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Monday, July 23, 2012

Silverstone Reflections: a Life in Puddles

Having emerged from the Silverstone Ooze like a wet, slow moving version of Flint Marko I only just about remembered that there was a race at Hockenheim yesterday.

Traumatised, elated, soaked and sunburned I'm still getting my head around the wonderful Silverstone experience.

I've said before that I'd been there for testing in the past but the GP experience is like nowhere else on the calendar that I've been.  For one thing all of the guys noticed that there were a large number of females and also a large number of families at the circuit.

My F1 GP live experience is limited but I have to say that all of the fans I met were knowledgeable of the sport and eager for the action, regardless of the torrential weather that we had during Qualifying.  They all came dressed for whatever weather happened and faced it cheerfully.  One couple I met had brought their 3 month old who slept through the engines and the rain in blissful ignorance at the activity around him.

We queued for 7 hours on Friday to get in.  Someone had opened the exit lanes to inward traffic and everything snarled up, nobody was going anywhere.  Caught up in the mess were Mercedes team members, stage lighting crews and their equipment, ordinary punters like us, BRDC members, and nobody was in control.  The staff hired for the weekend had walkie talkies that didn't work, their supervisor had decided that he had somewhere else to be (no doubt under the nearest rock), and the Police were powerless to effect any control over private lands in the absence of a formal request.

On Friday, except for one small observation, we might have been in Italy such was the lack of any coordination on the part of the circuit.  The thing that differentiated Silverstone from Italy was the good grace that those queueing showed: Patience was the most evident of the seven virtues while Charity, Temperance and Kindness were also on show.

So we cheerfully waited...and waited...and waited...until word came down from the uninformed that the car parks were closed as was our campsite.  The word was that we should go home and return tomorrow even though Twitter was saying not to come on Saturday either.

The best example of exactly how uncoordinated the circuit was came courtesy of Silverstone Radio who cheerfully broadcast all day without referring to we stranded many sitting on the doorstep waiting to come in.  It broadcast no traffic updates and no information as to when people might expect to access the circuit.

The real fun began when Free Practice was over and all those inside decided it was time to go home...

Eventually, after discussing things with a helpful motorcycle cop, we turned around and headed away from the circuit.  We decided to find an "alternative" entrance and so travelled down narrow B roads to come at the circuit from the Dadford side.  Traffic was streaming away from the circuit along this road as all other roads in were blocked by incoming traffic and we came upon an entrance to our campsite.

Security there told us that the campsite was closed and we were to head for a different campsite about a mile further away from the circuit, we nodded cheerful, told them we'd find somewhere to turn around and ventured closer to the circuit.

On reaching the main entrance to our campsite we parked up indiscriminately and walked to the office where we were greeted with the first, official, friendly smiles of the day, issued our passes, and told to find a pitch; so much for the campsite being closed!

We got back into the car and parked easily in a car park (which wasn't closed) one minute's walk from the pitch, unpacked the gear, set up camp, and walked into the circuit at 7pm.

The long day had seen people abandoning their cars and camping at random, in some cases on the roundabout at the entrance to the circuit.

Friday night we went out socialising in the campsite entertainment venues and met many others who had similar experiences.

Friday was a total mess.

But it was all forgotten on Saturday on hearing the first engine note, on entering the circuit with the expectation that comes on an F1 weekend.  The weather was horrible, the rain torrential during Qualifying, but none of this dampened our spirits.  The red flag in Qualifying gave me a great chance to walk the track and visit Becketts, Copse, Luffield, Brooklands and Club.

It's amazing how turned around you can get when small changes are made at the circuit.  My internal circuit compass kept pointing me towards the old Main Grandstand Area after the Complex but these days its the new improved International Pits Straight after Club.

Soaked through I completed my lap just as Qualifying resumed.  The rain stopped, the sun came out, and everyone shrugged off the wet gear and spread it out (in confined spaces) to dry as we watched the drivers eke out a desperate dry line during Q3.

My wet gear membrane had given up somewhere on my trackwalk having been subjected to downpours worthy of Noah's age so, having divested myself of it, and hung it on my backpack to dry I watched, wet, warm, mucky and steaming as the positions were finalised.

I recalled Peter Maynard's (@grandprixphotographs) advice in respect of either being a photographer or a spectator.  Sorry Peter, I'm afraid I had to soak up this one as a pure spectator.   Though I have to admit to taking some photos these were simply for fun and, let's face it, very amateurish.

We enjoyed the GP2 and GP3 at the complex and the Historic F1 at Club before heading back to the sodden campsite for the evening.  Another night out in the entertainment area, bed at 4.30am having met up with friendly faces, and Sunday, with all of its promise, was on the horizon.

We struck camp on Sunday and headed into the circuit.  We had missed the morning due to the lateness of the night before and the need to pack up.  The morning before we had been woken be the insistent noise of a digger's reverse hazard noise as it scraped the wet muck from the road beside our tent to provide some type of traction to traffic, on Sunday he wasn't doing his job.

It was too late for most campers, we were the mud people, our clothes so dirty that they would need to be disposed of after the weekend.  Our tents reeked of damp, our camp was waterlogged, but our spirits high; we were like the peanuts character Pig Pen, attracting dirt from the moment we set up camp on Friday to the moment the sun broke through on Sunday.

And what a Sunday! What a race! Apart from getting sunburned we experienced one of the great battles Alonso V Webbo.  Now I have to say that I was in the Webber camp urging him on and cheering till my voice gave out when he made that wonderful pass to take the lead.  We sprinted out to the podium, just too late for the celebrations but not too late to take pictures of the crowd, the track, the obligatory pole position shot, the Marbles photo, the photo of random officials behind the pitwall wire.  We had a great weekend which culminated with the red button forum and afterwards, a sneaky visit to the pits as the teams packed up.

There we sneaked shots of the Mercedes, the Ferrari, Williams, and Caterham before security decided we should be ejected.  Sadly the McLaren and the Red Bull teams hid their garages from our prying eyes but we departed cheerfully, feeling that we had experienced all that was possible (bar of course sneaking into the paddock on Saturday) on a GA ticket.

On another worthwhile note I'd have to say that, unlike other circuits, the prices for food/drink/coffee etc. were not extortionate which is all the more impressive when you consider that it is a private GP and receives no Government Subsidy.