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Silverstone prepares to bid farewell to F1
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Nigel Mansell seemed to own the place, Damon Hill has been going there since he was a baby and Britain's latest champion Lewis Hamilton says it simply feels like home.

Silverstone, the windswept former World War Two airfield that hosted Formula One's first championship grand prix in 1950, is loved by drivers but this weekend must reluctantly say farewell to the sport.

The British Grand Prix is due to move north to Donington Park next year, although many paddock sceptics continue to question whether that track will be ready in time and whether Silverstone has really reached the end of the road.

Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who once damned Silverstone as "a country fair masquerading as a world event", has made clear that whatever happens with Donington, there is no going back.

"If the work at Donington is not finished in time, we would be happy to skip a year," he said last month. "I don't want to lose the British Grand Prix, that's the last thing we want to do, but we aren't going to Silverstone for sure."

The circuit is owned by the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), a not-for-profit organization that Ecclestone has pilloried in recent years as lavish new circuits emerge elsewhere in the world.

Silverstone is one of the historic races, on a par with Monza in Italy, but modern Formula One has little room for sentiment with its expansion to lucrative new markets in the Middle East and Asia.

Special circuit

Montreal and the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours disappeared this year, with the Canadian race much missed by competitors. Silverstone's loss will also be painful.

"It hurts me more than (losing) Canada to see that Silverstone could not be on the calendar next year," said Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who hopes to beat Brawn teammate and championship leader Jenson Button to the chequered flag this weekend.

"Canada for me is horrible not to be there, but Silverstone hurts me more - not just for the feeling, but Silverstone is fast and safe and that's all we want," said Barrichello, a winner with Ferrari in 2003.

Hamilton triumphed last year for McLaren but Button, chasing an astonishing seventh win in eight races, will be the crowd favorite this time.

"It would be great to win there, and great for us all. We're going to put on a good show. It's a fun circuit, all the drivers love it, hopefully it will be a great atmosphere, and we can give it a good send-off," said Button.

"It's the layout of the circuit. It's one of the greats of the past, and not that much has changed to the fun parts of it. It is like Suzuka, like Spa, it's fast and flowing, and I love that," he added.

"From turn 1 to Club is very fast, and there aren't circuits like that any more these days. This is a very special circuit, and every driver who races here in a Formula One car loves it.

"You really push the car to its limits, and you feel how amazing an F1 car is, the speed, the change of the direction, the braking. It's just a perfect place to show a Formula One car's performance."

Italian Giuseppe Farina won the first Formula One championship grand prix for Alfa Romeo in 1950 and a year later Argentina's Jose Froilan Gonzalez, the 'Pampas Bull', gave Enzo Ferrari's team their first victory.

Silverstone, used for the training of bomber pilots during the war, had held its first grand prix in 1948 with 100,000 spectators present and traffic queues - a familiar sight in future years - stretching back for miles.

(Reuters via China Daily June 18, 2009)

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