Last year Blanche and I went to our first F1 Grand Prix, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. We splashed out on expensive tickets giving us three-day access and a seat in the Grandstand at Copse at the end of the start-finish straight.
You’ve no doubt seen all the cars and the pits on TV, so no point in showing you those. Unless you’ve been yourself, you won’t have seen much of the other stuff a spectator sees. If you ever get a chance to go, go for all three days, get there early and leave late. If you’re an F1 fanatic, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
If you arrive early the roads are quite clear. The circuit access and car parks are excellent. Getting there early allows you to figure out what’s on, where and when.
Most of the teams have big stands, with full-size F1 car mock-ups and merchandise. There are also stands that sell official clothing from a range of teams. Pay cash at the merchandise stands, as some of them charge your credit card in Euros at a poor exchange rate. It gets quite busy race-day, so that’s another reason to arrive early and leave late.
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At Silverstone there are many support races, so we decided which we wanted to watch as soon as we got there on the Friday. To be honest, the support races are more interesting than the F1 race itself. We especially liked the vintage car racing.
For F1, I like to watch the race from home, with my laptop showing the live timing screen and lap chart from www.Formula1.com. I can see the sector-by-sector and lap times of each driver and it really adds to my enjoyment. I wish there was also a track overview showing the track and each car’s relative position on it. I know that it’s available to the teams, I wish it was available to the viewer too.
At the race itself, you see the start (breathtaking), and all the cars go past each lap. After a few laps (and certainly after the pit stops start), you lose track of who is where.
In our stand, we could see two giant TV screens, but they were too far away to see the graphics showing race positions. There was commentary from speakers in the grandstand, but the noise of the cars drowned that out.
The sound of an F1 car is deafening. Take earplugs or buy some there or you’ll go deaf! If I go again, I’m going to wear earplugs and ear-protectors (cans). A good set of earphones (the ones with foam or plastic inserts containing a speaker that actually go in the ear canal) would be ideal. Then wear ear protectors (cans) on top of them.
One sound you don’t hear on TV is the bang each car makes as the driver comes off the gas; like a misfire as the engine over-runs and dumps unburned fuel into the exhaust, which then ignites.
Neither of us wanted to leave after the race. We wandered around the track, got to look through the fence at all the motorhomes and the more accessible views of support race enclosures. We also went to the paddock entrance/exit where the stars leave the confines of the track. This for me was one of the highlights.
You get to see various F1 bigwigs, and a few drivers. Imagine a road running between the Paddock car park and the Paddock itself. Spectators get access to the road up to the gate at the end. Beyond the gate is a road that links the Paddock and the car park, each of which as another gate. Some spectators were in the car park too (perhaps they had special access passes).
We were on the road between the car park and the Paddock. The other side of the fence there were a few scooters and some cars. One of the scooters had Chirtian Klien’s name on it. At one point Klien came out of the Paddock, got on his bike and rode off, only to arrive back a short while later.
We saw many F1 people leave the circuit from there, most stopping to give autographs. One of the most generous was Paul Stoddart who came out and spent a good 10 minutes signing and chatting before going back into the paddock.
Ross Brawn left the circuit here too, pulling his own suitcase! I’d have thought he’d have staff for that.
That brings me on to a view I formed at Silverstone. These people, the F1 drivers and other team members seem to me to be just ordinary people; ordinary people just doing an extraordinary job. They still have to pack their bags, turn up to work on time, not upset the boss, and hit their targets. After work they go home, chat about the day’s events to their spouse, have tea, empty the dishwasher, etc. It’s just they’re at the top of their profession. It’s the job they do that makes them special.
When you see them in a crowd of people, if you didn’t recognise them they would be just part of the crowd.
I remember watching the cars coming down the straight then through Copse and up to Maggots, and thinking, “I could do that”.
What makes the average man in the street different from an F1 driver? It’s hard to put into words, but I don’t think there’s much difference between an F1 driver and an ‘ordinary’ person. You have to have ability and talent, for sure, and preferably an early start in the sport, but other than that it’s just mental attitude and environment.
We’re all products of our environments. Put an ‘ordinary’ person who has talent for driving quickly and the right mental attitude in an F1 environment, tell him to act as an F1 driver acts, and do what an F1 driver does, then he’s an F1 driver. What else is there?
Standing on the road, with the Paddock Car Park behind me, there was a green and seating between a building on the left and the Cafe on the right. Beyond it, behind a fence were the motorhomes for Ferrari and to the left of those the Toyota Team kitchens. There was a small pathway running down the side and rear of the building on the left, and Blanche suggested going to see what was there.
As I walked through I could see the back of the Toyota kitchens, and who should be walking through but Michael Schumacher. I stuck the lens of my camera through the fence and snapped this photo. He kissed one of the ladies, then went through the door; probably to find his brother to borrow a couple of quid for his tea.
See what you miss when you go home early!
We were sunburned and tired, but it was a fantastic weekend. We had sacrificed one of foreign holidays to come to Silverstone for the weekend. We wanted to make our first GP a special one so had spent a lot of money, and it was worth every penny. We were sad to leave the circuit; the type of feeling you get when you leave the hotel on holiday, but without the longing for your own bed and bathroom.
I’d like to do it again, but with cheaper tickets. If I won the lottery, I’d do all the races on the F1 calendar. I’d live F1.
But hang on a minute, in less than six weeks I could be in Germany driving an F1 car in a test session. Then, if successful in Germany, I’ll be in a professional race somewhere. Maybe a career in F1 is too much to hope for, but two months ago I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to drive an F1 car either. Meanwhile, I better go and empty the dishwasher.