From the stands: British Grand Prix

I’ll remember this year’s British Grand Prix as the first ever F1 race I visited. Even casual fans have heard of the calamitous weather that struck Silverstone and much of the UK last weekend, so clearly it wasn’t the most optimal start to my fanaticism.

Still, it was a fantastic experience, and a trip I can absolutely reccommend to any Formula 1 fan.

I thought I would describe my experiences at the circuit with a more detailed than usual article, possibly to serve as advice for first-time spectators next year.

Friday

We (me and my dad) stayed in Northampton for the weekend, taking a bus from the bus station at 8 every morning. Sounds simple enough, right?

Not so on Friday. After spending nearly an hour in a seemingly endless traffic jam, one man told the bus driver to turn off the motorway, and take the back roads instead. It worked, and half an hour later we were trudging our way through mud to the circuit.

We had turned off a few metres before the end of the junction, and if we had stayed on the main road, we would have been caught in the infamous 6-hour jam that caught up thousands of fans, and even some F1 personnel. Disaster avoided by millimetres.

The classic F1 cars are a different world compared to modern machines

The classic F1 cars are a different world compared to modern machines

We arrived at the circuit slightly late, and my first hearing of an F1 car was over half a mile away from the track. It wasn’t any bit quieter though, as the screaming V8 engines rattled the insides of my eardrums (note: you must bring earplugs). The sound is something you can never get used to – as it approaches, it’s innocently quiet(ish), but as it blasts past, the exhausts blast out 18000 rpm of unbridled screaming. Awesome stuff.

For Practice 1, we sat at Woodcote corner, which was excellent for watching the cars accelerate out of Luffield, and power all the way down to Copse. As a budding amateur photographer, I moved down to the standing section at the bottom of the grandstand, but after a few minutes was asked to move back by the stewards. In hindsight, I was probably blocking someone’s view!

The F1 cars did limited running on Friday, but it doesn’t seem that way from the spectator’s point of view. As long as there’s a few cars out on track, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. We watched GP2 practice and Historic F1 from the same spot, and moved on after lunch.

One of my favourite shots from Friday

One of my favourite shots from Friday

For Practice 2, we moved on to the International Pit Straight. FP2 was notable for having very little on-track action, but again we were entertained, this time by the entire grandstand, aided by the Club stand, performing half-mile mexican waves during the wait. The Marussia mechanics eventually came out of their garage, and applauded us for keeping up the atmosphere.

Kamui Kobayashi was a joy to watch – he threw his Sauber around the corners lap after lap, and earned himself a cheer every time he went around. By far the bravest of the drivers in very challenging conditions, and I’ve earned a lot more respect for him.

In terms of traffic, it was by far the worst day. Once back in the hotel, we heard about the horror stories of being stuck in 8-hour jams, and of F1 engineers not being able to get to the track. It’s a complete joke – no matter how much Richard Phillips pretends to apologise, his organisation of the race was a farce, and he must be held accountable. This has been going on for years, and fan facilities are still on par with something you’d see at Glastonbury.

Saturday

Alonso and Hamilton battle it out - the best moment from the weekend

Alonso and Hamilton battle it out – the best moment from the weekend

For Saturday, we started off back at Woodcote, as we got held up in traffic again, and had to run to the nearest grandstand before Saturday practice began. We saw Sergio Perez run wide onto the grass (missed by the cameras I think), and plenty more on-track activity.

For qualifying, we made the brave choice to move to an open grandstand at Stowe – a very bad call from myself. Within minutes of Q2 we were completely soaked, and with no umbrella between us, we hid underneath the scaffolding of the stand, as it’s design allowed us (and some marshals!) to shelter from the rain.

This went on for far too long

This went on for far too long

With the red flag thrown, it was a miserable hour-long wait for the sky to clear. Listening to the chatter on Radio Silverstone was entertaining enough, but soon lost its charm. We raced over to Club corner, and somehow found the last 2 seats in the covered area, a spot of magnificent luck.

Even better was the sights we saw in the rest of qualifying. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso went wheel-to-wheel battling for clear track, and Alonso shoved his way around the outside of the McLaren – an absolutely fantastic and unnecessary move.

Colletti goes thundering through the standing water

Colletti goes thundering through the standing water

Nico Rosberg went clattering into the gravel, soon followed by Romain Grosjean, who was beached and ended his day prematurely. Hamilton earned a roar of support every time he went past, but it wasn’t enough for him to challenge the frontrunners. I was very impressed by Webber’s pace, but ultimately Alonso was deservedly on pole.

We stayed put for GP2, which started under the safety car. This went on for far too long, as the track was visibly drying before racing got underway. Luckily, the next two safety car appearances only lasted for a lap each, so it didn’t slow down the action too much. Luiz Razia was very impressive, passing many cars right in front of us. Fabio Lemer was well in control of the race, and should have won, but unfortunately strategy ruined his day.

There was nearly a nasty crash when Stefano Colletti plowed straight through the standing water on the grass, and nearly clashed with another car on the exit of the corner. Luckily, he regained control of the car and continued on.

GP3 was viewed from Abbey corner, which I wouldn’t reccommend as much as the others. It’s not bad, but you only can see the beginning of the Village sequence, and can’t even see down the pit straight or even half of the pit lane, as half of it is lowered.

The race was relatively uneventful, aside from one wheel-to-wheel battle, when it occurred to me how insanely close these cars were battling. You have to see it with your own eyes to understand how brilliant these drivers are, to not smash their cars into the barriers at every pass.

Sunday

Paul di Resta had another off on Lap 2, unknown to the cameras

Paul di Resta had another off on Lap 2, unknown to the cameras

Despite the doomsday reports from Sky News, the weather stayed put, and the traffic somehow managed to calm itself. It was lucky for both the fans and Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips – another farce like Friday and he would have been forced to step down.

We had grandstand tickets in Becketts, one of the finest corners in modern F1. The views are unbeatable – you can see all of Becketts, the Village sequence, the Wellington straight and even a tiny bit of Stowe. There was a screen opposite the corner, and staying tuned to Radio Silverstone kept us in the loop.

In the GP2 sprint race, there was very nearly a horrible accident. After one of the Marussia Manor cars got beached on a kerb, the marshals ran out to move the car, but astoundingly the safety car wasn’t called out. Another car approached the corner, and in his haste to slow down, span and nearly wiped out everyone involved. Far too close a call.

In the F1 race, Felipe Massa earned a cheer for holding off Sebastian Vettel through Becketts. Lewis Hamilton did extremely well in his first stint, staying with the frontrunners despite being on inferior tyres. Taking the lead for a solitary lap, as well as duelling with Alonso again, was a joy to watch.

Paul di Resta had a puncture, as seen on TV, but his second lap after his pit stop was even more dramatic. He spun halfway through Becketts, and limped back to the pits, his race well and truly over.

Hamilton and Button applaud the fans

Hamilton and Button applaud the fans

The first half of the race was a complete blur, with passes and overtakes enough to keep us all entertained. The second half was less exciting, but the strategic battle up front was mesmerising. Webber and Alonso thrashed their cars in and out of Becketts lap after lap, the gap changing by milliseconds every time.

Eventually, Webber pushed his way into the lead with a few laps to go, earning another roar of approval from the crowd. Personally I would have preferred an Alonso victory, but Webber is fine too!

Afterwards, the marshals let everyone onto the track after half an hour, after they had a chance to clear up fire extinguishers from their posts – or so they told us. Many I heard from were disappointed they couldn’t get in sooner, and were unable to watch the podium celebrations. Still, we walked part of the track, and picked up some tyre marbles as souvenirs. They’re really odd to look at, being shredded bits of rubber and all, but it was nice to keep a bit of an F1 car with us.

Review

It was a fantastic weekend, and I can reccommend the trip for anyone, but this track isn’t without its downfalls. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulous circuit, and a joy to see and hear the cars, but the surrounding infrastructure is absuloutely pathetic.

Being one of the greatest racing tracks, I’d love to push it as the one and only racing venue to go to, but European F1 circuits are so much more modernised and accessible. Walking to the track – everyone has to do it, no matter how you get there – is a shambles, with more mud than anything else. Tiny sections had temporary walkways, but that was it. You’d find better organisation at a garden fete.

If you”re going to go, dress like you’re going to Glastonbury, and I’m not joking. I wore normal shoes, and left the track every day completely soaked as a result. Wellies are in the majority at Silverstone, not the tiny minority like I initially thought.

Once you get past the rubbish infrastructure, it’s an unforgettable experience, though. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Advice

  • Wear boots or wellies for footwear. Nothing else will do.
  • Earplugs may not be 100% necessary, depending on your sensitivity and where you’re standing, but you can’t leave such a massive risk. Bring plenty of spares, as you may need to loan out some as well.
  • If you’re looking at taking decent-quality photos, take a telephoto lens with at least 150mm of focal length. I used a Sigma 70-300 DG for all my photos, and they came out much better than I would have expected. I brought a 50mm prime as well, but had no use for it.
  • For grandstands, I reccommend Club or Becketts as my favourites. Close behind is the International Pit Straight. All of these have the great atmosphere, views, and sound that you would expect. Stowe is good for only one corner – you can’t see down to Club.
  • Avoid the food around the track. You can probably tell why.
  • Bring coats and umbrellas, no matter how good the weather looks, we’re talking about British weather here!
  • Enjoy yourself, this may be a once in a lifetime experience, and you’ll want to get the most out of it. For Friday and Saturday, pick some grandstands, and watch the cars fly by. For Sunday, if you’re using a General Admission ticket, there’s still a few good spots even at 9 or 10 in the morning, so keep an eye out. The Hangar Straight is extremely close to the track, and fairly scant of supporters compared to other corners.
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