Sunday, 2 September 2018

AI catches more fallout from Silverstone track ‘disaster’… and gags a journalist

Readers would be forgiven for thinking we’ve suddenly gone motorsport mad!

We should of course be posting about Aggregate Industries' protracted struggle to get its act together at Straitgate Farm, but the company’s recent trouble in the world of motorsport provides a distracting interlude – and a reminder to those ready to trust AI to deliver the goods: be it tarmac to racing circuits, hauliers using mobile phones whilst driving on motorways, or excavators digging up an East Devon farm with an unorthodox untested seasonal working scheme where a Grade I manor house and 25 other homes are wholly reliant on the groundwater for their drinking water supplies.

Anyway, rest assured that normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, back to Silverstone.

Last time we posted on this matter, we wondered if AI had grasped the severity of the Silverstone track debacle. From the company's interaction with a journalist this week, it’s now clear that they have.

Silverstone was the track that in February promised "should be very close to the perfect surface for a racing circuit" with:
high performance asphalt from Aggregate Industries which will not only help with the grip on the track, but also water drainage and speed – making those fast corners even faster!
After the 2018 MotoGP British Grand Prix was cancelled, when the newly laid high performance asphalt failed to drain properly, AI must have been desperate for a 'good news' story – in an attempt to bury all the bad publicity. You can imagine the scene at AI HQ after the bank holiday weekend:
Quick, find me a good news story! What do you mean there aren’t any? Give The Wildlife Trusts a call – come up with something, anything, to greenwash this shitstorm!
And hey presto, a couple of days later, the company – whose business model is reliant on digging up the UK countryside – announced "a new 3-year partnership with The Wildlife Trusts". In reality, it wasn’t much of a story, and hardly a new partnership – when AI has already "proudly worked with The Wildlife Trusts for the past ten years" – but the construction press, who have stayed largely quiet about AI’s troubles at Silverstone, couldn’t regurgitate the company’s press release fast enough.

In the world of motorsport, however, partnerships with Wildlife Trusts are hardly going to cut it – with the furore over Silverstone refusing to die down, and the company attracting even more unwelcome attention.

AI has at least now confirmed – to – that it is helping Silverstone with their enquiries:
We are working in close partnership with Silverstone and will be conducting a full review of the track resurfacing over the next few days to better understand the issues caused by the extremely wet conditions on Sunday. We will continue to make resources available to assist our client during this difficult period.
But you can already sense the lawyers limbering up during this difficult period. In the language of an unscrupulous builder:
Not our fault gov, t’was the ‘eavens, an act of the Almighty, and anyways the T&Cs don’t say nothin' about rain!
And what a legal tussle there might be, when so many commentators don't agree that the issues were "caused by the extremely wet conditions"; Race Director Mike Webb for one:
Silverstone previously hosted torrentially wet MotoGP races in 2011 and 2015, prompting Race Director Mike Webb to conclude this year's problems were "a direct result of the [new] track surface."
Naturally, there has been a range of other comments in the motorsport press:

In, "Silverstone surface to blame for British GP cancellation", the Grand Prix Safety Officer is quoted as saying:
We will wait to see the outcome [of the investigation]... but for sure they will need a new asphalt.
Clearly the first cause for the cancellation of the UK GP was the resurfacing of the circuit.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta says MotoGP's future at Silverstone is not in doubt so long as it undergoes another track resurface, after the current tarmac forced the cancellation of the British GP.
When MotoGP action commenced at the weekend, Marc Marquez – not a rider who normally complains – confirmed the fears by saying after first free practice: "If the people who resurfaced the track got some money after, they have to think about it."
The 2018 MotoGP British Grand Prix will forever appear as a blank mark in the record books, after a botched resurfacing job meant persistent rain on Sunday rendered the Silverstone track impossible to safely race on, forcing a complete cancellation of a grand prix motorcycle race programme for the first time since the snowed-off 1980 Austrian GP.
Giacomo Agostini, 15-time world champion, referred to the cancellation of the British Grand Prix "a gaffe”.
“That's how it is - he explains - Silverstone is an historic track, they can't make this kind of bad impression. It rains and you cannot race? In England?"
Ago, who has significant experience as a constructor, goes on to point the finger at the firm that carried out the work.
"I think the customer who put the resurfacing out to tender and those who didn't resurface the track correctly were both at fault."
"We raced here in worse weather in 2015 with no problems," one senior factory person commented to me, their face signalling a combination of frustration and disgust. The word which cropped up again and again was "disaster", in English, in Spanish, in Italian, in every language spoken in the paddock. And the blame was laid entirely at the door of the circuit, or at the door of the contractor responsible for the resurfacing, who were brought in by the circuit.
As renowned circuit designer Jarno Zaffelli told Italian website Corsedimoto, there are no simple answers. The circuit, the contractor, and the senior staff who signed off on this contract should all consider their positions. Somebody needs to take responsibility for what started off as a minor cock up, but turned out to be a massive systemic failure. After all, what is the point of a circuit in the UK if it can't handle a little rain during the weekend?
However, with Motor Sport Magazine – where Mat Oxley had said much the same as a host of other commentators in "MotoGP Mutterings: 2018 British Grand Prix" – AI took umbrage, let the lawyers loose, sparked another Twitter storm, and prompted Motor Sport to post:
On 28 August 2018, we published an article entitled "MotoGP Mutterings: 2018 British Grand Prix" on this website. This article contained inaccurate statements about Aggregate Industries and these have now been retracted.
This was followed by a string of tweets from the author to his 30k followers:

Here is Mat Oxley in that subsequent interview – carefully avoiding any mention of AI and asphalt – spelling out the dangers of aquaplaning on a bike at 180mph, spelling out that if the race had taken place "there was a good chance we would have lost several riders".

So, really, what is the point of AI's heavy-handed action? Is the gagging of a TT winner and experienced motorsport journalist really going to help the company's reputation? Because every petrolhead and his dog is blaming the track – a track that AI very publicly boasted was laid by them, with material that AI very publicly boasted was suitable for the job. Can it gag all critical comment on Twitter, Facebook, chatrooms, blogs, and from drivers and riders too?

As for the fans, getting any refund when insurance companies are involved – insurance companies who will obviously be pointing to the new track and not just the weather – is likely to be protracted.

EDIT 3.9.18: Further responses from Mat Oxley:

Here's the full thread, and the rest of Mat Oxley's "collated comments".

EDIT 10.9.18: Further to the retraction by Motor Sport Magazine, Mat Oxley has revisited the issue:

It’s clear that his new article Silverstone: the aftermath has indeed been carefully scrutinised by Motor Sport Magazine’s legal advisers:
It is too early to know the results of that investigation, which is being jointly carried out by Silverstone and Aggregate Industries, the company responsible for resurfacing the race track in February this year. It is therefore impossible to apportion blame for what is undoubtedly one of the worst days in British motorcycle racing.
However, Mat Oxley has spoken to riders involved in the cancelled event, one of whom likened the track to a "big swimming pool... the problem was everywhere...", and another who said "there was too much water everywhere... there wasn’t a worst part of the track because it was all the same."

The article also speaks about earlier problems with the new surface:
I have subsequently discovered that the British MotoGP weekend wasn’t the first time bike racers had run into aquaplaning issues on Silverstone’s new surface. Bemsee staged a club race meeting in April, where riders rode in similar conditions.
On the question of who pays:
Silverstone has announced that it will inform fans about refunds within the next week. To a large extent who pays for that refund – which could be run into the millions – will depend on the findings of the investigation. It is fair to say that the completion of that investigation is being awaited with bated breath by all concerned.
The full article can be found here.