In The Paddock

Michael Scott | September 12, 2018

Bloody Floody, and a Bloody Disgrace

COLUMN

Legendary British hill-hiker Alfred Wainwright is credited with an oft-repeated and oh-so-appropriate quote: “There is no such thing as bad weather. Only inappropriate clothing.”

Substitute the word “asphalt” for “clothing,” and you have summed up the British Grand Prix—the first motorcycle GP to be abandoned since the Austrian race was snowed off way back in 1980.

Snow is not entirely unexpected in the alpine foothills near Salzburg. Rain is not entirely unexpected at Silverstone. Rather the reverse.

In The Paddock Column

But be clear on one thing. It was not rain that made the classic track unrideable, but total inability of the new surface to cope with it. The totteringly deferred postponement and ultimate cancellation was a matter of incompetence. On an epic scale.

Everybody knows it rains at Silverstone. You carry on regardless. Not for nothing are British fans the hardiest; not for nothing the years of experience in making race tracks. Not for nothing the many, many wet British GPs over the years.

So how was the circuit taken by surprise? The truth is even worse: there was no surprise. The flooding and bumps had already caused problems since the longest lap of the year was fully resurfaced at the start of this year. Silverstone management decided to ignore it; Dorna’s representatives failed to find out. Everybody thought it would be all right on the night.

It was not.

This GP started out embarrassing. The much-vaunted new asphalt was an instant disappointment. The consistent surface did improve on the patchwork it replaced. But it was consistently bumpy. If anything, even bumpier than before, in whole new places, that couldn’t be blamed on the dreaded F1 syndrome.

Worse followed. In Saturday’s FP4 there was a very localized deluge on the furthest part of the track. The first such, after the long dry summer? Surely not. The result was shocking. The track’s drainage wasn’t inadequate. It was absent.

Six riders aquaplaned off at the end of the fast Hangar straight. One of them was badly hurt—Tito Rabat, with a shocking triple leg fracture after he’d fallen, just got to his feet, and was hit by another bike.

Now cancellation became a real possibility. If only they’d pulled the plug then, then 55,000 spectators would have been saved a dismal and expensive day in the damp and cold. If Dorna’s track homologation system been up to snuff, it wouldn’t even have got that far.

On Sunday, as forecast, the rains came. Not particularly heavy, but persistent. And when the time came for the MotoGP race, switched with Moto3 to run first to avoid the expected weather—the track was unrideable. Even on the sighting laps, riders were wheel-spinning and aquaplaning. The water pooled in the depressions, and formed great sheets “like a mirror” at several places.

There followed a farrago of postponements and rescheduling and slithery safety-car laps. The fans’ patience was tested to breaking point. Silverstone is still prevaricating about plans for refunds. We shall see.

Finally, at four p.m. the axe fell.

But it was not wielded by the authorities, still hoping for the best. In fact the expected “weather window” did arrive, but too late. It was the riders who called an impromptu meeting (not all of them were even aware of it, with Dovizioso the most prominent absentee), and declared they would not race.

At least they’d managed a firm decision.

Was it the right one? Hard to say not; even if the tail did wag the dog. Now it was time to start apportioning blame.

Certainly Silverstone owners the British Racing Drivers Club, managing director Stuart Pringle and resurfacing contractors Aggregate Industries had jointly accomplished a signal blemish on British motor sport. But Dorna’s rider safety delegate Loris Capirossi and FIM safety officer Franco Uncini should share the blame, for it is their responsibility to ensure that tracks are fit for use, and there had been several missed signals at problematic previous race meetings at the resurfaced Silverstone.

But the track must bear the brunt of it. How could a premier British racing venue commission a resurfacing so bad that one of its premier events is unable to go ahead? Just because it rained. As usual.

Contractors Aggregate Industries has a long history and an impressive portfolio. Their website boasts of “unsurpassed technical knowledge”—how can they have missed by so far? They laid a track with water-pooling hollows and shuddering bumps. Perhaps it was a matter of the track’s penny-pinching budget, perhaps just hubris, or perhaps extremes of unusual weather.

It’s still a disgrace.

Earlier this year, F1 champ Lewis Hamilton was unequivocal. “The people they hired did the worst job ever. It’s bumpier than the Nordschleife [Nürburgring], which is 100 years old.”

At least the F1 guys had a race. Maybe that’s all that matters to Silverstone. CN

 

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.

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