Surreal. That’s the word I’d choose to best describe Goodwood Speedweek, the motorsport extravaganza that lit up October. It was surreal on a number of counts, most obviously that it gathered one of the most glorious and diverse collections of racing machinery ever seen, for a show that played out to empty spectator banks. It was also astonishing that it happened at all, on a weekend when tense negotiations were playing out in other regions of the UK over the pressing need to tighten Covid restrictions.
You couldn’t help but feel conflicted if you were one of the lucky few to attend, as I was on one of the days. I felt guilty, first that I was experiencing what felt like the world’s greatest race meeting in the flesh when the vast majority couldn’t; and then there was a nagging doubt over whether pressing ahead with Speedweek at all had been the right thing to do.
We’re all having to make fine judgements in our everyday lives right now on what is safe and responsible and what steps over the line. The team at Goodwood worked long and hard to convince an understandably nervous local authority that Speedweek could be safe, almost right up to the moment the gates opened.
When they did, everything was run by the book and to the letter, as it had to. Stewards were super-diligent in ensuring masks were worn at all times, except when you were eating. As for social distancing, just like walking around a town centre or supermarket right now, the onus was on individual responsibility – but with eerily so few people in the paddock, it wasn’t hard to stay away from each other.
So was it the right thing to do? I’m still conflicted; you will have your own view. But as an event designed to be watched specifically on a screen, through live streaming or TV, it hit all the marks as a welcome shot in the arm during a time when there isn’t much to smile about.
A one-off curio
Combining the best bits of the springtime Members’ Meeting and autumn Revival, Speedweek would be a welcome addition to the Goodwood calendar when our world rights itself. But the number of ‘noisy days’ at the Sussex circuit are restricted to just five, and the two established race meetings already use them all. So Speedweek might well be a one-off curio. If so, the freedom of running without spectators allowed a spirit of experimentation, and we might well find the things that worked so well will feed into the established annual highlights anyway, including at the Festival of Speed.
Certainly, rival promoters from Formula 1 and far beyond should take note of the innovation and high quality displayed in the show’s production. It was world-class in this respect. In fact, among all the memorable drives of the weekend, whether in races, in demos, on the rally stage or in the shootout for fastest lap, perhaps the best was put in by whoever was flying the drone that captured such stunning aerial footage over the pits and finish straight.