A blogger’s view trackside at the British Grand Prix

Posted on July 12, 2011

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Watching a Formula One Grand Prix from the trackside has taken my understanding and love of the sport to a whole new level.

Lewis Hamilton flies past the Becketts grandstand in practice one.

Hearing the cars scream past for the first time during Friday practice was extraordinary, even in the damp and wet conditions. An early highlight was seeing Michael Schumacher fly through the Becketts curves during FP1 – despite the track still being wet he hit both apexes perfectly and the speed was phenomenal. We were walking the track at the time and the car was feet away. I properly understand for the first time why the noise has been crucial in the debate over new engines.

Walking the track on the first day was great, visiting several grandstands and just being amongst the thousands of fans. Despite the terrible weather, spirits were high and the circuit was packed by lunchtime, even with no competitive action to look at.

By Saturday morning, excitement was building and we grabbed a spot right on Vale corner for the final practice and qualifying sessions. We were right on the fence and the view of Vale and then the final Club corner was perfect – looking directly over the pit entry as well. With a couple of big screens to watch, and Radio 5Live on a pocket radio,  the setting was perfect. Rain falling just before Q1 added to the excitement.

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton came out to meet the fans after qualifying.

On Saturday afternoon came a fun highlight of the weekend as Vodafone hosted Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on top of their trade stand. Thousands of McLaren fans packed into the area as the pair drove out from the paddock to see their Rocket Red-clad followers, despite coming off the back of a disappointing qualifying session. By now the rain was falling again – unfortunate for the no doubt planned Vodafone advert as everyone covered up under waterproofs and umbrellas. But it was great to see the drivers come out and speak to the fans.

But nothing compared to race day itself. After heading to bed very early, despite the effort of some noisy lunatics with fireworks on the campsite, we roused ourselves at 3.45am. Joining a 100 strong queue at 4.30am might seem mad but it guaranteed we got back a perfect spot on Vale corner for the race. The Vale and Club complex was absolutely packed by 10am with not a spot available – we’d have been stuffed if we arrived in the queue at 8.30am, like the other days. With the early start, we had a clear view of the pit entry and box seats for Hamilton and Felipe Massa’s wheel banging finale.

Walking the grid after the race was a big highlight.

And following the chequered flag was arguably the best hour of the weekend. Despite warnings not to invade the  track, the marshalls threw open the gates and fans surged onto the circuit. From our vantage point we had been able to see the champagne fly but not the podium itself following the support races. Sprinting across the final corner and onto the home straight, we caught the end of the presentation to the winning drivers – and maybe got onto the BBC coverage. Jake Humphrey and the team were positioned right under the podium and fans packed around the fencing chanting for Eddie Jordon. Eventually, they gave into the noise and panned the camera around to the fans.

After that, it was a case of collecting some tyre marbles from the circuit before the obligatory photos on the grid and the start-finish straight. The atmosphere was electric and tens of thousands of fans were packed onto the track. Later, the after-race party saw driver after driver come and see the thousands who stayed behind after the race – before a classic rock tribute band fired up The Chain.

It was a thrilling weekend. We stayed at the excellent Dadford Road campsite from the Thursday afternoon to the Monday morning and would happily return – though maybe hope for better neighbours!

Attending a Grand Prix live is a very different experience to watching on television. Having a radio is a must – even with the plentiful big screens around the Silverstone track, it would be easy to lose track without some kind of commentary. But the whole experience is wonderfully ramped up. Silverstone has an obviously partisan crowd. The sea of Rocket Red caps was a sight to see and there was a huge cheer every time a McLaren came into the Vale/Club complex.

Unforgettable.

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Posted in: Formula One, News