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banner Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Stewart's Silverstone quest
An aerial view of the Silverstone race track
Silverstone is in need of a major facelift
By BBC motor racing correspondent Jonathan Legard

For those whose only memories of last year's British Grand Prix are mud, mud and traffic jams, Sir Jackie Stewart's bold talk takes some believing.

He aims to revamp Silverstone and make it a "a centre of excellence for our sport and industry" as part of a "revolutionary step for British Motorsport".

In Formula One's millennium season, the self styled home of British motor sport was hopelessly exposed as outdated and out of touch.

Never mind the rain which inflicted so much misery, the seeds of discontent had been watered long ago.

The organisers chose to turn a blind eye, failed to act and were sunk well before the stinging criticism from Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone hit home later.

Hardly a soul remembers that David Coulthard won the race. Instead everybody had a personal tale of woe.

Silverstone became a byword for chaos and confusion as the road system and the car parking collapsed.

Sir Frank Williams in reflective mood
Sir Frank Williams is one of Britain's main F1 pioneers
This new vision statement, however, represents a brave and admirable attempt to modernise and innovate in a way that promises to do justice to Britain's claim to be the world capital of motor sport.

As Stewart was quick to point out, 19 of Formula One's last 20 world championships have been won with technology pioneered in Britain.

Ron Dennis, Sir Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey have taken the sport to unparalleled heights.

Now is the time to transform the leading British venue into a world leader on a par with the very best. And frankly, about time too.

The masterplan, even to a jaundiced eye, looks stunning: spectacular new parabolica corner, new pit and paddock complex, new grandstands, new boulevard entrance, interactive visitor centre, hotels, restaurants, and a state-of-the art technical learning facility.

The theory is wonderful. Now for the practice - and the problems.

The biggest battles facing the plans' joint backers, the British Racing Drivers Club and Octagon concern access and funding.

Can they develop a traffic system in partnership with local and national government that works as effectively as just about every other Grand Prix track around the world?

Getting in and getting out of a 21st-century sporting venue should not last longer than the event itself.

Even last week at testing at Silverstone, Stewart himself found himself stuck in traffic for more than an hour and a half. That is plainly unacceptable.

Adrian Newey relaxes during a F1 race
Adrian Newey was at the centre of a tug-o-war
The new link road between the M1 and M40 will help but it may not be the full answer.

It'll only move traffic more quickly into bottlenecks.

Stewart said he would be very disappointed if the Government didn't offer to match the initial development cost of 45m to complete the project for a total investment of nearly 90m.

But at a time when the Prime Minister has targeted public services as priorities for his second term in office, it's hard to see overwhelming backing for what is seen as a millionaire's sport.

Jaguar, for example, were prepared to pay Adrian Newey an annual salary of at least 5m to entice him from his job as technical director at McLaren.

And what, the critics will argue, does the Government gain from diverting funds into a learning and technology centre at Silverstone when there's money like that washing about?

Stewart wields a powerful argument that Britain risks losing crucial expertise like it did in shipbuilding and the car industry if the plans don't come to fruition.

But even for a man whose name is synonymous with success in sport and business, sweet-talking the British government looks like being his toughest challenge yet.

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04 Dec 00 |  Motorsport
Silverstone aims to be best venue
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