MotoGP Silverstone 2018: The race that was washed away

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

MotoGP bike in the rain

Contents

The MotoGP at Silverstone in 2018 was set to be a ripper of a race, with three British riders contensting the event in front of their home fans. But the tarmac on the recently resurfaced Silverstone Grand Prix circuit had other ideas, and when the rain fell the track became un-rideable and the race had to be cancelled.

This article takes a look at everything that went wrong in the lead up to this disastrous race meeting.

MotoGP in 2018

In 2018 the MotoGP had lined up a huge 19-event calendar across the globe. Marc Marquez was at the peak of his dominance on his Repsol Honda having won 5 of the first 9 races of the season. The series was massively popular with fans and race weekend attendances of over 200,000 were not uncommon throughout the season.

Silverstone was planned to be the 12th event of the season held in August, with Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Bradley Smith all ready to put on a show for their home supporters.

Silverstone resurfacing - the first time

Coming in to the 2018 season, Silverstone hadn’t been resurfaced since 1996. The only new tarmac that had been laid was for the creation of the ‘Arena’ infield section on the Grand Prix circuit. Apart from the areas that had just seen patch repairs, the rest of the tarmac had been there for over 20 years and was past its best.

Silverstone circuit management decided to have the whole circuit resurfaced in time for the 2018 season. A big part of the reason was to appease the MotoGP riders and officials, as the circuit had become very bumpy.

They paid Aggregate Industries £2m to do the job which took 4 weeks and was completed in time for the start of the racing season.

F1 Silverstone 2018 - the 'bumpiest track ever'

The British round of the Formula 1 world championship was held at Silverstone in July 2018. Whilst in the lead up to the event the new surface was claimed to be “as close to the perfect surface as possible”, some of the drivers had other feedback.

Lewis Hamilton said that it was the “bumpiest track I’ve ever experienced. It’s rattling your eyeballs out of your brain. I don’t know how you could do such a bad job in laying the track”. Carloz Sainz Jr said that it was “just as bumpy or even bumpier” than it was the year before it was resurfaced.

Despite these moans from the F1 grid, the weather stayed dry and the F1 race was completed without any track related issues. But it seemed like the surface had already deteriorated.

MotoGP Silverstone 2018

The MotoGP  British Grand Prix was the 12th round of the season and was held at Silverstone on the weekend of the 23rd, 24th and 25th August 2018, just a month after the F1. Three free practices and two qualifying sessions took place on the Friday and Saturday of the race weekend. 

During FP4 a little rain started to fall and four riders immediately crashed at the same corner on standing water, before the session was red flagged. One of them ended up with a broken leg.

Silverstone MotoGP crash 2018

The Sunday should have been one warm up session and the main event – the MotoGP race. In addition the support races for the Moto3, Moto2 and Talent Cup series should also have taken place. But all that changed when the heavens opened.

Here’s the sequence of events from the day:

  • The morning warmup took place shortly after 9am and remained dry. Apart from riding on a bumpy surface, the warmup was completed without issue.
  • Rain began to fall shortly after the completion of the warmup and it was immediately evident that water was not draining from the track.
Silverstone pit lane MotoGP rain
  • The forecast was wet for the remainder of the day and the MotoGP officials made the decision to move the start of the race to the slightly earlier time of 11:30 to try and avoid the afternoon’s downpour which was predicted to get worse.
  • The riders headed to the grid for the 11:30 start. They completed 2 sighting laps but it was clear the conditions were far too treacherous so the start was postponed again.
MotoGP bike in the rain at Silverstone 2018
  • At midday a meeting was held between MotoGP officials, Silverstone management and the riders. With the forecast predicting rain for the rest of the day a suggestion was made to stage the race on the Monday. This idea was soon dismissed, partly due to a lack of marshal availability.
  • At numerous occasions throughout the afternoon MotoGP announced a new time for the race start, pending a track inspection. Each time they sent the safety car out to inspect the track, the report came back that conditions were still too dangerous for the riders.
Silverstone BMW safety car in the rain
  • They said that due to the lack of surface drainage the race would not be able to take place until the rain stopped falling. Marshals worked tirelessly to try and clear the water.
MotoGP silverstone 2018 rain
  • MotoGP announced the racing would be postponed as late as possible to allow it to happen, as long as it was complete by 19:30.
  • The rain didn’t stop falling and at 4:06pm the race organisers announced that MotoGP at Silverstone 2018 was cancelled.

In their official press release after the event Silverstone made it clear that the decision to cancel the race was not theirs, but MotoGP’s. They said they would launch a full investigation in to the whether the track surface caused any of the drainage issues.

It was already apparent to everyone else that the surface was to blame, as wet races had been held there on the old tarmac without anywhere near the same amount of standing water or aquaplane risk.

the aftermath

Over 54,000 fans were sat at Silverstone in the pouring rain waiting for the MotoGP to go ahead. From the time when the riding was first halted to the event being cancelled they had endured a 6 hour sodden wait.

In that time they were teased with numerous potential race starts, none of which came to fruition. To add to their frustration it was clear the rain was just another day of English rain, nothing particularly extreme, as the gridwalk showed.

The track was clearly not fit for purpose, as evidenced by other recent club events there in normal amounts of rain resulting in huge amounts of standing water, like in the Fiesta race below at Brooklands corner.

The disgruntled fanbase immediately demanded full refunds for their Sunday or weekend tickets. Silverstone left them waiting for weeks, saying they were in discussions with their event insurance company, before eventually offering full refunds at the end of September 2018 for admission tickets and parking or park and ride costs.

Additionally the FIM, governing body of the MotoGP, stripped Silverstone of their license and said they wouldn’t renew it until the track was resurfaced.

Silverstone resurfacing - the second time

In 2019, just one year later,  Silverstone had the whole circuit resurfaced again. It cost them just under £4m, nearly double the original price.  This time they used Tarmac as the lead contractor. They laser scanned the whole track to help identify the low points and potential aquaplane areas. It was clear the new surface was much better than the old one, and it has been raced on successfully ever since.

the court case

In 2022 Silverstone bosses announced they were preparing an £8m lawsuit against the original contractors, Aggregate Industries, for loss of profits due to ticket refunds and the cost of the additional resurfacing.

This case has not yet come to a conclusion but it will be interesting to hear the verdict in the months to come. Either way it is already an admission of guilt from Silverstone that the track was to blame.

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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