LONDON -- Just days ahead of the British Grand Prix, Formula One shut down the centre of London for a 90-minute demo featuring every team and all but one of the drivers.
New F1 owners Liberty Media want to turn every race into a Super Bowl-style event, tapping into local and national interest to promote each grand prix on the calendar. The London event was several months in the making but only made public earlier this week.
It saw drivers take a short route from Whitehall, up and to Trafalgar Square and back down to Horse Guards Parade, one of the most iconic areas of central London. Of note from the event was Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas, wowing the crowd with donuts in the Red Bull F1 show car and a Mercedes W07 respectively, something also copied by other drivers despite instruction not to ahead of the event.
Williams driver Lance Stroll got stuck at the Horse Guards Parade hairpin all three times he took the route, while 2009 world champion Jenson Button lasted just shy of one lap before stalling a Minardi two-seater. There were also appearances from Mika Hakkinen and reigning world champion Nico Rosberg, who appeared on the stage after the event.
Controversially, Britain's own Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to decline Liberty's invitation, instead deciding to spend two days on holiday in Greece with friends. The Mercedes driver was booed when mentioned on the Trafalgar Square stage, while title rival Sebastian Vettel -- who some had predicted would have a frosty reception given the events of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix -- received one of the biggest ovations of the day.
The event was the first of its kind in London since 2004 and something Liberty hopes will become a more regular occurance before races going forward. The American company has made fan engagement its number one priority since taking control of the sport in January and has rolled out a host of initiatives at races this season.
It also came with the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in doubt after the Northampton announced the triggering of a break clause in its contract, just hours after F1 went public with the London street demo. The clause means Silverstone can walk away from its contract after the 2019 event, though it hopes to agree a new deal with Liberty Media before that happens.
The London demo has raised speculation of a grand prix in the city, with some suggesting Liberty is looking into a route around the Docklands area.