of a long road. We have already committed a lot of money, and by the end of next year we will have spent £36 or £37 million on new buildings – but we can't just stop there, and we are now trying to create a lot of new jobs for the motorsport engineering sector. Now we've started to improve we just need to carry on.
“Certainly the new pits will set the standard for the future, and we've got to spend £2 or £3 million more on the track and things like resurfacing – some parts of the old circuit still have some bumps that we need to sort out and there are one or two other things to put right with it, but hopefully within the next couple of years we will resurface the whole track and look at a general tidy-up of the whole circuit, including tyre barriers and things like that.
“A lot of the infrastructure can be improved, and we are looking at a lot of the aesthetics too. A lot of tracks now look like they're from the PlayStation – we want to keep it all green and beautiful. The new campsite is a big thing too, but we want to turn the temporary grandstands into permanent grandstands and have proper food malls and shopping experiences and all the other things we would like to have.
“We are in the entertainment business and we've got to make sure the crowd is fully entertained – we can't just rely on the belief that we are going to maintain the atmosphere over the years to come just through watching the race. There's more to it than that.”
“I think we do quite a good job at the minute, but we've got to just keep raising that bar and keep improving the atmosphere. You can't rest on your laurels; you need to think ahead about how you're going to build on each event for the next one, because we can't have any of them being a disappointment.
“[The new design] is fast and flowing, and the MotoGP riders were very pleased with it and very excited about the track. The crowd were happy too; we've put 16 big screens in, and the facilities are generally much better. We haven't taken any of the old heritage corners out – it's important to keep a lot of what the drivers and riders really like, because if they like it, it's going to attract more fans too.
“We intend this to be the best track in the world. We will never compete with Abu Dhabi – that's absolutely fantastic – but have we got a better circuit than they have? Yeah, I think we have. We have a better crowd and atmosphere too. In that, we've got something these emerging circuits around the world will never have. If we can perfect our track and everything else to be cutting-edge and really spectacular, why would people not think we are the best in the world?”