Sarah Merritt, aka @Sareyware, has been documenting her superfan experiences for Badger, including trips to pre-season testing and the Spanish Grand Prix. In her latest blog, our resident Bobblehat takes on her adventure at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone, for the British Grand Prix.
So suddenly, here we are already mid season – where has the year gone?! – and I’ve found myself in the middle of a jam-packed few weeks. The end of June was a very busy one:
- Formula E Fans Forum at Planet Hollywood
- Goodwood Festival of Speed
- Formula E Races at Battersea Park
- Race Week London
…and then suddenly there I was loading up the car to the roof, ready to head to Silverstone.
Ah yes, camping at the British Grand Prix, something I regard as a necessary evil, don’t embrace easily, and try to do on a slightly more comfortable scale! I’ve camped at Silverstone Woodlands for three years now, and I’ve accumulated lots of bits and pieces as part of my kit to make it more “glamping” than camping! I’ve got a lovely big 6 person tent that I can stand up in (and as I found out on the Friday night, is very much waterproof and thunderstorm resilient!), a super inflatable mattress with a built-in compressor, and yes, I’ll admit it after its television debut, I do have a folding clothes rail that I bring too. Well, why not? I have the room for it! The other thing that I like to do that makes things a little easier is to pay the extra for an electrical hook-up pitch. I have a plug-in coolbox to keep my bacon and burgers chilled, some nice gazebo lights dangling outside, a fully charge iPhone and my GHD’s to hand each morning! (Guys, these are hair straighteners in case you didn’t know!)
I headed to Woodlands on the Wednesday evening, and erected “Mobile Maison Merritt” on my assigned pitch. If you’ve not been camping at Woodlands before, I can highly recommend it as a great campsite. Aside from the normal campsite facilities like permanent shower/toilet blocks, Woodlands has a great entertainment hub at its centre, with a circus “big top” and nightly music, lots of food and drink stands, merchandise stalls, and The Petrolhead, a permanent pub with a beer garden! This is the perfect place to gather with the #F1Family, relax on the picnic benches watching the big screen with a beer, of was the site of one of my favourite photo’s at last years race!
Thursday afternoon at Silverstone brought the public pitwalk, and despite the limited numbers due to the allocation of wristbands, we still found ourselves in a huge queue! It’s a very British thing to do, queuing, so I guess it was very appropriate at the British Grand Prix! We soon got moving, and accessed the track at Abbey, entering the pitlane at its exit, initially walking past the Toro Rosso and Lotus garages. It’s always great, seeing all the front wings and pit gantries up close from behind the barrier, and spying on the teams hard at work. We noticed Max Verstappen’s seat upturned outside his garage, and watched Pastor Maldonado being interviewed for an overseas news channel in the pitlane. I spent a while outside the McLaren as they busied themselves on both Alonso’s and Button’s sides of the garage, and couldn’t help but notice the attention to details as even the trolleys had McLaren “speedmark” logo’s on them.
There were huge crowds outside Ferrari & Mercedes, and the Racemaker volunteers were doing the best to assist the fans with no view by taking photos for them from the pitwall. We saw both Ferrari and Williams having pitstop practices. At the end of the pitlane, we walked back across the track with time for a quick #SilvoSelfie before heading to the main grandstand to take up position ready for the Sky Sports F1 Show being broadcast live. I’d hung my #BelieveInMclaren banner from the grandstand, so knew this was a good opportunity for friends and family back home to play “spot the banner” as the drivers were being interviewed in front of us, and tweet me photos taken from their TV’s!
On Friday morning, we were all up quite early as we had Rachel Brookes coming to join us for breakfast to Interview us for Sky Sports News – she must have heard about my bacon rolls! She asked us all questions about F1 in general, the race that weekend, and the recently announced regulation changes, and even managed to get the banner on screen again – good work, Rachel! She also interviewed our neighbours – Anni had broken her leg, and had it in plaster, so unfortunately her Silverstone weekend was more challenging that she expected, but she still made the best of it.
Friday practice gives us the opportunity to move around the circuit and try out different vantage points. We started off watching FP1 from the main straight, which of course give the views of the garages as well as on track action, and the bonus of the drivers doing practice starts at the end of the session. After lunch, we wandered round to Luffield, and sat in the Woodcote stands. This was a great view on a sunny afternoon and felt close to the track, and we did see some incidents on the corner as Romain Grosjean went off into the gravel trap, leading to a red flag, swiftly followed by Fernando Alonso, although he managed to continue and rejoin the track.
On Saturday, we watched FP3 and the following Porsche Supercup track time from Club, and qualifying from the main grandstand at the podium end. This was an interesting view as we could see all of the cars that were called in to the weigh bridge by the FIA, as well as the cars taking the chequered flag at the end of each qualifying session, and the top 3 drivers taking their photo call afterwards. We also saw a little of the GP2 and watched Stoffel Vandoorne and Alex Lynn out on track.
The F1 Village was hosting a “65 years of F1” exhibition, which was well worth a visit, featuring a Red Bull, a Surtees, and the FW14, as well as various other trophies and items of memorabilia. I found the steering wheels through the ages fascinating, and enjoyed my quick visit to the podium….and the champaaaaaaaagne……!
One thing that is great about Silverstone is that there is always something extra going on around you. I met Charlie and his Oompa Loompa’s, and a full set of Lewis’s in their caps, as well as seeing the Red Arrows and other circuit entertainment. We even saw Roberto Mehri playing football with a group of kids on the grass outside the BRDC campsite!
Throughout Saturday, Silverstone had announced via Twitter that they were putting on a “Fan Forum” on the main stage in the early evening, so we headed over there to see Jenson and Fernando followed by Lewis and Nico, and finally Seb and Kimi. It wasn’t quite the format that we had expected, as there had been a line of 6 bar stools on the stage, so we had thought all 6 drivers would be on stage at the same time, but instead they arrived team by team. Lewis and Nico spent a great deal of time down in the crowd signing autographs and having selfies with fans.
On race day, my seat was at Stowe Corner. This had a great view and also a screen, and was a different vantage point to where I had sat in previous years. We also had a very clear view of the big black rain clouds approaching, as this was an uncovered grandstand. We did get a tad damp, but it was worth it for the excitement it brought to the race! Lewis stopped by our corner on his parade lap and performed the obligatory celebratory donuts on the run off area!
After the race, Silverstone had arranged for multiple gates to be opened so that spectators could walk on the track, and boy, what an atmosphere this created! I joined the masses, ending up at McLaren, staring through the pit wall fence like caged animals!
All thought the drivers all traditionally head to the stage after the race, I headed to the paddock gates instead on this occasion, as I’ve been to the stage in previous years. My banner duly came with me, and Ron Dennis and Fernando Alonso signed it for me as they passed by, as did Ted Kravitz, who said he had mentioned it on Sky!
All over the weekend, there were opportunities to chat with the drivers and team members that we’ve met before and got to know on our travels. I always enjoy catching up with the lovely K-Mag, Kevin Magnussen, and appreciate that he takes time out to chat to all the McLaren fans and sign autographs whenever we see him. It’s also great to see Graeme Lowdon at the gates as he’s so warm and engaging. Will Stevens was also good to us all weekend, really appreciating that British fans love a British driver at his home race! Jolyon Palmer must truly think I’m following him by now, as he had been at 3 of the events that I listed at the start of this write-up….the restraining order is probably being drawn up as I type! There is also always time for a legend, and talking to Niki Lauda when we see him still takes my breath away – he’s a true gentleman.
One funny moment of the weekend came when our friend Elliot was getting Seb to sign a Silverstone map for one of his friends, who is a huge fan. He very specifically said to Mr Vettel “Can you please sign this to Grace Wilkinson?” to which Seb smiled and replied “Can’t I just put Grace?”. He was very obliging…
I also got to walk through the paddock on Sunday evening – I can honestly say, I’ve never been in one so dead and devoid of atmosphere, even when it’s been late at night! It is such a shame that Silverstone don’t embrace this and run official escorted tours for an hour in the way we’ve seen at other circuits, like in Spain, allowing all fans to experience it.
And so, it was so quickly Monday morning and time to pack up my tent, and head homewards. It felt good to be in a solid building again and of course, in a proper bed. I was then able to reflect on my weekend, and the great members of the #F1Family that I’d shared it with. As Silverstone themselves say, “hope to see you again soon”. Hungary anybody?