Mudbath memories of 2000 mayhem
WHEN THE RAIN WAS A PAIN: Spectators stand in rain during first practice at Silverstone on July 6 2012 ahead of the British F1 GP. Camp sites were flooded and cars queued for kilometes at the gates - just like in 2000. Image: AFP
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
SILVERSTONE, England - Memories of the mudbath and mayhem of the 2000 F1 weekend haunted the2012 British GP on Friday as rain triggered monster traffic jams and left thousands of frustrated fans queuing for hours at the gates.
A crowd of 80 000, more than turn up on race day at some other circuits, had been expected to watch the practice sessions and Silverstone authorities warned spectators the day before of likely delays due to waterlogged camp sites.
'IT'S A NIGHTMARE'
In the end, on what was forecast to be the wettest day of the British summer so far with the possibility of a month's rain falling in 24 hours, it turned out worse than feared.
"It's a nightmare," said Katie Tyler, Silverstone's head of communications, as steady rain swept the circuit and traffic clogged the roads outside. "That's what's so frustrating, that we'd almost got over the hangover of 2000. It seems we're about to go through it again."
In 2000, when the GP was held earlier than usual in April, thousands of ticket-holders were unable to see the race after torrential rain turned car parks into quagmires and created traffic chaos. Tractors had to pull cars out of deep ruts and public vehicles were banned altogether on the Saturday when car parks were closed to preserve them for race day.
While the spectator stands were impressively crowded on Friday, and an army of fans braved the elements around the former airfield, witnesses reported traffic at a standstill well into the afternoon. One local said it had taken him two hours in the morning to cover a journey that normally took 10 minutes.
A Reuters reporter said some corporate guests had abandoned their bus and walked the last few kilometres to the circuit to have a chance of seeing an F1 car in action. The organisers faced questions about ticket refunds...
"We know we've got a problem, we know it's serious," said Tyler of the current weekend. "We've the best people on the job and we're doing all we can; people are discussing what we do tonight and tomorrow. One of the key decisions will be relocating people waiting to get into campsites - and then how we get the campers into the track on Saturday morning."
Much, however, has changed for the better since 2000. The circuit has spent the equivalent of about R14-million a year preparing and managing car parks and trying to ensure a smooth traffic flow.
For 2012, with more than 125 000 expected on race-day Sunday, an extra mile of filter drainage has been put in and 1100 tonnes of hardcore added to car parks but the sheer number of people trying to get into camp sites without booking, coupled with the weather, has been hard to handle.
WETTEST IN A CENTURY
Tyler said people were being turned away from private camp sites because of reduced capacity due to ground conditions while at the main official site camper vans were having to be towed in one at a time.
The British summer, always unpredictable, has been particularly wet in 2012 - the country had its wettest April in more than a century and flooding in places. The forecast is for rain throughout the weekend.
Camping is a big part of the weekend at Silverstone, surrounded as it is by fields in the heart of England, with many drivers staying on site in motor homes in close proximity to the track rather than retreating to luxury hotels.
At its best, with the sun shining and the whiff of barbecue smoke in the air, it's one of the most inclusive races of any on the calendar.
Provided one can get in...