My First Formula One Experience:
One Year On
This time last year I came into a bit of luck, and was able to attend the British Grand Prix for the full weekend. Fast forward 12 months, and in a week we’re about to have the first of a pair of Formula One races at the same venue, yet not a single spectator will be allowed. Because of the stark contrast, I thought I’d recount my experience from a year ago, of my first time attending a live Formula One race.
To set the scene, it should probably be noted that I was not intending to attend the event, and only obtained the tickets on the Thursday of the race week. It all started on the Tuesday of the weekend, when the McLaren F1 Team ran a competition on their Instagram account. They posed the question of “Why should we give you a pair of tickets to this weekend’s Grand Prix?” Naturally, I submitted a response of “I’ve never been to an F1 race before,” as there was no harm in trying, and watching a Grand Prix from the stands was certainly something I had wanted to do at some point in my life.
I didn’t give the competition a second thought, however, until I was at work the next day, and I received a direct message from McLaren. They had picked me to send the pair of tickets to! Naturally, I was ecstatic, and immediately asked my father if he wished to accompany me, to which he replied with a resounding yes.
Moving on to the Thursday, and our package arrived in the post. Not only had we received a pair of tickets, but they were full weekend tickets for the exclusive McLaren Grandstand at the Maggotts, Becketts & Chapel complex. Included with our prize were McLaren drawstring bags, papaya caps and t-shirts (although they were a little large, coming in at XXL), and a couple of other small goodies. Knowing we’d be staying for the full three days, however, meant we needed somewhere to stay.
Having booked a slot at one of the local campsites, a shopping trip for supplies – including a tent – followed, and having packed my little Renault Clio with anything we could think of needing, we headed up to Northamptonshire on the Friday morning.
To spare you all the details, from here on in I think I’ll just concentrate on what really stayed with me from the experience. Firstly, I really don’t like camping. Now don’t get me wrong, the campsite was close enough to the track that we could hear the screaming exhausts of whatever was running, and we were ironically yet purely coincidentally situated right next to a big party of McLaren employees, who were all extremely friendly and actually prepared a full Hog Roast on the Saturday, yet the notion of sleeping outside under just a bit of tarpaulin (or whatever tents are made of) doesn’t quite sit right with me. A much cosier alternative, however, was to sleep in the relative quiet and warmth of my car! All I had to do was recline the passenger seat as far as it went, and it was nearly perfect.
In terms of actual on-track action, though, and there were a couple of F1-specific things I noticed, and a couple of general race weekend things I liked. To start with, the McLaren Grandstand seats were incredible. If you haven’t had the pleasure of sitting in front of Becketts yourself, then let me tell you that I don’t think any other seats enable you to see as much of the circuit as they do. Your line of sight starts at the exit of turn 1, encapsulating the whole of the new village section and down the Wellington Straight, before picking up the action once more at Maggotts, and following the cars all the way to the entrance of Stowe. By my reckoning, that’s pretty much half the circuit, all from one seat.
In terms of the F1 cars themselves, I was really surprised at the volume of noise generated as they ride over the kerbs. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting before I heard the vibrations, but the sound must be filtered out for TV audiences, because it was really intense in person. The other thing that surprised me was the audible differences in engine note, particularly with the Honda. On TV the cars all largely sound the same, yet the tones of the exhausts are much clearer first hand. The Honda, for example, made a remarkable raspy sound when off the throttle, almost as if the car was misfiring, which isn’t portrayed on the other side of a screen, whereas the other engines were all much smoother.
When it came to the general event entertainment, I was also really impressed by the sheer number of things to do whilst there wasn’t any on-track action. Of course, there were clusters of merchandise stores and food vans dotted around the perimeter roads, but there was also a fan zone with a multitude of activities, which we barely even explored. And after the racing had ended? There were live concerts on both Friday and Saturday night, headlined by Craig David.
The Grand Prix weekend was also the first time I had actively watched the Grand Prix support races. The Porsche Supercup cars struck me as too powerful and not grippy enough, as the drivers – including multiple Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy – seemed to be constantly wrestling with their chassis to keep it in the right direction. Whilst they didn’t seem massively quick, they certainly did portray a sense of drama.
The FIA Formula 3 cars, though, were very much underwhelming. The cars all seemed very safe, whilst simultaneously being excruciatingly loud, and as a result didn’t give the viewer much excitement as most of the time not much was happening. Stepping up to the Formula 2 cars, though, was a big improvement. The engine note certainly helped, but the main aspect was that you could once again see the drivers fighting their cars. Many ran wide onto the grass at the exit of Becketts for starters, whilst the drama-filled sprint race which saw British-Korean Jack Aitken hunt down and overtake Deletraz for the win was awesome to watch from the stands.
The F1 race itself saw drama with Vettel and Verstappen colliding, whilst the tussle between the leading Mercs was superlative, with the pair running side by side for a large portion of one lap in particular, but the weekend was topped off by the opportunity to walk the track once the race was over. We strolled the wrong way around, starting at the old pits and ending at the new, whilst also sneaking through a gate in the fencing in order to sneak up to the paddock entrance and grab some snaps of a few famous faces.
All in all, an extremely memorable experience to which I am still especially grateful to McLaren for gifting me the opportunity. My first experience of Formula One in person was epic, and it’s certainly on my wish list to return soon, although I don’t think I’d be able to settle for something like the General Admission tickets, as there’d be no way they’d live up to this experience.
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