Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Our Weekend at the 2010 British Grand Prix
Don't you hate it when people ask you if you're glad to be back when you've been away somewhere? I do. Especially when I have just come back from the best weekend I have had in years. We went to Silverstone this weekend, my seven year old son Christian and I, and camped with a great group of people at Whittlebury, the first Grand Prix I have attended since the 1999 Belgian round, and the good news is that it was at least as good as I remembered - maybe even the best time I have ever had at any of the seventeen races I have attended.
We left North Wales at 9am on Thursday morning so that we could get there nice and early and get ourselves settled before the rest of the group arrived, I even thought we might have a wander round inside the circuit while it was quiet, only to find that Bernie has now stopped anyone bar VIPs getting anywhere near the place before Friday morning. We had been to Silverstone in May to watch the FIA GT1 World Championship so we knew our way around the new layout, but it would have been nice to have a look around at the teams setting up, but it wasn't to be.
Friday morning Christian was up at 6am, and considering we had had quite a heavy night, coupled with the fact that we were sharing a caravan with my friend Lee, his son, Ben and mutual friends Gez and Phil, this didn't go down especially well, particularly the bit where Christian was using Phil's camp bed as a tunnel to race his toy cars through. Everyone seemed to excuse him because he was obviously so excited, and came out with responses to my apologies like "Don't be silly, one up, all up", it was very noble, but I could see they didn't mean it. We went and met the rest of our group at their motor home, Ronnie and Rhian, Steve and Dawn and their son Liam and the idea (well my idea) was to get into the circuit nice and early, in good seats ready for the 10am start of FP1. After negotiating the session times from a very confusing timetable on the tickets, which displayed everything in Central European time, we sat in the Becketts grandstand and waited for the first car to come out on track.
Christian was absolutely blown away by the sight of the cars that he watches on TV, and also by the noise, for which we needed to go and buy him some headphones, which was a drag because the view of the reconfigured circuit from Becketts is now absolutely fist class. We called back in the afternoon and watched FP2 from the pit straight grandstand, before ending our day at the track with a jug of Pimms, anyone would think it was Wimbledon; mind you had it been Wimbers, I doubt that we would have stolen the Pimms jug when we'd finished (does it count as stealing if you have paid a deposit?).
We spent another good evening on Friday at the pavilion bar, before heading back to the tent for the obligatory nightcap. I left the other three sitting up drinking when I called it a night about 1am, but heard them bouncing off the walls later on, on their way to turn it in for the night. When I woke up on Saturday morning there was an empty litre bottle of Bacardi (other Jamaican white rum is available) on the table outside that I know didn't even have the seal broken when I left them - no wonder I was first up. After a nice leisurely barbecued brekkie we ventured off to the circuit to find somewhere to watch qualifying.
The lads who we were staying with hadn't bought grandstand tickets so we all sat on the bank on the exit of Becketts and watched the Porsche Supercopa qualifying while we waited for F1 to start. We had purposely found a spot which was directly opposite one of the big screens so we could watch the action, but as we found to our frustration, they're great to watch the action, but unless you have binoculars (which of course we didn't) they're useless for the timing side. I began Q1 using the BBC live timing on my Blackberry for reference, but by Q2, I realised that the Twitter app was getting the news out much faster. I had already spotted that Jenson was in big trouble because I could see the green stripes of his option tyres half way through Q2, this was backed up by a tweet by Keith Collantine (F1 Fanatic) who observed that JB was in danger off missing out on the top ten shootout. The groans confirmed our fears, Button had qualified 14th, this wasn't supposed to happen. The rest of qualifying went as expected, Red Bull 1-2, Hamilton had wrung every last ounce of performance from the MP4-25 and put it on the second row.
Shortly after qualifying, news began to filter through about the implosion at Red Bull over “wing gate”, and some of our group saw this as maybe a chink in the armour and perhaps opening the door for a McLaren fight back on Sunday. After yet another barbecue on Saturday evening (I felt like I was on the Atkins diet by Monday) we headed off to the hotel within the grounds of our campsite where some of the drivers were rumoured to be staying, programme in hand, searching for autographs.
A nice security guard came out of the hotel and gave Christian a Ferrari hat, which was nice (although I was cringing with fear that he might proclaim his passion for McLaren – thankfully, he didn’t), and then a buggy turned up with some site staff on it, telling us that David Coulthard, Seb Vettel and Christian Horner were going to be making an appearance at the beer tent on the site at 5.30 to meet the fans and have a pit stop competition. When we arrived at the beer tent, surprise, surprise, Coulthard was there but had brought test driver Daniel Ricciardo along with him, stating that Horner had some management issues to address (I bet he did), and offering no explanation as to why the pole man was not in attendance.
After spending some time there we went back to the hotel where we met loads of other names from the world of F1, who I will tell you about in this week’s instalment of Christian’s Autograph Book (includes a World Champion), and we rounded the day off with pub again and bed.
The masterstroke of buying grandstand tickets paid off massively on Sunday morning as Christian and I didn’t have to rush when the rest of the gang were off to find a bank to watch the race from, and we strolled into the circuit at about 11am. We took up our seats which were dead opposite the McLaren pits, level with the start line, two rows up, just as the Porsche race was about to start, and I was made up to see Nick Tandy not only on pole, but win the race after holding off an early challenge from championship pacesetter Rene Rast. Fellow Briton Shaun Edwards drove the race of the day, battling up from the back of the field into points contention, only to be crudely stopped by compatriot Tim Bridgman. Great news for Tandy though, who after everything he has been through in the last year or so got an unbelievable reception when he mounted the top step of the podium, and I for one came over all emotional for him as he received the national anthem.
The F1 drivers then took to the circuit on a flatbed to wave at the crowd, and then the Red Arrows gave a great display which had the crowd ‘oohing’ and ‘aaghing’, I don’t know if they are much better than they were when I was little or whether I just appreciate it more now (probably the latter).
Then the action started, we watched as Martin Brundle went off with Coulthard for the grid walk, and as the cars went off on the parade lap, and then sat with tears in my eyes in awe of the whole package as the lights came on, and then went out and BANG, it was like an explosion, everyone jumped to their feet and the crowd went absolutely wild as we all realised that Lewis had got the jump on Alonso, another huge cheer half way round the lap when they showed Vettel limping round on the big screen. Everyone was back on their feet as the cars came round at the end of the first lap, willing Lewis (rather naively) to catch Webber, the roar doubled as Jenson came round in 8th.....8th from 14th on the grid, could the first lap have been any better? Further big cheers were heard as Alonso received a drive through, as Jenson drove a remarkable few laps prior to his pit stop to elevate him to within a few seconds of Rosberg, which ended up giving him 4th place, and Vettel’s battle back up through the field to 7th was well received (he could have finished even higher had he not made a meal of trying to get past Sutil).
We went back to the caravan after watching the podium celebrations feeling that it was about as good as we could have hoped for, Webber was a popular winner with Lewis a driving one of the performances of his life to even stay within touching distance for second. Sunday night saw one last Barbie and one last trip to the pavilion bar, where we were delighted to see Spain overcome the disgraceful Dutch hackers.
Next morning we were up early and the dynamic of the group had totally changed, we were all in ‘getting packed up and going home’ mode. It made me feel a bit sad to be honest; we had had an amazing few days, where acquaintances had turned into great friends sharing experiences that will never be forgotten. In some ways the racing becomes secondary to the atmosphere and the experience. If you want to know every strategy detail and sector time, you’re better off staying at home and watching it on TV (I have Sky Plus’d it to make sure I can still enjoy the geeky bits). Christian is still getting over it a few days later, my ears are still ringing from being too tough for ear plugs, but we are definitely going to go back next year, to the same place, with the same people.
If you are thinking of going for the first time, in terms of pure atmosphere, don’t travel in and out by car, it’s all about the camping. Even on Monday after everything had finished Christian didn’t want to leave, in some ways neither did I, it’s like being transported into a fantasy world of things that only usually happen on TV. But I thought we’d better go; as the golfers were ready to turn our campsite back into a driving range, and that wouldn’t be much fun - for us anyway.
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I'll stick the photos on Flickr: ifitsgot4wheels this week.
Coming up this week, an international edition of 'Christian's autograph book, and various other waffle.