Silverstone lifts Formula One gloom, if only for a day

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2015 11:30 AM

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One has many problems, but Sunday's British Grand Prix, a thrilling race won by tearful home hero Lewis Hamilton in front of a record 140,000 strong crowd, was not one of them.

"Crisis called off?" asked Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff, relieved not to be facing questions about domination, falling viewing figures and a lack of competition after his team took their sixth one-two finish in nine races.

The Austrian knows the answer is no.

But with the sport divided about its future direction and a yawning gap between wealthy big teams and small ones struggling for survival, it was, for one afternoon at least, a good news story.

Mercedes still won, but it was no foregone conclusion as Williams took the fight to the champions and tricky conditions rewarded those who called it right on tyre choices and strategy.

There were collisions, there was close racing and Hamilton came roaring back from a poor start to become only the third British driver to win three times at home -- and set a record for 18 successive races led.

"Sometimes these things just happen at the right moment and there was such a great crowd and a race with all the ingredients necessary for excitement," said Wolff.

"We still need to ask how we can make it better so that we can convince the critics that this is a great sport."

Only two days earlier, his fellow team principals had discussed at length the negativity in the sport -- with a finger of blame pointed at the media -- and the need to show it in a more positive light.

Force India principal Vijay Mallya said then, with a turn of phrase that lit up social media, that commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone needed to work with the teams to help 'uncrap' the sport.

Earlier in the week, the core Strategy Group had discussed changes, some immediate and some for 2016 and 2017, to make the races more exciting and the cars faster, louder and harder to drive.

That debate will continue, with some leaks suggesting radical solutions, such as a sprint race on Saturday, that may never progress beyond the embryonic stage, but Sunday showed the sport was far from broken.

Retired triple world champion Niki Lauda, the non-executive chairman of champions Mercedes, said the critics need only look at Silverstone -- in days of old renowned for antiquated facilities and traffic gridlock -- for inspiration.

After a change of management last year, the circuit decided on a fresh approach by cutting ticket prices and selling far more of them, with children under 11 entering free with an adult.

In the past, only children under two years old were free.

"They should look here, the people who always complain," Lauda told Reuters after a race that had sun and showers, safety cars -- both real and virtual -- and surprises with Williams leading the first 20 laps.

"It's a very simple thing. The children were free. Everywhere else they charge for children. So what does a family do with three children? They can't come. And all these things here are done absolutely right."

The next race on the calendar would normally be Germany, but that race, scheduled for the Nuerburgring, was canceled for financial reasons so the sport now has a three-week gap before Hungary.

Hockenheim, who hosted last year's race, declined to step in after drawing a crowd of just 55,000 on race day, despite it being a home event for Mercedes, title hopeful Nico Rosberg and four times champion Sebastian Vettel.

"To see what can be done, when organizers think how to attract people to come to races, copy Silverstone," was Lauda's verdict.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tim Collings)