In Formula One’s 63-year history, British drivers have won the World Championship 14 times – more than any other nation.
But since the tragic death of Tom Pryce, from North Wales, in the 1977 South African Grand Prix, not a single Welsh driver has made it onto the Formula One grid.
But could that all be about to change?
There are plans to build a “world class” race track over an 830 acre site near Ebbw Vale, in the Blaenau Gwent area of the Welsh valleys.
The £250m facility – called the Circuit of Wales – is designed to host international events, such as MotoGP, World Superbikes, World Motocross and World Touring Cars.
A new dual carriageway will be built to help access to the circuit and the developers believe they will be able to accommodate up to 70,000 spectators arriving by car.
The project is spearheaded by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company. One of the brains behind the plan is Chris Herring – a motor sport industry veteran, formerly Communications Director of the Honda Racing team.
Herring told me the “first-ever purpose-built Grand Prix circuit in Great Britain” is something that is “long overdue in the UK.”
Why Blaenau Gwent?
There were “opportunities to take it elsewhere in the UK” but Blaenau Gwent was “easily the place to bring it,” said Herring.
“Blaenau Gwent council were very helpful, very co-operative in the beginning.
“From a local economy point of view, it will make a much bigger difference than it would have done in any other environment elsewhere in the UK.”
There will be a low carbon technology park adjacent to the circuit; an international karting track; two motocross tracks; hotel and leisure facilities and a leading motor sports race academy and training facility.
“Everyone focuses on this circuit as the sexy bit, but the circuit couldn’t happen without everything else balancing out the cost of building the race track,” said Herring.
“There’s a serious lack of qualified engineers in motor sport, which needs to be addressed. That’s why we’ve engaged with the Welsh universities, such as Swansea Metropolitan and Cardiff.”
“You look at Sepang (the purpose-built F1 circuit in Malaysia) and there’s a race track, a motocross track next door and that’s it – there’s no industry, nothing.
“Here, within a two hour drive you’ve already got a huge amount of motor sport business.
“Within thirty miles of Silverstone is probably 95 per cent of the British motor sport industry. It would be nice to get a little 10 to 20 per cent of that down here.”
Hywel Lloyd, from Wrexham, raced competitively in Formula Renault and British F3 until recently. Now, as team manager for the CF Racing British F3 team, he said the proposed circuit is “quite important” for motor sport in Wales.
“I think people will want to come there and a lot of race teams will want to be based there as well.
“There are a few good race teams in Wales, on their own merits, so it can inspire a lot of people, not just drivers, to get into Formula One.”
The developers claim the Circuit of Wales will “drive change and transform lives” in the area, bringing estimated economic and regeneration benefits worth over £50 million a year to the Welsh economy.
But will it inspire and help nurture Wales’ next F1 star? Herring believes it can.
“Having a circuit is a magnet, it brings youngsters in.
“People need the experience and the know-how. With this facility they’ve got a good chance, in a safe environment, to learn the trade with a lot training and practice facilities that don’t exist all over the UK.”
This view is one echoed by another Welsh racing driver, Seb Morris.
And although Morris feels the circuit is “probably not” going to help him get into F1, he said the opportunity it will provide is “very promising”.
“The chance and opportunity of visiting a new track that could be built in Wales would broaden Wales’ view of motor sport. I don’t personally think it’s that strong at the moment.
“But if there was a big circuit, with proper venues, that could really create a whole new industry and revenue for Wales.
“I think Wales as a country needs a Silverstone – something big like that.”
“It’s effectively a two year build time”, said Herring. “We’re hoping to be on site by June/July 2013 with a view to being finished in June/July 2015.”
As for whether the Circuit of Wales can end a 35-year wait for another Welsh F1 driver, only time will tell.