Does MotoGP have a future at luckless Silverstone?

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

Since MotoGP moved from Donington Park to Silverstone in 2010, the home of the British Grand Prix has consistently produced some of the best racing of the season at one of the fastest and most challenging circuits on the current calendar.

Silverstone is beloved by riders and makes for spectacular competition, with last year’s victory for Alex Rins over Marc Marquez by just 0.013 seconds highlighting once again how much fun the Northamptonshire circuit generates.

However, there has been plenty of off-track drama over the years too, from losing the contract to a disastrous resurfacing job.

And this year’s race has once again been struck down, with the coronavirus pandemic thwarting any hopes of seeing MotoGP bikes blasting out of Woodcote again before 2021.

Freddie Spencer Silverstone 1985

First the home of the British motorcycle Grand Prix in 1977 when the championship left the Isle of Man TT, Silverstone held the event until it moved to Donington Park in 1987.

The world championship then returned to Silverstone in 2010 as one of the consequences of Donington’s disastrous F1 bid. The track’s fast sweeping corners became an instant favourite of the grid, and the future looked bright.

Valentino Rossi in particular, a winner at Silverstone in 2015, is a fan.

“The layout is very fast and technical and you have to be very precise,” he said. “The most impressive thing is the speed; you really see the high performance of a MotoGP bike on a track like Silverstone.

“You have to work a lot to find the best set-up as the track has a bit of everything. The first section is really good; you enter at high speed and there are very fast changes of direction that give you adrenaline.

“Silverstone is a proper MotoGP track, and when you go fast there you enjoy it. But it’s more than enjoyment – it’s like having sex!”

Valentino Rossi Yamaha Silverstone MotoGP 2015

Despite Silverstone’s popularity, series organiser Dorna was soon to be tempted away by the offer of a brand new track where MotoGP would be the main attraction. A contract was signed with the proposed Circuit of Wales and due to commence from 2015.

Construction never even started at the Circuit of Wales, however.

The race briefly returned to Donington – on paper, at least – as the Welsh project tried to lease it as its substitute venue.

“We really have committed significantly to making MotoGP a success at Silverstone, and at the minute we’ve just had extremely bad luck” :: Stuart Pringle

But with a financial hangover still looming over the track from its F1 debacle, Donington quickly conceded the rights, which meant the Circuit of Wales was left with no option but to go cap in hand back to Silverstone.

After successfully hosting the 2015 and 2016 races as effectively a stand-in venue, Silverstone regained the MotoGP rights properly in 2017 with the final demise of the Circuit of Wales bid.

Silverstone promised investment in the track specifically for MotoGP, and a badly-needed new surface was laid to smooth out years of abuse from car racing.

Silverstone MotoGP cancellation 2018

Instead, it all went pear-shaped. The new surface was branded a disaster by Marc Marquez from the opening day of track action in 2018, and heavy rain on race day compounded issues with bumps and a lack of drainage.

The track was left unusable, the British Grand Prix became the first premier class race cancelled since it snowed at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1985. Silverstone’s MotoGP future was once again thrown into doubt.

But credit where it is due – the circuit weathered the (literal) storm once more and survived.

Committing to another resurfacing, Silverstone delivered the track it promised first time round, and it paid off with one of the closest races of the season in 2019.

There’s a firm commitment from Silverstone to the future of MotoGP there too. Already heavily investing in the series with not one but two resurfacings in under 12 months, CEO Stuart Pringle told The Race that Silverstone has got no intention of letting MotoGP escape it despite this year’s additional disappointment.

“Our luck has got to change one of these days!” said Pringle.

Alex Rins wins Silverstone MotoGP 2019

“We’ve resurfaced the track twice for MotoGP, but out of our most recent contract we’ve only got one of three races away.

“We really have committed significantly to making MotoGP a success at Silverstone, and at the minute we’ve just had extremely bad luck.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m in any way forlorn or giving up; on the contrary, I am determined to prove that we can run these fantastic events.

“We know how fast the circuit is, we know how good the surface was last summer, and how close the racing was with that spectacular finish.”

The loss of the 2020 race was out of Silverstone’s hands. While from the outside it may have seemed odd that the track’s MotoGP event was being dropped just as Silverstone managed to pull off a pair of F1 races, this was all down to external circumstances that made it possible for F1 to work around the UK’s coronavirus restrictions where MotoGP could not.

The concentration of F1 teams in the UK – while the MotoGP fraternity would all be travelling in from abroad – and F1’s greater clout both financially and in terms of government influence combined for that outcome.

Given its turbulent recent MotoGP history, Silverstone could be forgiven for settling for the 2021 race simply happening smoothly.

But Pringle is adamant the track plans to push forward too, and to try to increase MotoGP’s popularity in the UK.

Silverstone MotoGP 2019

“I have every confidence that we’ll build the crowd,” he said.

“It’s at a good size at the moment but the appeal of MotoGP is just so broad because it’s so exciting and so visible.

“You can see what the heroes are up to, they’re not shrouded in bodywork. It’s more accessible as well, and I really aspire to making it the stonking summer family day out it deserves to be.

“We’ll give it another good go at it next year, and I’ve got every confidence that it’ll continue to grow.”

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