Friday, 22 February 2013

Formula One, Cornwall and the first Lotus win...unofficially!

If someone said the word ‘Davidstow’ to you, there is a high probability that you’d probably think of cheese. However, there are some people out there…myself included…that think of an entirely different thing when that name is mentioned. I think of motorsport.

OK, so on the face of it, that seems rather a random thing to think about. But there is method to my madness.
Go back 60 years or so and if you’d mentioned the idea of the British Formula One Grand Prix being held in Cornwall, not everyone would have laughed it off. It’s a bit of a different story in 2013! With the pretty terrible road, rail and air links into the county (I speak with some authority on this!), the idea is practically impossible in the modern era.
But Davidstow holds a bit of a secret. Near Davidstow village a site was purchased by the RAF in 1941 which became an RAF Coastal Command airfield, known as RAF Davidstow Moor, which was active from 1942-1945. As was common post-war, the airfield’s perimeter roads and runways were transformed into a motor racing circuit following World War II, when the military no long needed the land.  The majority of the UK’s current circuits, such as Thruxton and Silverstone, started out in a similar fashion.
The Davidstow motor racing circuit opened in 1952 and held three Formula 1 races between 1954 and 1955. In its short life the circuit had two layouts, one 2.6 and the other 3.1 miles in length.  Events that took place at the venue included speed trials, F3, F2 and Formula Libra. Crowds went up to around 20,000 – much more than expected.
On the 'Back Straight' looking west on the old Davidstow circuit
Perhaps most notably, in a race that took place on August 2nd, 1954, for F1 and F2 cars (although no F1 car turned up), John Coombs in a Lotus Mk8 won. Some regard this as Lotus’ first victory in an F1 race, but as the car that won was recognised as a sportscar, the victory was never official.
There was one main advantage to the Davidstow circuit. There was a lack of local populous, which meant limited noise issues. However, this advantage could also be seen as a disadvantage as it meant there was a lack of crowd, even though attendance figures at the few races that took place were positive as I mentioned earlier. The main disadvantage though, which would still be an issue today, is the location of the circuit.
It’s around 5 miles from the coast and it’s on the North edge of Bodmin Moor, meaning weather throughout the year can be a real issue – especially fog and heavy spells of rain.  This was in evidence during some of the races.
So could Davidstow ever host an F1 race again? Or even any type of motor race? Well, in a word, no. Too much investment would be involved and obviously there would be considerable protests about a race track being opened up on what is now classified as moorland. The South West remains poorly linked in terms on transport too, so long term, it probably wouldn’t work. It’s a shame though, because Davidstow represents the only circuit racing history this side of Castle Combe, which is East of Bristol…some 150 miles away.
So the short history of motor racing at Davidstow seems to forever remain just that…history. But a quirky one at that.