Jason Barlow19 May 2011

Silverstone gets shiny new wing

Jason Barlow attends the opening. Bernie doesn’t.

Silverstone launch

The opening ceremony of Silverstone's magnificent new 28 million pound pit and paddock complex was almost eclipsed by one notable absentee and one surprising attendee.

Formula One's notoriously contrary grande fromage Bernie Ecclestone was a conspicuous no show, though he did send a note of congratulation to the circuit he has routinely wasted no opportunity to criticise.

'The pits and paddock complex is a state-of-the-art facility,' he observed, 'and will form the backbone of Silverstone's plans to become a world-class facility. It's a great shame it couldn't have been completed 10 years ago, but well done Silverstone.'

Note the future tense. Even on its big day, Bernie couldn't quite rouse himself to be totally supportive.

The new wing is a dramatically modernist edifice, and will look sensational on television. A thumping quarter of a mile long, it's gone up in record time and represents a real triumph for Silverstone's owners, the British Racing Driver's Club (BRDC).

And while Monday's grand opening was an unarguable sea of elderly men in blazers and green ties, the future is undoubtedly brighter than a few years ago when Bernie backed an ill-fated Donington bid for the British GP. Big names turned up to remind us that, whatever else, Silverstone has never been anything less than a phenomenal challenge in an F1 car.

Amongst others, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Martin Brundle, David Coulthard and Jenson Button did their bit for British motorsport. Mark Webber - an honorary Brit, who drove to Silverstone the moment he stepped off a plane from Australia - even drove his Red Bull F1 car into the presentation. 'Bit tricky finding neutral in the dark,' he opined once the lights had come back on.

Ironic, then, that it was the arrival of MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi that got the biggest response. 'I've asked some of the other guys which way the new track goes,' he said, 'but I thought I'd better check it out for myself.' Sharing the stage with a highly amusing Jenson Button, Rossi is just one of those sportsmen whose natural ability is reflected in an equally powerful charisma.

'What F1 drivers do is pretty crazy,' Jenson said, 'but you guys are just nuts...'

No arguments there.

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