So what has this past year been like, we innocently ask managing director Pringle? Silence. “Long… and hard,” he finally answers. “Actually quite emotional.”
His description is almost a stream of consciousness: “We dealt with the cancellation of MotoGP, of keeping 50,000 customers waiting for five hours in the rain, then refunding them all their money – which we gave them back 100% within 28 days,” he adds, with a note of defiance. “That was a mammoth undertaking. Then we began to investigate what had gone on. We had to get this sorted.
“I feel a sense of responsibility in this job,” he adds with sincerity, “to find a sustainable, long-term future here, for the sport you and I love. Last year should never have happened, it must never happen again and we have to get it right.”
The new surface will be used in anger for the first time at the British GP this weekend, only a little over two weeks since the final layer was rolled. Britain’s climate left little choice but to run to such a tight deadline. This wasn’t like patching up the M6. New asphalt, of a quality superior to the surface on a Heathrow runway, had to be laid in the dry, which meant summer… and in the UK, of course, that’s no guarantee of decent weather.
The process began months ago, before Christmas, when Silverstone commissioned Dromo, a circuit specialist run by designer Jarno Zaffelli. The Italian’s developments in surface scanning offered a detailed blueprint of the track’s surface, showing every bump, camber and blemish. Dromo’s expertise is to change circuits without affecting their layout, adding camber and even crowning where required, to improve drainage without altering corner characteristics.
The laying of the surface itself was entrusted this time to Tarmac, the eponymous organisation responsible for much of Britain’s road network – and before you snigger about how poor that is, consider the words of regional director Richard Vine on the challenges his crews face, day in and day out. “At Silverstone, we had full possession of the site – we didn’t have to consider other road traffic,” he says. “It’s our quest to develop automated pavement laying for the road network, but you can’t shut the major arterial routes in the UK to bring this technology to fruition.
It’s usually short, sharp shock treatments. On new road builds we are using this technology, but ordinarily on general maintenance in the UK you have to match what is already there. You have to follow the profile of the road and match it back in with the other lanes. You can make it better, but not as much as we’d like. It’s frustrating.”
For Vine and his team, Silverstone was something else. The process included planing the current surface, then laying three new ones using that cutting-edge automated technology. The top asphalt is a bespoke high-grip mix designed specifically for Silverstone. Created from Shropshire aggregate, it was mixed in two dedicated plants – one in North London and the other in Bedford.