Silverstone and the British Grand Prix approaches fast and, be honest, you are already checking the weather forecast and the thermometer. We have all been battered by torrential rain, gale force winds and winter temperatures since the Grand Prix arrived at the often-bleak former wartime airfield in 1977, but this year could be very different. Great Britain is in the middle of a drought. Just two days after the World Superbike boys put on that superhuman effort at Donington Park a couple of weeks ago, the highest ever British temperature of over 41 degrees Celcius was recorded near Silverstone.
When we think of the weather and Grand Prix motorcycle racing, it is usually the rain, even snow and hurricanes, that come to mind. The 1980 Austrian Grand Prix at the Salzburgring was cancelled when heavy snow prevented riders from getting into the paddock, let alone racing. Who will forget the approaching hurricane on our first visit to Indianapolis in 2008? And infamously, four years ago, the British Grand Prix never even got started when the track at Silverstone was flooded with torrential rain
It is easier to forget the heat than those cold, windy soakings but weather at the end of the scale has proved just as tough for riders and spectators. In 1976 the winner of the sidecar race at the Dutch TT was declared ‘dead’ at the end of the race. Race winner Hermann Schmid collapsed 250 metres after crossing the finishing line in the 14-lap 107.846km race. When the race started at 16:00, the air temperature was 41.5C. Schmid fell from his 500cc Yamaha sidecar outfit and his heart had stopped beating. Prompt medical intervention and massage restarted his heart and he survived and made a complete recovery. British driver George O’Dell was also hospitalised after the race. His hands were severely blistered with his gloves giving little protection to the skin when he touched the red-hot brake and clutch levers.
Barry Sheene won the 500cc race earlier in the afternoon. After pouring a bucket of water over his head, the World Champion elect declared it was the hottest race he had ever ridden in, although he may have changed his mind three years later in Venezuela. I remember pictures of the local fire brigade spraying the sizzling crowd with water to help keep them cool in the 40C plus temperatures. Sheene won in Venezuela for the third year in succession. Heat exhaustion prevented his Suzuki teammate Tom Herron from making the victory podium to celebrate third place, his first 500cc podium apart from the TT in the Isle of Man
More recently, I suffered in those early sweltering days at circuits such as Sepang and Doha. The race in the Qatar desert switched to the cooler evenings under the floodlights in 2008. Two years earlier at Laguna Seca, Nicky Hayden fought off the heat and teammate Dani Pedrosa to win his home Grand Prix for the second year in succession. Melting tarmac and track temperatures of over 60C caused the cancellation of all other races that day including the AMA American Superbike clashes. Riders had to face the heat head-on, while us mere mortals had the air conditioning in Sepang and Doha, while a dip in the Pacific Ocean in Monterey Bay was the perfect way to start or finish the day at Laguna Seca.
We do remember Silverstone for the opposite reasons. Freddie Spencer clinched the 250cc World Championship in freezing horizontal rain and then won the 500cc race in 1985. Casey Stoner’s absolute masterclass in the spray of 2011 and, of course, four years ago when proceedings never got underway on the flooded track.
So be warned, do not forget to bring that umbrella. For once it may be essential to protect yourself from the sun and not the rain. You will note earlier I said the weather could be and not would be different this year. No promises, it is Silverstone.