F1: Thousands left stranded as Silverstone is lashed by heavy rain

Silverstone officials have described yesterday’s traffic chaos as “a nightmare” as haunting memories of the 2000 British Grand Prix mudbath came flooding back.

Thousands of fans were left stranded in traffic jams outside the Northamptonshire circuit as the two practice sessions unfolded under constant rain and leaden skies.

In fairness, no fault can be directly attributed to Silverstone. Instead a combination of horrendous weather in recent weeks and record crowds in and around the track have played their part.

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With camping grounds sodden, some unofficially-run sites have been forced to turn people away, creating a backlog.

It is a similar situation with Woodlands, Silverstone’s own site, which is full to capacity this year with 16,000 people.

Additionally, there have been many attempting to get in without having booked, turning up on spec as in the past.

Another issue is that given the nature of the ground, rather than campers driving in under normal conditions, they are having to be towed in by tractors one at time to ensure they do not get stuck.

At 1.30pm yesterday, following a visit to Silverstone’s traffic management centre, there 
was still a tailback of five miles along the main A43 that runs past Silverstone, and by that stage the situation had eased slightly.

For those with long-enough memories, the scenes recalled those of 12 years ago when fans were pictured pushing their cars out of muddy fields as the April race was deluged with rain.

Offering an honest approach to the dismal scenario, Silverstone’s director of communications Katie Tyler said: “It’s a nightmare.

“What’s so frustrating is we’d almost got over the hangover of 2000, but it seems we’re about to go through it again, certainly with today happening.”

After what happened in 2000, Silverstone was forced into drastic action, resulting in the creation of a bypass and the majority of the fields turned into hardstanding car parks.

But even Tyler concedes the best laid plans cannot accommodate when a British summer becomes soaked with rain.

“For ten years it’s worked,” added Tyler. “This is the first year we’ve had such bad problems, which is largely down to all the fields giving out.

“We try to plan for every scenario, but at the end of the day we are surrounded by fields and the cost of Tarmacing the whole site is not feasible.

“A lot of the fields are historical and ancient ground which you can’t Tarmac.” Fearful of a backlash, Tyler said: “We know we’ve got a problem, we know it’s serious.

“We’ve the best people on the job, and we’re doing all we can, with people discussing what we do tonight and tomorrow.

“One of the key decisions is getting the people waiting to get into campsites relocated, and then how we get the campers on to site tomorrow morning.”

With a 100,000 crowd due today, with a sell-out 125,500 tomorrow, it would appear the issues could get worse over the weekend and with no let-up in sight with regard to the rain.

“If we get more rain, we have to be honest about it, it will be slow and there will be problems,” said Tyler.

“We’ve loaded all the hardstanding car parks today, but we have used some of the other car parks that aren’t hardstanding. They may well be in a bad state tomorrow.

“Again, we are looking at all sorts of alternatives for tomorrow, but everything is still in the planning stage.

“We haven’t resorted to the nose-to-nose parking, and it may yet be used over the weekend, but it is an absolute last resort.

“We would rather park people and bus them in to the site.”

Tyler has promised an investigation will be launched once the event is out of the way, as well as the possibility of reimbursing those who did not see any action today.

Tyler said: “We need to look into all the factors and what we can do to minimise something like this happening again.” Jokingly she added: “Probably move abroad!”

Naturally, for the majority who embarked on a journey in plenty of time, they were able to enjoy the day, despite conditions. However, for those stuck in the jams there was frustration, even appreciated by Chief Inspector Chris Hillery.

The Northamptonshire Police district commander for Kettering and Corby tweeted: “Silverstone traffic plan being tested today 4 hrs for some to get in.”

Among those angered by events a Tweeter simply known as “Matt” said: “Traffic just outside the circuit is at a standstill. We’ve turned the engine off.” Ailish Clarke added: “Took me 40 minutes to do half a mile this morning! Ruddy traffic”, while ‘Kirk’ commented: “We can’t get in. Stuck on the A43...Coming up for 4hrs!!” On the positive side, Paoul Duke said: “Left Southam at 7am, queued in traffic for about 15 mins, parked on Tarmac, no queues at the gates, been sat at Abbey since 8.30.”