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Taking To The Streets

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
13/07/2014

If you read some stories you would be forgiven for thinking that a London Grand Prix is a done deal. It isn't, even if it is Bernie's most sincere wish. For a start, an Act permitting local authorities to stage motor races has to pass through Parliament.

Then there will be fierce opposition because there always is. Spurious arguments will be forwarded about the environmental impact, yet there will only be 22 cars running in the centre of London which has got to be an improvement. There will be disruption, but so there is on state occasions and when the London Marathon is run.

Recently, London was the finish of the third stage of the Tour de France. All great cities get disrupted by big occasions which can be political demonstrations or strikes. They can also be disrupted for filming; cities like being the backdrop for movies, it makes them more interesting.

The mayor, Boris Johnson, is keen for the race to happen and he has sanctioned the running of a Formula E event in Battersea Park.

It will not replace the British GP, Silverstone has a long-term contract to stage that. The usual device for letting a country in Europe stage a second race is to call it the European GP, a name which will cause some British politicians to go apoplectic.

In any case, a London race would be held on a temporary circuit so could come and go in the calendar to suit all parties.

Here is some history. There has never been a motor race on public roads on the island of Great Britain, save for the Birmingham Superprix, which needed its own Act of Parliament. 'Great' is not a boast, it merely means 'big'. There was Grande Bretagne and Petite Bretagne, otherwise known as the French region, Brittany.

The main island houses England, Scotland and Wales, and road racing has never been permitted on it. Hill climbs on public roads were permitted until 1924 when a serious accident put paid to that. Racing on public roads has been permitted in Ireland, both the North and the Republic. The Isle of Man still holds the TT races for motorcycles and both it, and Northern Ireland, once held the car Tourist Trophy.

There have been road races in Jersey in the Channel Islands. Jersey, a tax haven like the Isle of Man, is not part of the United Kingdom, it is owned by the Queen.

Some readers may be surprised to know that there was postwar road racing in America at Elkhart Lake (1950-53) and Watkins Glen (1948-53). Both events were stopped after fatal accidents, but the events (organised by the fledgling SCCA) were so popular that local businessmen found the money to build permanent tracks.

Road racing took place all over Europe, the old Spa circuit was on public roads, and was led by France and Italy. A motor race was an attraction like a circus or a travelling funfair with the addition that it gave publicity to a town and that was irresistible to the local bigwigs who could vote to hold a race.

Of all the great cities, London is the one to offer the best landscape because it is not built on a grid system. After the Great Fire of 1666, there were grid plans proposed. Ownership of the land was the problem so London continued to sprawl and to give us a potentially fine layout.

If passed, the Act of Parliament will enable any town to hold races. Formula One gets the headlines, but there are plenty of categories which would attract crowds for the sheer novelty of seeing street racing.

Some seaside resorts might jump at a chance of filling hotel rooms at the end of a season. Prewar there was sand racing at resorts on both the West and East coasts. Some resorts ran speed trials along the promenade, which was usually council-owned. This tradition continues in Brighton where the annual Speed Trials (quarter mile, standing start) can claim to be the world's oldest motor sport event since it has been run since 1905.

The arguments which caused towns all over Europe to stage races remain the same today. An event attracts visitors and puts a town in the spotlight.

The Birmingham Superprix (the feature race was for F3000 cars) made sense because Birmingham was still the centre of the British car industry in the 1980s. Even Peugeots were made in nearby Coventry, Most Formula One teams (and their subcontractors) are based within a very small area and perhaps a town will step forward.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, made the announcement about road racing as he opened a new facility for Williams Advanced Engineering. This applies lessons learned in Formula One to other areas and currently employs 250 people. Among other things, it makes all of the batteries used by Formula E.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Dreadnaught, 17/07/2014 20:06

"Hiya Doc
Don't think your right about Great Britain you are falling for the French propoganda. Even the most anglofile Frog (I live in France) hates to call Great Britain Great Britain. Grand oui mais Great non. La France, Napoleon et De Gaulle sont Great.
The history is far more complex and ancient, pre-dating our 1000 years of squabbling or wars.
Do take a look.
Richard Piers "

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2. Posted by gturner38, 17/07/2014 3:41

"Comparing the disruption of an F1 street race to that of the Tour de France, London marathon, or a protest is a little bit dishonest intellectually. The Tour de France doesn't spend over a month putting up the barriers for a single stage. Most of the infrastructure seen at the end of the stage isn't there until the morning of the stage. I agree that the environmentalists are a bit over the top, but there are certainly issues that would make it tough in major downtown areas of London, New York, etc. There's a reason why temporary circuits in the North America are normally set up around stadium parking lots and convention centers rather than downtown areas."

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3. Posted by Paul C, 15/07/2014 1:25

"Run those crappy golf cart Formula cars in London! I'm sorry that Mike was attacked by the environmental wingnuts and dingbats in the British academic world."

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4. Posted by Spindoctor, 14/07/2014 23:40

"I object simply on the grounds that it's a stupid idea!

Assuming its possible (I'm not really convinced) what's the point? I suppose the sight of 20-odd F1 cars racing around London would be spectacular, but organising the grandstands etc., and ensuring security sounds like a nightmare.
I'm assuming that the munificent Mr Ecclestone, and his CVC chums won't be picking up any of the costs of this.

Sorry Dave 'n Bernie I can't see this lame bit of speculation rescuing either of you flagging careers...."

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5. Posted by karel, 14/07/2014 7:41

"London, to copy Monaco ? There are a few good circuits in the UK f.e. Silverstone. So why would you wanna race in the streets of London ? Spectacle ? Or a big money win ? What does it add to the current state of F1 or maybe these days this is just F1"

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6. Posted by miss d'it, 13/07/2014 20:21

"Very good Mike
Of course uncle bernie and the politicians want a big circus extravaganza in london, uncle bernie doesnt like the ordinary fans, whilst politiks only think of the next free lunch projects.
But what of us, the ordinary fan, the 3day (4 if you count the thursday) disciples to the temple of octane.
How many of us enjoy the campsites at silverstone (roughly 30,000 probably more), will we be allowed into regents park or similar, to stay, trouble free, enjoying a great cameraderie with our fellow fans of all teams, and be 10 mins from the track ?
Methinks not, they want to capture a cities audience, and try to lure more tv followers, if we wanted to go, all the extra costs of hotels/b+b, parking costs, how to get to the track, also, do they realise the city would be closed for 3days, not the 1 of the Tour or the Marathon. We would be priced out, and when you get a chance to F1 in the flesh, you jump at it (84k on friday is phenomenal) but we plan for our 5day pilgrimage to silverstone, because we can camp, meet new friends, talk in the campsite about the day, and be a part of a 'town' devoted to our cause, because we love it. I've met people at silverstone who say that Spa and Monza are great experiences too because of the campsites, real fans.
I'm quite sure that london would be successful, big crowds, but please not to replace silverstone after its current agreement runs out.
But as i said, bernie doesnt want us, and the politiks dont fancy us either.

Ranting again.
"

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