Two new fast-tracked roads look to have assured the future of the British Grand Prix. Mark Hansford reports.
An axe has been hanging over the British Grand Prix ever since the debacle of 2000, when traffic chaos caused by bad weather left thousands of spectators unable to reach the circuit in time for the race.
Desperate to avoid a repeat - which would almost certainly spell the end of Formula One racing in the UK - Octagon Motorsports, which operates Silverstone on behalf of the British Racing Drivers Club, slashed the number of race day tickets by half to 60,000 and embarked on a rapid £10.6M overhaul of access and parking facilities.
The scheme focused on a 1.5km, £4.1M upgrade of the main access, the narrow Dadford Road, to a dual carriageway with tidal flow capacity of up to five lanes. Once complete the road will link directly with a second widening scheme, the ongoing Highways Agency project to dual the A43, providing dualled access all the way from the M40 or M1.
The improvements were set out in in Octagon's June 2001 Vision Statement for Silverstone Circuit. Improved access was stage one, with a new pit and paddock complex following in 2003, with a £8M track reconfiguration planned for 2004.
The proposals were accepted by Formula One's governing body, the FIA, with the condition that Octagon provide a $5M (£3.6M) bond guaranteeing that the phase one improvements would be in place for 2002.
With the clock ticking, consultant WSP was raced in to carry out a study of traffic movements.
Detailed design began at the end of October 2001, with planning applications submitted in December. Fitzpatrick was appointed as contractor, with construction starting on 4 March.
The fast-track nature of the project, along with the unbreakable deadline, also meant that the contractor carried all risks under a NEC Option A lump sum contract. 'The whole loss of benefit is all on one day, and the penalties are encouraging, ' explains WSP project leader Jim Hutchins. Two deadlines - the World Superbikes meeting on 25-26 May, and the Grand Prix itself on 5-7 July - carried delay damages of £0.5M and £1M respectively.
A good start was essential, with the first deadline giving Fitzpatrick just 12 weeks to lay a new 7.3m wide southbound carriageway running parallel to the existing Dadford Road. The new carriageway comes complete with marginal strips taking the full usable width to 9m, allowing the carriageway to be temporarily widened to three lane running under controlled conditions.
Deadline one was met comfortably, and work has now moved to the existing road which will be resurfaced and widened to 7.3m to form a new northbound carriageway. Extensive tree planting will be carried alongside the new carriageways in the autumn, and all earth will eventually be re-used in landscaping and improving spectator banking around the circuit.
Work will be finished well in time for the Grand Prix, but all could still be for nothing if works to upgrade the A43 are not ready.
Complete dualling of A43 is being carried out by the Highways Agency to improve safety on one of Britain's most dangerous single carriageway roads.
Originally scheduled for completion well ahead of the 2002 race, foot and mouth disease and a wet winter in 2000 badly disrupted construction (NCE 27 September 2001).
Extra resources were committed to the project by joint venture contractor CostainSkanska, but hopes of completion in by July 2002 were dashed by the winter of 2001.
'We had hoped for an Indian summer, but looking back our records show that from 5 October 2001 it rained for a month non-stop, ' says CSJV project manager Alan Kay. 'To recover all the time lost would have been nigh on impossible.'
Spotting the impending crisis, and recognising the importance of the British Grand Prix to the UK motor industry, in February the government granted joint venture contractor CostainSkanska an extra £8M to guarantee that the scheme is at least sufficiently advanced to provide two lanes for dedicated circuit access in addition to the availability of the existing A43.
The permanent works design was promptly modified, with an extra 300mm rock and Teram sandwich added beneath the capping to allow work to proceed despite the wet weather.
The gained time will be used to get one complete carriageway of the 7.9km Silverstone bypass ready for the race, with the bypass and two further sections nearer the M40 now scheduled for completion by late summer.