The first two practice sessions of the weekend for the British Grand Prix were impossible to read much into as they were done in constantly shifting conditions, mostly very wet. In short, not all that much happened. But that does not mean there is not much to talk about: Who cares about the practice sessions on this momentous weekend when the Silverstone track presented its new face to the world.
The British weather may not have changed, but Silverstone has indeed become a world-class circuit. The farmyard/former airfield mud joint with the barnyard-like pit and paddock complex are things of the past. The renovation that fans have heard about has indeed taken place.
The British have a very, very sentimental, historic, proud attachment to Silverstone, the spiritual home of the British Grand Prix and, for them, British auto racing itself. Personally, I could never understand the attitude. With many countries building the most advanced, spacious and technologically advanced racing “stadiums,” it was ridiculous for the home country of 8 of the 12 teams to have one of the most primitive.
That problem has not just been rectified, but Silverstone, which always had one of the best track layouts in the world, now has one of the best circuit facilities as well.
The paddock area for the team motor homes is vast. In fact, it seems to sit right on the border of something that is magnificent and practical and futuristic on the one side and the China syndrome on the other. (The Shanghai circuit's paddock is elephantine, too big to permit chance meetings between paddock people, and too vast to encourage running around from team to team.)
The garages are huge – I visited the Williams garage and found it quite spacious and open, and the pit lane wall is very cool and unusual. It starts level with the garages at the entrance, and is much higher than the garage level at the exit, and looks a little like the Great Wall of China at that exit point, a raised platform with the team's technical people sitting at their stations way above the garages and the track. Some drivers have apparently complained about the new pit lane exit, but we'll see how it works out.
I also visited the Paddock Club building above the paddock and garages. I have never seen anything as immense and fantastic as this – at least, the main split-level room. The Paddock Club is the corporate hospitality part of the Formula One series, where the teams entertain sponsors and clients, in a fine wining and dining environment. I took a quick walk-through, and felt like I was in Disneyland.
It is a large airport hall-like building filled with large round tables, cooking areas where chefs prepare the food, huge television screens to monitor the track action, and there was even a young woman magician going around from table to table doing card tricks!
But aside from what looks like more covered grandstands, I am not sure if it is that much better for the spectators outside of the central pit and paddock area, however, and that is most certainly the next area that Formula One should be dealing with, right? Or rather, should be the first area?