I’ve just uploaded my photographs from Race Day of the 2012 British Grand Prix at Silverstone; below you can also read my own account of a weekend that was totally marred by the weather.
Having attended the race weekend every year since 2006, as well as on and off before that, it was a shame that an event I was really looking forward to turned into something of a disaster. I was first alerted to something being wrong when I received an e-mail on Thursday evening from the circuit warning of adverse weather conditions; they had brought in extra resources to help with drainage in the car parks, and were also advising to be dressed in suitable attire for the wet.
On Friday morning, my Sister and I set off for Silverstone at 8:30am, going by past experiences, Friday is always a breeze getting in, so there is certainly no rush or need to get up too early. At 9:30am we exited the M1 to join the A43 which leads to the circuit and were immediately greeted by two lanes of stationary traffic. I knew something must be very wrong because even on a Sunday, I’ve never seen traffic queued this far back.
For the next hour we moved very slowly along the A43, but at least we were moving. By the time we hit the two hour mark, we had travelled less than four miles and were now at a complete stand still for almost forty minutes. Many people got out their cars to take a toilet break in the bushes and to ask if anyone had any more information on what was happening.
Actually trying to find out what was happening proved difficult because the A43 has terrible mobile phone coverage and we could rarely get a data signal. When I was able to check Twitter, it was clear that there was some kind of issue with the car parks, coupled with the largest ever crowd for Friday; there were lots of angry people.
The other source of information we had was Radio Silverstone which broadcasts the commentary of the races throughout the weekend. They do an hourly traffic update, but given how many people were stuck clueless as to what was happening, I think the updates were too infrequent and didn’t explain what was really happening.
At the four hour mark, we were at the circuit entrance and could see the ‘Welcome to Silverstone’ banner. We finally had some hope, as we thought we would now get in and parked and should be able to make the F1 Practise session 2. How wrong we were! Another two hours and we barely moved down the road, having coming to a halt just before the second roundabout on the Dadford Road. I was able to get out and have a look at what was going on at this stage. The vehicles in one lane were all queuing to get into a hard standing car park, however the Marshals and Police were not allowing anyone else into them, so people had to try and do a U-Turn and then had no option but to leave. Of course anyone other than those at the front even knew what they were queuing for, which highlighted how poor the communication was from Silverstone. There was one grass car park which had been opened for the day, but because people were now trying to leave, there was a stream of traffic trying to come out, so there was no way anybody could get in there to park.
What was causing further issues was that a lot of people had turned up in motorhomes or with camping equipment intending to get a space at one of the many privately owned campsites. A number of them had closed due to the mud, coupled with the fact that Silverstone’s own campsite was not taking campers unless they had pre-booked. This caused there to be a large number of vehicles which literally had nowhere to go, they could only sit in the queues and wait for Silverstone to advise them what to do, which was never forthcoming.
When we got to the roundabout, a Fire Engine was trying to go back up the traffic and Police on foot were trying to direct cars to move so it could get through. I was asked to reverse backwards onto the pavement at the edge of the roundabout. The Fire Crew struggled on and then had to give up, as they were getting nowhere; I hope they weren’t attending anything too serious.
As we were now ‘sort’ of parked and couldn’t go anywhere, we used the opportunity to each go into the circuit to use the toilet and get some food. I’d not eaten since 7:30am and my sister hadn’t eaten at all and it was now 4:30pm! It must have been even worse for the families in the queues with young children.
With so many people trying to leave, the F1 Practise sessions finished and the day’s events drawing to a close, we figured since we were in a position where we could see the exit road that now was probably time to call it quits and try and just get back out instead. Of course this resulted in us having to queue for another hour just to get out, but at least the traffic was moving. When we eventually got home, I worked out that we had spent 10 hours in the car, of which only 2 were driving normally.
I can appreciate that the management of Silverstone were stuck in a difficult position, but I think they could have handled things a lot better. For one, they admitted themselves that it has rained all June and there was worry over the grass car parks, why then did they wait until a day before the event to start doing anything? They could have at the very least put down a temporary surface on the areas which serve as the thoroughfare in the grass car parks. The marshalling and lack of information was another big annoyance. The Marshals are employed by a company called Cone Masters that Silverstone uses and even in good weather I’ve always thought they have been poor. Rather than actually controlling traffic at the junctions where traffic is trying to get in and out of Silverstone, they are always just sat about in Vans or on Deck Chairs… that is not traffic management by any stretch! On this day though, they were just totally clueless as to what was happening or what they even should be doing, many said they were given no training and told it would just be a case of directing cars into parking spaces and was easy. Silverstone has its own traffic management centre and so I thought it was shameful that they didn’t provide better information over Radio Silverstone. The biggest cheek came towards the end of the day when the radio presenter and traffic presenter tried to pin the blame all on people having abandoned their cars! The only people I’d seen that had left their cars were those who needed to use the toilet, get food or find out what was going on… I think that was perfectly understandable given that people had been stuck for as long as eight hours! It really grated on me that they took no responsibility for the lack of information and the fact that they had not made enough preparations for the weather.
On Saturday I decided to heed their warning of asking people not to come to the circuit, I was pretty low after Friday and there was no way I could face another ten hours in the car. As such I should be able to get a refund for Saturday, however I’m unsure about Friday as myself and my Sister used our stubs just to get in to use the toilet, I guess I will have to try and argue my case on that one.
On Sunday for race day we left home at 5:30am, arriving at the queue of traffic to get in about 30 minutes after the gates had opened. Luckily this time it took less than an hour to get parked and we were also guided into a car park which wasn’t bumper to bumper parked like the first one was.
From the race day point of view, we were in so early that we saw everything that happened and for the first time stayed at the end of the race to see the after race party, complete with driver appearances, the BBC F1 Forum Live and bands.
I suppose the one disappointment for me was that Sunday is the hardest day to take photos as you are locked down to your seat number, rather than being able to sit where ever you like. Sunday is also the busiest day, so there is a lot less room to move and get a good shot. I’d been looking forward to getting some good shots on Friday, which is the best day, but that never happened! I think with hindsight, I should also have taken some photos of what was happening with the traffic, given that I had all my camera gear, I might have even been able to sell some to the press.
I also took a few videos of the Drivers during their appearances on stage, it was great to see Murray Walker!