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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
A very British curse

By Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent

Rubens Barrichello
Rubens Barrichello's victory was overshadowed by a demonstrator
Is Silverstone jinxed? Is there an unknown curse hanging over the World War Two airfield?

Did Sir Jackie Stewart unknowingly run over a black cat in the run-up to the 2003 British Grand Prix?

Officials in Northamptonshire must be wondering what they have done wrong after a 56-year-old Irishman conspired to steal the limelight for his madcap protest along Silverstone's Hangar Straight, the fastest part of the circuit.

The race itself was enthralling, worth every penny of the 200 paid by ticketholders in the grandstands.

Rubens Barrichello became the seventh different race winner of the season. The lead changed hands no less than six times.

Barrichello pulled off four of the most sublime overtaking moves you will see all year. David Coulthard also seized his chances to entertain the crowd.

From first to last, there were drivers prepared to dice and duel their way through the field.

No wonder Stewart, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club that owns Silverstone, hailed it as the best race of the last 10 years.

It was the best race of the season
Rubens Barrichello
From the winner, Barrichello to eighth placed Jenson Button, the verdict was the same.

"It was the best race of the season - and Becketts is the second best corner in the world after Eau Rouge at Spa," enthused Barrichello.

But the sight of a placard-waving intruder running at cars hurtling towards him at 180mph will surely remain the abiding image of the weekend.

The consequences of a head-on impact between man and machine at that speed don't bear thinking of.

As if yet another challenge from Bernie Ecclestone over circuit improvements was not warning enough, Silverstone officials now find themselves under investigation for this high risk security breach.

A similar incident happened at the German Grand Prix three years ago - by coincidence, Barrichello won that race too.

Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone has called for Silverstone officials to find more cash
The Hockenheim authorities escaped punishment, but they were requested to modify the track so that it could be marshalled more effectively.

Silverstone could be treated as leniently and both Eddie Jordan and Ron Dennis believe it should. They claimed that no amount of security could have stopped such a protest.

But because the circuit is under the microscope like never before over a variety of failings, there's no guarantee that the FIA will agree.

Formula One's governing body will consider reports from the police, the organisers and the official FIA observer before announcing its course of action.

Even before the protest, there had been angry words about Silverstone's notorious traffic congestion, which the new road system was supposed to have eradicated.

Ferrari team buses were delayed for an hour on Friday and Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was held up for almost an hour and a half on the morning of the race.

Bernie Ecclestone voiced his disquiet at the security breach.

He also stepped up pressure by demanding that the circuit owners, the BRDC, raise 40m before the end of August to guarantee the long-term future of the British Grand Prix.

He has recommended that they take out a loan to fund improvements.

The next stage of these is a new pit and paddock complex, although the traffic problems and occasionally poor signage that reared their heads over the weekend will also need to be addressed.

In addition, he has urged the promoters, Brand Hatch Circuits Ltd to seek government support for tax breaks over the annual rent of 8m they pay to the BRDC.

Formula One's impresario makes it sound so easy.

The reality is that the substantial steps taken since the muddy nadir of the 2000 British Grand Prix must lengthen into giant strides sooner rather than later if it is to retain its place on F1's money-spinning calendar.









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