Manchopper Goes F1 Racing!

A special Manchopper this one, as I recap my trip to Silverstone & the British Grand Prix. It was my first time making the pilgrimage to the event, or indeed any Formula 1 GP, which is something of a sin considering I have followed the sport for as long as I can remember, and supported one man intensely since 2001. That man is the enigmatic “Iceman”, Kimi Raikkonen. More on him later….

Anyway, after kindly getting a lift to the Shudehill Interchange at Manchester City Centre from my Dad at about 05.40, I was soon waiting in a queue of, some may so nuts, fans waiting for a small fleet of Megabus’ that would take us to the Northamptonshire racetrack. After being in the queue near a guy who had his top off for some reason, I soon boarded the non-WiFi rental Coach, and we set off.

The first segment of the trip towards the Stoke/Burton area seemed to go very quickly, so I can only imagine I had dozed off despite the noise blaring into my ears via earphones and we stopped off for a much needed break at a service station near Cannock. From here, I bought my refreshments (which turned out to be for the day) of Cool Original Doritos, a small box of Fruit Pastilles and an Irn-Bru (it’s made from girders yano), and we were on our way after a “Welcome Break” of 45 minutes. See what I did there?

After another couple of hours (about 3 in total from departure to arrival) we started to spot signs directing various F1 guests and personnel to various sections where they were meant to go. Then, after turning into a roundabout just after seeing a road sign littered with names of villages bordering the track, whose names give a few corners their identities, you could see the “wing” (the new paddock area” towering above the trees. Despite the large volume of buses, coaches and cars making their way down a small lane leading into the various parking areas around the track, we all got in very quickly and efficiently (as was the case on the way out, so well done to the organisers) and we were soon given orders of where and when the return leg would leave. With the entrances now within sight, the buzz rose and I quickly disembarked and cut the crowds and headed ticket in hand for the “turnstiles”.

After gaining entry, I paid £15 for an official programme (which was actually a 190-page book) and headed off into the first area, near Woodcote corner and the old pit straight (now named the National Straight. The Porsche Super Cup race had just started and I was treated to the first sounds of any sort of racing in anger I had heard in my life, to my knowledge.

After a while stood on a raised platform there (I was on general admission), I headed off to near the old start/finish line and watched and took a few pics of the Porsche’s as they whizzed past at well over 100mph. After giving eventual race-winner Clemens Schmidt of Austria a well deserved round of applause on the slow down lap, (despite the disappointment of believing the winner was in fact called Smith and thinking a Brit had won a race and being slightly confused as to why the Austrian anthem was playing), I headed off towards the place I had my heart set upon watching the Grand Prix from, the Maggots/Becketts complex, the sweeping series of left and right handed bends leading onto the Hanger straight. The Hanger Straight is so named as, if you weren’t aware, the track is a former WWII airfield and the straights served as runways, hence the Wellington Straight, where the bombers of the same name commenced and returned from their missions on.

Silverstone, along with various other race meets of all sorts of cars and bikes etc. serves as hosts of the British Round of the MotoGP championship, but did lose the F1 race to previous incumbent Donington Park. This was when Donington held the MotoGp, but then it went bust and both disciplines returned to Silverstone. The race has also been under threat from the crazy old man Bernie Ecclestone (who thought up sprinklers, double points, snipers you get the picture), but after recent facelifts including the aforementioned wing and new infield section, the race is now secured for well into the future. Mind you, with Bernie, you are never secure

As I was making my way round to the Maggots/Becketts area, the familiar whine of an engine blared past as I was walking behind a stand. I had no idea why it was there, but knew instantly it was a V8. WHAT A SOUND. It turned out it was the “Classics  Parade” with cars from all different eras of F1 doing a few laps of Silverstone, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of F1 at the circuit. Sadly, this was the one and only time we’d here V8’s today, as the rather quiet and not as exciting V6’s are now in use due to the emissions cut down and the search for more efficient cars.

After that, the drivers parade took place, as all the F1 boys go round on the back of a recovery truck at slow speed and wave to people. It’s a little cringey, but there you go.  It did allow me to see my idol, Kimi, though. I was so overwhelmed, I almost passed out! (Note: This may not actually be quite the case).  Soon after that’d finished and the track had once again become empty, came an unexpected noise, then the flash of a car zooming past. I had totally forgotten the fact they have a few warm-up laps before the start of a GP, and Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber definitely caught me off guard. It was also a fair amount noisier than I expected, not too noisy to necessitate earplugs, but still not as bad as I’d thought. After a while, all 22 drivers had passed me by, including Kimi, who kept me in suspense by being last out (oh, you tease), and soon enough, they were on the grid and the final countdown was on.

In the meantime, The Red Arrows treated all in attendance to another wonderful display of daredevil flying with all sorts of skills and tricks included in their set. Then it was time.

The formation lap came and went, then in the far distance, the engines began revving and they were away. You could hear them entering the new section of the in-field, but then there was a crashon the Wellington Straight. You could see it on the big-screen. It was a big one. It was a Ferrari. It was the 2007 World Champion. It was Kimi. Of course it was. I had joked in the lead up that this would happen and I wouldn’t see him do a race lap and of course it had to come true. What a downer!!

It turned out he’d also took out Felipe Massa’s Williams on his way from bouncing across the track after hitting the barrier on the inside head on then losing both front and rear wing and two wheels from the car, one of which almost hit Max Chilton. If it had, I wouldn’t like to think of the consequences. It’d happened last in Britain in a junior formulae with the late Henry Surtees. Fortunately, history did not repeat itself, and Chilton continued on his way. Massa wasn’t so lucky as he came limping past us with a rear wheel and suspension issue. he was out of his 200th race. The race was red-flagged for one hour so the marshalls could assess and fix the damage Raikkonen had done to the barrier in hitting it causing him to encounter 47 times the force of gravity. He limped away from the accident with a few bruises, which is testament to the strength of the modern day cars.

After the hours stoppage, which became a sunbathing opportunity on the grass verge on the back of the path I was stood on and a lap under the safety car, we were back under way as Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg led the field closely followed by Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren’s then his championship rival, and team-mate, Lewis Hamilton who quickly dispatched the two McLaren cars and was in hot pursuit of the other Silver Arrow.

As the race continued Fernando Alonso, who narrowly missed the carnage team-mate Raikkonen instigated, the Ferrari pair had started 17th & 18th after missing the best point in a wet qualifying, and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas had stormed through the field from 14th, eventually moving up to P3 after passing Alonso, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Vettel’s team-mate, and the Australian Daniel Ricciardo after earlier passing the two Toro Rosso’s of Jean-Eric Vergne, who gave me my first live pass by overtaking Jules Bianchi’s Marussia, and Daniil Kvyat as well as Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil’s Sauber’s and the Lotus pair of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. Gutierrez later retired after hitting Maldonado, making the Lotus fly into the air, yet miraculously, the latter was undamaged. The Sauber slid off into the gravel with broken front-right suspension.

After the first stops, Hamilton was closing on Rosberg, the pair on split strategy (HAM on medium’s, ROS on hard’s) when Rosberg suddenly slowed and Hamilton went past onto the Wellington Straight to cheers of approval from the crowd around me watching the events unfold on the big screen. Rosberg eventually crawled around to directly opposite me in a vain attempt to get his car started. Alas, for the German, it wasn’t to be. He was out.

Hamilton progressed serenely on his way, with no-one to stop him. He led Bottas in P2 by around half a minute and Daniel Ricciardo in 3rd, who was being closed down by Button at a rate of knots, as the Brit searched for his first home podium in 15 attempts.

Vettel and Alonso (with 4 and 2 titles to their names respectively) fought out a dramatic duel, beginning with Alonso passing the Red Bull around the outside of the 150mph Stowe corner, and after fighting off Vettel’s advances for the next 10 laps or more, the Ferrari on older tyres had to give way eventually as the German forced his way past the Spaniard. Magnussen was at the back of the battle for a while, but even as the World Champion pair duelled, he was too slow to keep up.

With the race drawing the a close, a strange smell filled the air. Even as a virgin race goer, I knew it spelt trouble for an engine, and no sooner had the thought gone through my mind, than Maldonado’s Lotus pulled up with a smoky rear end.

Unfortunately for Button, the end came a lap too soon, as Lewis Hamilton picked up a dominant win at home, his first win in Britain since his Championship year in 2008, Bottas was an easy P2 and Ricciardo held off Button for the last step on the podium. Vettel was 5th, Alonso 6th, Magnussen 7th, Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India was 8th ahead of Kvyat and Vergne in 9th and tenth, the latter seeing off Sergio Perez (Force India) and a brake-troubled Sutil for the last point.

Hamilton took in the acclaim on the slowing down lap, and the rest of the points scorers were given a warm reception from the fans, before I made my way back towards the coach, and after eventually finding my way through the hordes of people milling around near merchandise stalls, bars and other various outlets I made my way from the gates to the car-park, and was eventually directed to another coach than the one I originally made my way up on. It had a charger, I was annoyed to find so I could’ve kept my phone on more had I got this bus. Ah well, a small irritant on a rather terrific day. As I exited, sunburnt and decked out in my Raikkonen “Leave Me Alone, I Know What I’m Doing” (Kimi’s famous radio message during his 2012 win in Abu Dhabi for Lotus), the coach headed for the exit, and under a bridge bearing the message “Thank-You for visiting, see you again soon.” You will indeed Silverstone, you will indeed. Thanks to you for a brilliant first experience, but for now (and for 12 months at least), I bid you adieu….


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