Last week amid much fanfare and loads of hype a grand prix through the streets of London was proposed at a high profile glitzy affair hosted by big Formula 1 spenders Santander, naturally in London.
Sifting through the PR spin revealed that the proposal is really a pipe dream, a well-concocted fantasy to extract media mileage at a time when the UK is garnering untold column inches with major sporting events from Wimbledon tennis to British Open golf, the Grand Prix at Silverstone and of course the biggest show of them all — the Olympics later this month.
So proposing a grand prix through a city pock marked with famous landmarks is a great way to piggy back on the media wave.
How likely is it that we will see Formula 1 cars zooming past Buckingham Palace — as per the track map handed out to media — and then screeching past Big Ben, Parliament Square, Embankment, Saint James, Piccadilly and Admiralty Arch off Trafalgar Square?Nice idea but just think about it, imagine 24 F1 cars heading at top speed vying to get through the arch where normal daily traffic streams through in single file and there is no way around it.
And then imagine for three days the inconvenience and logistical nightmare such a project would be, considering that the race would probably require a couple of weeks at minimum to mount the safety fences and all the equipment to run a Formula 1 race in downtown London. And then factor in the immense noise and inevitable disruptions over the three days required for a grand prix weekend…
You get the drift? The London Grand Prix is highly unlikely to happen.
Even Jenson Button who was the star attraction at the Santander event to announce the ‘dream’ told Reuters, “Do I like the idea of having a London Grand Prix? But I’m not sure where it would be.”
In a bizarre way it is a shame it probably won’t happen because motorsport did evolve through racing on public roads. Even today rally routes do encompass public roads, and some even in city centres — but these tend to be special stages where speeds are controlled and very little infrastructure is required to accommodate the racing cars.
Monaco is an example of a town’s streets turned into a race track for a few days each year. But you simply cannot compare the size of Monte Carlo to London in any way whatsoever. A grand prix for Monaco is a tourist attraction and a sure-fire way to promote the little town on the Cote D’Azur which otherwise would hardly make the headlines for much else.
Nevertheless the race in Monaco is a paradox as F1 cars race perilously close to metal barriers, without run-off and a huge disdain for modern safety standards. It gets away with this because it is the crown jewel on the grand prix calendar where anyone and everyone in the world of F1 wants to be seen.
Nelson Piquet famously said, “Racing at Monaco is like trying to cycle round your living room.”
Point well made. For London the grand prix would be a huge inconvenience and, let’s face it from a publicity point of view, the city hardly needs to remind people that it exists!
Motorsport has evolved enormously from the days that drivers took up the challenges of racing through the streets of cities and country roads. And yes a handful of street races remain on the global motorsport calendar, but the sport has shifted to purpose built facilities which best cater for fans and competitors at the same time, featuring state-of-the-art safety. Facilities such as Yas Marina Circuit and even Dubai Autodrome have set the benchmark for modern racing venues and anything less would be a step backwards. Temporary street circuits simply cannot compete.
Sure it would be great to dream of a Dubai Grand Prix. Imagine a track down beach road past Burj Al Arab, around Safa Park, past Burj Khalifa before snaking through Bur Dubai and past the Creek, but really how practical would that be? And most importantly how safe would it be?
The London Grand Prix did grab column inches and quite a chunk of TV airtime and with that mission accomplished for the spin doctors, but really it is more fantasy than fact. With Santander backing McLaren and their drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, it was clever PR to unleash their plan at this time.
The banking giant is also a substantial backer of Ferrari and Fernando Alonso in Formula1, so we should perhaps brace ourselves for a Madrid Grand Prix and even a Rome Grand Prix. No harm in dreaming.