I have had a passion for motor racing for as long as I can remember. Indeed, one of my earliest childhood memories, which comes back to me as vividly as if it were yesterday, is watching the television coverage in late summer 1970 announcing the death of Jochen Rindt who was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and became the posthumous world motor racing champion that year.
The drama of Formula One racing stays with me to this day. I marvel at the achievements of Michael Schumacher, whose tactical and strategic brilliance sets him apart from any previous Formula One driver except perhaps for the inestimable Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio, who won all five of his World Championships during the 1950s when in his forties (there is hope for us all!). I suspect it is partly in deference to the great Fangio that the car I drive today is a Maserati, the famous Italian marque with which he won one of his coveted titles.
Many regard modern-day motor racing as a rather dull throwback to that glorious post-War era. I suppose like many motor racing fans I cast my eye back to the 1950s ? in the decade before I was born ? with tales of several brilliant British drivers who never quite managed to win the World Championship but always put honour and great sportsmanship first. These figures include Peter Collins and the legendary Stirling Moss, who is, to my great pride, a present-day constituent, although in his erstwhile association with Maserati, he would probably regard my taste in cars as insufficiently patriotic!
From the breathless enthusiasm of the foregoing paragraphs, you might be forgiven for believing that I would be a strong supporter of bringing Formula One racing to the streets of central London. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst the parade of Formula One cars around Regent Street four days before this year’s British Grand Prix was a wonderful advertisement for the real event, the notion that central London could host a British Grand Prix to my mind is little short of madness.
In fact I am convinced it is nothing short of a piece of grandstanding by London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who is well aware that to create a Grand Prix circuit in central London would require the complete relaying of roads throughout the West End. Even on that recent July night it was made clear to organisers, participants and the watching public that Grand Prix cars cannot drive over such roads safely. The promotion for the Formula One weekend caused enormous disruption in the West End to commuters and visitors alike. Underground stations closed; traffic jams made the streets of London impassable to all forms of vehicles for hours. To bring the entire Formula One show to race in London every year would result in the capital being brought to a standstill for the best part of a week whilst preparations are made and security and safety measures are put into place.
Even more curious is the unequivocal backing for a British Grand Prix on the streets of London by our Mayor, Ken Livingstone. After all, here is someone whose aversion to the motor car knows few bounds. It also seems somewhat curious in view of his self-professed political correctness that the Mayor would want to associate himself with the Formula One racing business, which relies upon £160 million of tobacco advertising every year to keep it afloat.
Evidently, if the Grand Prix were to come to the streets of Central London then the pits, paddocks and spectator stands would all have to be located in Hyde Park! One rather important snag in this plan is that the Mayor of London fortunately has no authority over Hyde Park – or any of the other Royal Parks for that matter. They are run by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and, following my debate in late May about the Commercialisation of Hyde Park, the Government has made it very clear that it is not about to let any Mayor of London gain control of these world famous, large central London open spaces, which remain on most days oases of tranquil and calm in an already busy city.
It is quite clear that a Formula One Grand Prix in London will bring relatively few benefits to the city’s revenues from visitors, not least as the whole of London will become log-jammed and gridlocked by this proposal and one would expect most residents to leave the capital during that time.
It is a great sadness to me to have heard London trivialised in recent days equating its richness with the Principality of Monaco which does host a Grand Prix. I fear that similar grandstanding by political figures in London who talk up the commercialisation of London along with our increasingly beleaguered 2012 Olympic bid are playing to an audience of people who do not live in any of the communities which help keep central London so special to its residents and visitors alike. I intend to use every ounce of my energy here in parliament to avoid any further trashing of London under pressure from popular culture, and I know there are many others here and elsewhere who will help me fight to maintain the centre of this historic city as an area for residents and communities rather than simply a place of noise and revelry.