Hamilton braced for ‘lonely weekend’ on F1’s 70th anniversary
With no fans and biosecure bubbles, Silverstone will be uncharacteristically quiet on a landmark occasion for the sport
Formula One celebrates its 70th anniversary this weekend, although there is unlikely to be much of a party atmosphere at Silverstone, even if, as expected, Lewis Hamilton is victorious on his home circuit.
The 1950 British Grand Prix, which took place here on May 13, was a carnival of colour, attended by King George VI and the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret.
Such was the clamour to see star drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Nino Farina, that one of the largest tailbacks ever seen in the United Kingdom developed, stretching back almost 30 miles and forcing some of entrants, including Prince Bira of Siam (Maserati), to have to cadge a lift to the former airfield.
Safe to say, Hamilton will not need to do likewise this weekend as there will be no fans or queues whatsoever – unless it is for a Covid test, undertaken every five days by those wishing to enter the paddock.
Team staff, drivers, F1 personnel, and media all have to take tests, then self-isolate for 24 hours before getting the results. Of the thousands of tests taken since the first race in Austria, up to yesterday there had been only two positives, involving support staff. However Racing Point driver Sergio Perez was then discovered to have Covid-19. The Mexican went into self-isolation and misses this weekend’s race.
Those who made it into the “F1 bubble” were met by deserted roads and grandstands would normally be packed.
Last year’s race attracted more than 140,000 fans on the Sunday as part of a record-breaking attendance of 351,000 over the race weekend. This year’s race, and next weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the second part of a British which double-header, promise to be very different. Only local residents will be allowed into the area around the circuit and roads will be closed, as will paths and local campsites.
Instead, it is all about working bubbles and cleaning processes and operational plans. Lavish F1 motorhomes have been replaced by utilitarian cabins, and a media centre which would usually accommodate around 450 people is down to just 51. They cannot enter the paddock, and paddock staff are not permitted to enter the media area. In total there will be 5,000 people inside the bubble.
Like the Premier League’s “canned noise”, the atmosphere is likely to be a pale imitation of the real thing – but needs must. And with eight weeks to get the two races on, organisers and F1’s powers-that-be are to be commended.
One thing, at least, is unlikely to feel too different. Hamilton has won every race here bar one since 2014. Covid or not, this is still very much his era, even if he admits it will feel a bit strange. “Normally you’re so aware of the fans,” Hamilton said yesterday. “Not seeing any flags… it is definitely going to be a lonely weekend on this track without their energy.”
Starting out: Tens of thousands of fans struggled to reach Silverstone for the 1950 British Grand Prix, the first ever World Championship Formula One race