British GP Silverstone 2010

British GP Silverstone 2010
Hamilton gets pushed to the second row ready to start the British GP

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

How it all began: Part 2

After Spa in ’86 (and having spent the early hours in tears after Mansell’s Australian GP puncture – where he lost the title at the final round), our next F1 adventure would come a year later with another coach tour, this time to Hockenheim, to watch the German Grand Prix. My recollection of this trip is even cloudier; I remember that it was won by Nelson Piquet and that we had watched from the stadium section at the end of the lap. When we returned home from the race and watched the highlights, you could quite clearly make me out, wandering around the concrete steps towards the end of the race, the stand looking remarkably empty, I looked bored, that was probably because I’d been spoilt at Spa and Mansell was not winning this one. In the years following on from this, we started to take a tent and then a caravan and make weekends of it; we did Silverstone in ’88, followed by, in no particular order, a few trips to Le Mans, some more visits to Spa, lots of British Grands Prix and lots of national racing at Oulton Park. I have some wonderful memories of our travels, seeing Senna dominate in the wet, both at Silverstone in ’88 and his now legendary drive through the field in the European Grand Prix at Donington, and was in the Silverstone paddock at a Formula 3000 meeting watching a visibly shaken David Coulthard being interviewed about a possible Williams drive on the day the great man lost his life. I was at the Northamptonshire circuit to see not just Coulthard, but also Mansell, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill win their home race. I watched on a large screen at Pouhon as more than half of the cars piled up at Spa on the run down to Eau Rouge in ’98, allowing Hill to lead a historic Jordan 1-2, Halcyon days indeed.
Seven years prior to the Hill victory, in the days when F1 and its protagonists were accessible to its audience, my Dad and I were in the pit lane at Spa on the Thursday before the race, and my Dad called to Eddie Jordan, asking who would be replacing Bertrand Gachot, who had been incarcerated in the UK for a mace spray attack on a London cabbie, EJ replied that he wasn’t at liberty to say, but that it was a young German; we assumed it would be Heinz-Harald Frentzen, we were wrong, it was of course, Michael Schumacher, who went on to qualify seventh, only to succumb to a clutch failure on the first tour. I realise how this story may, to more contemporary F1 spectators, seem romanticised at best, but it was a totally different ball game then, Ferrari were seen as unfriendly because they had a tarpaulin over their cars in the garage. You could wander around the garages of most teams on a Wednesday and Thursday, I had many pictures taken sat in F1 cars of the era, in their pit garages. The paddocks were totally accessible, we would have to dodge the back of the trucks as they backed up to the garages, and then sit and watch them be unloaded and washed, it only really changed about the time that Bernie Ecclestone tightened his grip on the F1 purse strings with the ’97 Concorde Agreement. I didn’t realise at the time just how lucky I was, my Dad loved it as much as I did, we spent ten days one year between World Sportscars at the Nurburgring and F1 at Spa, we camped two years in a row on the outside of the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans, and joined the hordes invading the track to welcome Martin Brundle et al home in the Silk Cut liveried Jaguar. Looking back, if I had to pick a favourite memory, it would almost certainly be the first race I saw at Spa, I was only six, a year younger than Christian will be when I take him this year. My Dad was taken too young, just weeks after Christian was born, and I only hope I can do as much to help him enjoy it as my Dad did for me. Mansell and Hill have been replaced by Hamilton and Button, the tickets have seen inflation that the Zimbabwean Finance Minister would deem excessive, but the bond between a Father and his Son, is timeless.

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