Britain's most famous race track has just launched the most significant series of new revisions aimed to bring the facility up to speed, and it's already drawing its share of mixed opinions.
The new track layout, dubbed the "Arena" circuit, reconfigures the existing grand prix circuit with a handful of new turns. The Arena layout bypasses the old Bridge complex in favor of a new infield section that lengthens the track by 760 meters (2,500 feet) of tarmac, aimed at simultaneously improving the spectacle for fans and increasing the difficulty level for drivers. A byproduct of the four million-euro, five-month renovation project could see Silverstone replacing Monza as the fastest track on the F1 calendar, though we won't know for sure until the British Grand Prix takes place there on July 11.
Already a handful of series have lapped the new track, including the new FIA GT1 World Championship which held its second round there this past weekend. Some of the drivers appear to like the new layout, while others miss the old one. Damon Hill, the former world champion who heads the British Racing Drivers Club that owns Silverstone, insists that the revisions are vital to secure the future of the British Grand Prix, and was on hand to take celebrities – including the Duke of York, Prince Andrew – around the circuit in a special two-seater F1 car.
A new pit-lane complex is planned for next year, after which the start-finish line will switch alongside it to the other side of the track, shaking up the race layout even further. Details in the press release after the jump.
Silverstone Circuits Limited, and its owner the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), today unveiled and launched the new Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. His Royal Highness the Duke of York, KG, UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, formally cut the ribbon to open a major new section of track that represents the first stage of a multi-million pound investment in the Home of British Motor Racing
As part of the launch ceremony, His Royal Highness helped to inaugurate the new 3.66 mile circuit in the passenger seat of the Santander two-seat Grand Prix car driven by former World Champion, andm President of the BRDC, Damon Hill OBE. On track at the same time were F1 driver-turnedbroadcaster David Coulthard, driving a Red Bull Formula One car, and the motorcycling father-andson combination of Ron and Leon Haslam, representing the worlds of MotoGP and World Superbikes.
The 500 guests at Silverstone to witness the formalities included many luminaries of British motor racing, local dignitaries, motorsport governing bodies, BRDC members and media. The guests were positioned in a grandstand overlooking the new section of track at 'Village Corner', where the ceremony took place. After the formal proceedings, a number of guests had the opportunity to be driven around the circuit by the BRDC 'Superstars' up-and-coming drivers. Motorcycle media were due the opportunity to take to the track on two wheels, but the fine morning weather that had greeted guests turned to afternoon rain and their session was cancelled.
During the ceremony, His Royal Highness the Duke of York was invited by Damon Hill to become an honorary member of the BRDC and commented: "I am very pleased to accept the honorary membership from the BRDC, but perhaps not qualified to do so. I am here because high performance engineering is a major contributor to the United Kingdom economy and that engineering prowess is regularly on display in the highest level of motor sport that takes place at Silvertsone. I am delighted to be here. The future, I hope, continues to be rosy, not only for Silverstone and motor sport, but for the UK's high performance engineering sector."
"This is a very proud day for Silverstone Circuit and the BRDC," commented Damon Hill. "The new section of track and improvements made elsewhere to the circuit are fantastic. These changes provide not only a stunning new driving challenge but will also lead to an enhanced spectator experience and provide great flexibility in terms of the different layouts that we can now use.
"Thanks and praise for the impressively quick construction work must go to the Silverstone management, led by Neil England and Richard Phillips, and the whole team involved. I would also like to thank His Royal Highness the Duke of York for taking the time to visit us today in his role as UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. His presence underlines the scale of the UK motor racing industry and its importance to the economy. Silverstone is a cornerstone of the success of the industry and the BRDC will continue to develop the circuit to ensure that Britain has a world class home for motor sport and related technology."
For Richard Phillips, Managing Director of Silverstone Circuits Limited, today's launch represents an important stepping stone in the redevelopment of Silverstone. "This new Grand Prix track combined with the redevelopment of Stowe Circuit and facilities, that was also completed this year, are a very exciting part of our overall redevelopment plan," he said. "Work has already started on a new pit and paddock complex that will be completed in 2011 and we feel we are well on the way to being one of the best motor sport facilities in the world for competitors, organisers and spectators alike. At the same time the redevelopment will help us to diversify our offering in the areas of leisure, education and creating a technological hub for motor sport that will ensure that Silverstone remains a vibrant and healthy business for many years to come.
"2010 is an extremely important year for the circuit with Formula One being re-joined by MotoGP and World Superbikes on our calendar. It is going to be exciting to watch those races played out on this stunning new circuit."