It’s said our teenage years are the ones we most fondly remember. As such if you asked somebody what the greatest sporting moment they had was it would most likely be from that same period.
For me that would ring true in F1 terms. First up would be the masterful, otherworldly, talents of Senna at Donington. I’ve hidden it for many years, but 1993 was the year I travelled to England a Prost fan and came home a Senna fan. Admittedly, in the long term, it was a tragic choice. For that one rain soaked day it was majestic. We sat, soaked through, and gazed in awe at the master of his craft making it look so easy.
A close second would be the sound of the Ferrari 412-T1, for very different reasons. Having suffered the loss of Senna at Imola, travelling to Monaco would be a very different experience. I remember standing, numb, as we stared down at the Brazilian and Austrian flags painted on the front row of the grid. There’s a picture of me on pole somewhere. I looked broken. I was. Up until one glorious moment stood on the hills of the Principality.
I’ll never forget that howl. The ferocity. The visceral feel we felt as THAT Ferrari barked into life in the pitlane below. It felt like a wild animal was about to be unleashed on the streets. I stood there, wide eyed, and soon to be deaf as Jean Alesi took control of this beast and unleashed it. It was also the weekend where Andrea de Cesaris took his Jordan Hart from 14th to P4, but it was the Ferrari that revived my love of F1 that weekend.
These are the moments we carry with us as we get older. Moment that can’t be forgotten no matter how often others try to tell us things are better than they were. All of that said, I went into Silverstone GP weekend with an open mind, and blinkers for the Merchandise stands.
I still wasn’t ready for it though. I wasn’t ready for an F1 car to sneak up on me. Don’t get me wrong, come race day the sound of the pack jostling for position early on was raucous. Thunderous if not earth shattering. The thing is though you only really hear a modern F1 car as it surges past you at incredible speed, and if there is one thing that’s impressive about 2017 F1 cars it’s that corner speed.
We tried several positions, and settled on the exit of Becketts. The corner speeds were phenomenal, as was the positioning of Lewis Hamilton compared to the others. His eagerness to get the car straightened early on, to pick up the throttle in the process. He looked imperious on the exit, sacrificing speed early in the Maggots/Becketts complex to do so, but the Mercedes only sounded impressive as it surged past us at warp speed. These modern F1 cars are very different animals. Impressive, but they don’t assault you in a way an F1 car used to.
We headed down to Copse to chill out, have a slight debrief, and enjoy F2 and GP3. Both of these sounded measurably better than the F1 cars, and the simplicity of the front wing on the F2 is something F1 should consider, especially if the offset is those sweet tunnels that almost have a Jordan 191 look about them. Nostalgia my friend. Nostalgia everywhere.
Eventually I got over my bias for mid 90s V12s. Mostly because the track action was over and we were off to the camp sites. I’ve seen Silverstone costings bemoaned before on social media but having a thing for music festivals and gigs there are worse ways you could burn through €600 than spend it having four days of craic with Motorsport, Music & (Incriminating confession deleted). No seriously. The funny thing about this weekend was that the racing almost became secondary.
There are a lot of great events on all weekend. The camp site alone had two festival style tents that ran music all night, from live bands to silent disco. Even big screen showings of Tennis (If you’re into that kind of thing) and Senna the Movie. Thankfully I was talked out of the Rock-aoke and Chili eating contest. I would have owned Pearl Jam – Alive, man.
Having rocked out on Friday night, Saturday morning, we needed to get it together for Saturday so we dragged ourselves out of the tent to get a massive breakfast roll before hitting the track. Cholesteroltastic, but at 6 quid who cares.
I’m not going to lie. Q1 was the highlight of my weekend. No question. 10/10. It started dry but clouds were gathering. We were now down at Luffield/Woodcote. Things got emotional. We were lucky to get some spots beside a Hamilton fan and his kid. At this stage, a few of us are on song so other fans were joining in the banter as we went. I make the call early on that they should be queuing up to exit the pitlane and “if I was calling it” (Billy big bollox at that stage) “Should be inters”.
Massive kudos then when Red Bull nailed it early doors while Mercedes and Ferrari struggle on slicks. “You called it, mate. You called it” These guys were great. A dad and his kid just eager for F1. I loved it and I tried to tell the kid as much as I could. From early on, when the cars were running wide lines in Luffield, in the wet, to late on when it started to dry and the drivers began to move back to the apex. The window for slicks opened late on. It was going to be close, myself and his dad reckoned. Would need about two minutes to make it work. Track would be treacherous. Transition from wet to dry would be incredibly greasy around Silverstone. Would be a gamble but would be worth it for somebody with massive balls.
And then it happened. Alonso in the pits. “Damn. He’s cutting it close”. Leaves the box at 1:47. We watched. We desperately waited. “Has he made it?” “I think so”.
“Why is he even bothering” Cue many Days of Thunder “Change my tyres” gags. (Yes. It was that kind of weekend) I lost it. I couldn’t even pretend to play it cool. He looked absolutely on it as he passed us. Over 2 seconds up. I let out a roar. A voice in the background tells me it’s only the P14 reference. (Dan trying to keep me grounded)
“Don’t ruin this on me, Dan!!!” The group around me laughs.
I’m all in. This is it. My boy’s about to rock out in P1.
We watch. We wait. The screens show us a McLaren on an absolute knife edge as he heads through Maggots and Becketts. I am pumped.
Then BOOM. P1. I turn a let roar. So does the grandstand. Expletives let fly (Sorry Dan)
Half the grandstand are bemused by my actions. The other not sure if I’ve just cursed at them.
Either way, I didn’t care. The greatest talent of the modern F1 era just showed how much of a monster he is and I loved every second of it. There was no reason for him to do it. No benefit to be gained. Only to prove that he could. To show that, on every other weekend, he’s wasted in that McLaren Honda. Forget Hybrids. Forget Halos. Bring me a Formula 1 that puts Fernando Alonso within a sniff of beating the rest of the grid and he delivers.
Back to the Hamilton fans and they’ve come back from a break. The dad asks me. “My son wants to know what your favourite driver is.” The guys beside me (Kimi fans) start to laugh. I tell him it’s Alonso and he seems happy enough. Qualifying is happening in the background and all I want to do is talk to this father and son about F1. The kids like a sponge. Absolutely loving it. Especially when Hamilton takes the inevitable pole. I tell them where to go to get some great fish and chips and how to find the F1 fanzone from there. Qualifying ends and our group heads off to kick up our heels by the lighthouse. Shortly after I see the pair arrive to get fish and chips before heading off to the fanzone. Job done.
We rest up on the banks of Wellington straight during the F2 race before we head off to the Festival part of the weekend again. At this point I should point out that the showers at the camp site were a welcome addition. Second wind giving I’d say. Obviously at this point we stock up on our own supplies. Two suggestions if you plan on spending a weekend at Silverstone. Try to avoid spending all your money on drink and merchandise. Answers on a postcard as to which is worse but, pro-tip, bring your own.
The option was there to head back in to the fanzone in the circuit, but we knew the lay of the land from the night before. No goes on the catapult. No goes on the spinning arm. Straight to the VR Formula 1 arcade, the cheap merchandise stands and then out for some quality tunes. Come 5-6am it’s probably not looking such a good idea. We queue to get in on Sunday morning. Yes, even that early. We’re told that some in front of us queued from 2am. Others from 8pm the previous night. Clearly enjoying the camping facilities wasn’t high on their priorities.
We’d got all the supplies we need, flags included, and we set up for raceday. Except when you’re up that early a power nap is essential. So we take one. Afterwards we realise that the guy standing in front of us hasn’t got a chair. Another fan is trying to tell him to move and he’s having none of it. Up steps one of us (Dan) and it’s game over. Chancer now moved we’re back to the racing. Or so we think. Moments later comes the first request. “Move the flag”. Followed by a quick “No”. Backed up by the fans behind us who couldn’t see it if we lowered it and the Ferrari fans who had gathered behind us and were using it as a beacon to contact their friends and let them know where to go in the sea of Hamilton fans. If you were wondering if the London no show harmed Hamilton’s relationship with HIS fans it really didn’t. Silverstone was all about Hamilton and the fans cheered every time they saw him.
We were having other issues. Again the call came “Lower the flag or take it down”. Again we refused. Nobody behind us would see then. And it’s 6 metres up anyway. When eventually I say I can’t take it down because It’s cable tied to the seat and I don’t have the snips this doesn’t go down well. When the others return and I can get up I go and hunt down the Steward with the issue. I’m not taking the flag down and he now claims it’s blocking the stand. I get him to bring me to the stand where the issue is and I can see the problem. This stand (Disabled) has only one view and it’s the apex of the corner where our flag is. Initially they’re receptive to the idea of me putting the flag on the stand, but (Because they’ve obviously forgotten it’s the only red one) when they see the Ferrari crest things get frosty. Yes. I’m surrounded by Hamilton fans. I convince them it’s a flag from the Schumacher era, show them my Schuey top, and we’re good to go.
Flag sorted, we’re good to enjoy the race. While STR are busy imploding, Daniel Ricciardo is busy carrying on like he’s playing F1 in easy mode. Driver of the day for us, and especially Dan’s Fantasy Formula 1 team. It wouldn’t have bothered me had the Ferraris not lunched their front lefts within a lap of each other. Predictably enough then Hamilton took the hattrick. Pole, win, fastest lap.
Not deterred we head for the main straight. Time to get through the gates and out on to the circuit for the podium. Hey, Kimi’s there so were in with the flag. Except this fact has obviously escaped the attention of the “Hamilton fan” that waited beside us at the gates. As we lower the flag the bravado starts. “That’s right lower the flag”. “I have to it won’t clear the gate.” Failing at his first attempt he notices we have matching campsite bracelets and threatens to “Burn down your tent”. Classy guy. We move on from the moron and out on to the track. This is deep into Hamilton country. He owns the place in that moment. The fans flock eventually because strangely enough the organisers don’t allow us on track until the drivers are announced on the podium. Surely that would work better as a spectacle the other way around.
Shout out to the guys we met that knew we were from Motorsport.ie. Apologies for not having a top with us at that point. Being on that main straight was a crazy experience. From the crowd surfing Hamilton to the fans fainting at the pit wall it was pretty intense. This place had all the feel of a rock concert.
After we’d managed to get down and see the Mercedes celebrations and Billy Monger we decided to haul ass back to the campsite. On the way back we heard more chants of “Lewis. Lewis”. Different this time so we turned back for a look. Behind us, decked out in full Ferrari gear, was a kid and his dad. The kid was rocked a bit so we waited for him. “It’s alright kid. We’ve got your back” Flag still waving high. That was all he needed. He fired back at his taunters “VETTEL” “VETTEL” and walked off alongside us, chuffed to bits.
We had a great time at Silverstone. Oddly enough the racing seemed almost secondary. It was great to see a new generation of fan emerging. Yeah, it made us feel a bit old. This group don’t care about the sound. They didn’t have to constantly wear ear protectors. They could engage in conversation with us which wasn’t possible decades ago trackside. Yet I feel like we’re the lucky ones. The ones that got to experience Formula 1 at its loudest, fiercest, most unapologetic. Formula 1 is developing a new fanbase and offering an extensive experience when it comes to off track activities, but somewhere in amongst all that the soul of the beast has changed.