Monday, 7 July 2014

A Non-Fan's & Fan's Guide to the Formula 1 British Grand Prix: Three Days At Silverstone

by Tim Bustin

I am not a sports fan. That is to say, I can’t watch more than five minutes of any sport, be it football, tennis, water polo, Quidditch etc, without my thoughts wandering to where my nearest cyanide pill might be. But for some reason this is different for Formula 1 – it is the only sport I am able and willing to follow, and have done for 6-7 years now (ever since Lewis Hamilton arrived on the scene).

The drama and excitement (to a non-fan I recommend the film Rush to explain this perfectly) of watching the world’s most expensive and innovative sport is compelling, as the greatest drivers experience stupefying G forces and battles of concentration and wits, all in the hunt for the ultimate prize. So when my 18th birthday weekend just so happened to coincide with the British Grand Prix, and it just so happened to be the 50th anniversary of it being held at Silverstone, and this year is the first year since 2008 that Hamilton has a chance at winning the world championship, there were far too many coincidences for my parents to not pay the gazillion or so pounds it cost for a couple of tickets for the British Grand Prix.

Part One: Friday – Exploring Silverstone, “free” entertainment and F1 practise

I left on the Friday (with my dad driving, thank goodness), early in the morning, which was good really because the main road to Silverstone was closed and we had to take an irritating half hour detour. When we finally arrived at the “car park” (a great big bloomin’ field!), it was to find that a joyous 25 minute bus ride (note the intense sarcasm) still stood between us and the actual venue itself. So, one joyous 25 minute bus ride later, we finally stepped through the gates, past the board that immortalised all the previous British winners of this Grand Prix and, with the calling rumble of motor engines growing ever louder in our ear drums, we walked towards the track itself.

The pit straight (after being invaded by fans)

As I’ve said, I have watched Formula 1 for a fair number of years now. This was the first time however that I had really seen F1 cars up close and in action – they seemed to glide through the circuit in a flash of reds, silver and blues, and to elegantly drift past each corner with the upmost ease (though I knew their speeds were ridiculous, and the G forces close to unbearable whenever their velocity changed). It was really a sight to behold, and for a few moments I was simultaneously grinning and speechless.

Five minutes later and I was bored. I mean, you’ve seen one car you’ve seen them all really. The thing was, Friday for F1 is dedicated to the practice sessions (Saturday is qualifying, Sunday is race day), which is really just cars going round in a big circle for an hour and a fricking half (there are also 3 practice sessions – because if you weren’t nearly dead bored already). So we decided to do other things. Luckily, there were other things! (insert rejoice here). First on the agenda, my dad had the spectacular idea of walking around the entire circuit of 3.6 miles. The entire circuit. Of 3.6 miles. This was of course an amazing mistake, not least due to the pain of walking (where we were endlessly tormented by the cars zooming past, covering an entire lap before we’d done 300m) but mostly because it all looked exactly the same. Allow me to describe it. On one side as you walk is a grey racetrack, and because you’re on too small a scale you can barely tell the difference in it as you walk past. On the other side is the conquering forces of commercialism, selling everything, from programmes to radios, from McLaren shirts to Hamilton Hats, from “Divine Burgers” to “Lebanese Street Food” (all this and more is worryingly true).  And ahead of you is the wonderful British public, slow and slightly drunk as always, and with the incredible aptitude for always getting in your way, as if the whole thing was just one big queue to them. And this continued for 3.6 miles.


One thing I noticed when walking around (except my grumbling) was this: F1 fans get along. On my travels, I saw mostly Mercedes and McLaren support (for Brits Hamilton and Jenson Button respectively) and annoying some Red Bull/Sebastian Vettel supporters, but there were smatterings of shirts for the Williams team, and people with caps bearing the Force India, or Sauber logo (I suppose someone has to). But no-one fights each other, no one argues. It is not like football, not like many sports. Everyone respects each other’s choices. Then again, there are only 11 teams and 22 drivers in F1 to support, so maybe this is to be expected.

I was tempted to watch part of the still ongoing F1 practise, as test driver Susie Wolff was going to drive her Williams car in the practice session, and hence become the first woman to take part in an F1 race weekend with over 20 years. However, she got one lap in before the car experienced a failure, so instead we made our way to the F1 village (and my dad made his way to the nearest coffee stand), where Eddie Jordan’s rock band would later be playing (he plays drums! :D ) but for now there was also much other entertainment. The entertainment was advertised as free, but I soon discovered this was a big fat lie. I eventually decided to spend my money on the “Jenson Button 5-D Driving Experience” (yep, 5-D – one can only assume they employed the use of string theory to nab that extra dimension). It was shaky and painful and I’m never doing it again. The miniature F1 go-karts looked adorable (it looked just like F1 Race Stars, if anyone’s ever played that), and I had a go on the free simulator. This was basically the most recent F1 PS3 game set to the Silverstone track, but you controlled it with pedals and a steering wheel. In preparation for my Silverstone visit, I had delved back into my F1 2010 game (for the first time since 2010) in order to learn the track. So on this “simulator” I felt confident and was determined to win.
I didn’t win. I crashed, spun, destroyed my car into a thousand little tiny pieces, and I think maybe even killed a spectator or two. Kinda forgot they’d changed where the pit straight was. So yeah. Moving swiftly on, after exhausting all the free entertainment, my dad and I went to go find seats at the pit straight (we could sit anywhere on Friday and Saturday). F1 Practice had ended, but there was now other motorsport events. A Silverstone 50th anniversary parade lap featuring some classic cars was interesting, and featured some big names such as Martin Brundle, designer Adrian Newy and David Coulthard driving some of the cars. Then began the GP2 qualifying. To those who don’t know (like me four days ago) GP2 is the level of motor racing below Formula 1 (next is GP3).

Such tyre, much choice - Wow!
Now, this bit is important. To you, all the asinine morons out there who are complaining this year that Formula 1 cars are too quiet – what in God’s name is wrong with your lives!? GP2 was enormously loud, to the point where every thought in my brain was squashed to a pulpy death by the sheer volume emanating from each car. The Formula 1 cars are Goldilocks loud this year – quiet enough so you don’t bleed to death through your ears, and loud enough to still feel the energy of the machines. Quit complaining.
Anyway, I had no idea who any of the drivers were in GP2, GP3 or the Porsche Supercup were, so interest and the day died, and we made it home in reasonable time due to the closed road being opened. Saturday, and the F1 qualifying were just one short sleep away.

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