Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Silverstone F1: An unidentified aircraft has entered our airspace

Red Arrows - Starburst

On Sunday six of us went to Silverstone to celebrate my good friend Mike's birthday. It was my fourth trip to an F1 race, but the first time at Silverstone and also the first time that I'd only been to the race day rather than spending the whole weekend at the track.

I set off before six, and after a rather slow bus journey to meet up with Ed, we drove to the park and ride car park at Hinton Airfield and were inside the circuit by around 8:30. After all the stories you hear about the traffic nightmares, I was pleasantly surprised how smooth everything was.

Red Arrows impressing

Once we arrived at the circuit we had a quick stop in one of the food areas for some breakfast and then did a walk around the track. I was tempted by one of the Williams 600 commemorative hats, but decided against a purchase. I see if I think they are still cool later in the season and might pick one up.

As we walked past the helipads I counted seven choppers in the sky queuing up to land. Each helicopter only seemed to be down for a couple of minutes before rising back into the air. Luke told me it's the busiest airport in the country (world?) on race day and I can believe it. Definitely the way to arrive in style!

After we'd done a complete lap of the circuit we arrived at our seats just in time for the Red Arrows display which was phenomenal. I've seen the Red Arrows fly before, but this was definitely more spectacular. The display lasted close to half an hour with a member of the RAF commentating on all of the moves they were doing.

Close to the end of the first half of the display an announcement that "an unidentified aircraft has entered our airspace" cam over the PA. I initially thought it was part of the display and we were going to see a new routine, but it turned out some rogue helicopter pilot had flown into the airspace and they had to pause the display for five minutes.

Once the hopefully embarrassed pilot had got out of the way the display was back on. We had great seats and it was breathtaking how close the flew to each other.

Everyone's favourite team

With the Red Arrows out of the way it was time for the race! The crowd where we were sitting were incredibly pro-Lewis, giving him a cheer for every lap he went round in the lead and then willing him on at the end as he surged through the field. I was also surprised how anti-Vetel the crowd were as another big cheer went up as he stopped on the circuit. I haven't experienced such a partisan crowd before, even in Australia, and was a bit surprised Lewis got all the attention and there weren't any cheers for Jenson.

While lots of people have told me it was a fantastic race to watch on TV, I'll have to admit that I didn't get the same excitement from our vantage point. I found it quite hard to follow what was going on, who was moving up the field, what the different strategies were and who was falling back. It didn't help my team, Williams, had a bit of a shocker. It's definitely the worst performance from them at any of the races I have seen live.

Emerging from the pits

I enjoyed the day, but there are a few things that I'd like to see improved before I went to Silverstone again. Some are in my control, while others are down to the organisers:

- Pre-race information. I got virtually no information with the tickets. There was no list of items that were / were not permitted inside the race track or suggested items to bring. We didn't get decent driving instructions on how to reach the park and ride car park or even a post code to put into a SatNav. I'm sure when I went to Melbourne we got a lot more pre-race information and a handy lanyard to wear round our necks with a map of the course and timetable of events.

- More off track entertainment. We walked a full loop of the track and we saw food and merchandise stalls and very little else. At Melbourne that had a couple of classic car displays and a few more things to look at. Perhaps we just didn't find them.

- Big screens, that are actually big screens. The screen opposite where we were sitting at Farm Curve was a long way away and wast that big. It made it hard to follow what was going on at other parts of the circuit and it made me realise how much I enjoyed seeing the big screen in Melbourne / Montreal.

- Try out a different Grand Stand. Previously I've sat at a low speed corner at the end of a straight. It's great to see the cars have a dramatic change in speed and direction. Pick your corner right and you can also get some good over taking. Farm Curve was more of a full speed kink and we didn't see a single overtaking manoeuvre. I realise this requires me to pick better seats and potentially pay a bit more!

- Signs. Silverstone needs a lot more signs. While the organisation at the circuit seemed very efficient there was a distinct lack of signage. It took us a while to find our grand stand and there wasn't a single sign telling us where to head to find the buses back to the park and ride car parks at the end of the race.

Sounds like I am having a bit of a moan, and in a way I am. However, the tickets are very expensive so I think you're entitled to set your expectations quite high.

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