A Spectacular F1 Grand Prix Weekend with National Holidays

Find out how I got on when I visited the F1 British Grand Prix by coach with National Holidays

Lewis Hamilton driving his Mercedes F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

I fell in love with Formula One back in the early 1990s. For me it was not just the roar of the engines or the thrill of the racing, but the amazing skills of Ayrton Senna that had me completely hooked.

But as time has gone by, I’ve never managed to get to any Grand Prix, not even the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. To be honest, I’ve been put off by the thought of driving to the circuit, fighting through the traffic, and remember that year when the car park turned into a mudpit?

So when National Holidays asked me if I’d like to travel with them on one of their F1 Spectacular tours to the Grand Prix, I jumped at the chance. And then when they said I could take a guest along with me, Lyle eagerly snapped up the opportunity to come along with me for a mother-son weekend away.

We spent two days watching the motor racing, soaking up the atmosphere at the track, and enjoying a bit of time together. It turned out to be a truly spectacular weekend!

Where can you travel with National Holidays?

National Holidays are specialists in providing coach travel, with a range of holidays that includes tours and destinations across the UK and England. Their trips depart from several locations across the Midlands and North of England including Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.

Every National Holidays break includes accommodation with some meals provided, excursions, and reserved seating on one of their fleet of plush coaches.

And with thousands of different tours to choose from, there’s something to suit every taste.

In the UK, you could take a city break to historic Bath or bustling Liverpool, or spend a weekend by the seaside. Or maybe you’d prefer to see a West End Show or visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. And they also have tours to see top flight sporting events like the British Grand Prix or Premier League Football.

And National Holidays’ European breaks cover everything from an action-packed break at Disneyland Paris and historic tours of WWI battlefields, to a relaxing stay on the Amalfi Coast. You could even take a mini cruise to Amsterdam or Bruges, or a river cruise on the Rhine or the Danube.

An Early Start at Manchester

After trying out a National Holidays Mystery Tour last summer, I was thrilled to be invited to travel with National Holidays again – this time to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It’s one of the year’s top sporting events, and our weekend started bright and early in Manchester city centre.

There were a total of 20 National Holidays coaches making the journey down to Silverstone, with two leaving from the centre of Manchester.

Our driver, Paul, checked our luggage into the secure storage on the coach, and Lyle and I made our way to our reserved seats. Usually when we travel together, I’m driving the car so I have to concentrate on the road. So it was nice for us to be able to chat and relax together during the journey this time.

We had a few more stops around the local area before we headed down the motorway, with a short rest break at services along the way.

Travelling in Comfort on a National Holidays Coach

A National Holidays coach parked in Manchester city centre.

When was the last time you travelled by coach? Until I went on a National Holidays Mystery Tour last summer, I hadn’t travelled by coach for nearly 20 years. Fortunately, coach travel has changed a lot since then!

National Holidays coaches are spotlessly clean and very comfortable indeed. The comfy seats and adjustable foot rests meant that even after several hours of travel, my back didn’t ache at all, and there’s plenty of leg room as well.

The interior of a National Holidays coach

The coaches have air conditioning and tinted windows, and yes, of course there’s a loo on board!

National Holidays coaches have free WiFi so you won’t eat through your data allowance while you’re on board. And their on-board entertainment system, Wave, lets you choose from films, music and box sets on your journey.

That all meant that by the time we reached Silverstone just before noon, I felt refreshed and ready for a busy afternoon ahead.

Travelling by coach is so much more relaxing than being behind the wheel!

Qualifying Day at Silverstone

Banners showing Formula 1 race drivers outside the race track at Silverstone circuit, UK. People are getting ready to watch qualifying for the British Grand Prix, July 2019

Qualifying day at the British Grand Prix is almost as action-packed and exciting as the main event. And after waiting nearly 30 years for my first Grand Prix, I was really excited to be there at last.

Paul parked our coach in the coach car park, which is only a short walk away from the entry gates. He handed our tickets out to us, and we were told the time to meet back at the coach. Apart from that, the rest of the afternoon was ours!

Lyle and I headed towards the track, it was so exhilarating to be there at last, and I soaked in the atmosphere. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many race fans, with the sound of the GP2 cars in the background.

I made a bee-line straight to one of the merchandise stalls and after nearly 30 years wait, I finally picked up one of the blue Nacional hats that Ayrton Senna used to wear!

Sally Akins is wearing a blue baseball cap with a white Nacional logo on it. She is wearing a white and blue striped top and smiling into the camera

One of the great things about being at the Grand Prix is that you’re sure to see people who support the same driver as you do. I saw lots of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing merchandise, and plenty of red shirts for the Ferrari fans, but the other teams were represented as well.

I even saw a few Niki Lauda shirts around, not to mention the Senna fans wearing the same blue Nacional hat that I was sporting.

Qualifying day includes a packed schedule full of entertainment and racing as well as qualifying. Lyle and I had picked up some sandwiches for lunch when we stopped at the motorway services, so our main priority was finding a good spot to watch the F1 qualifying session.

That’s easier said than done, because many people start queuing well before the gates open at 8am. And given that we had only arrived at the circuit at noon, I wasn’t holding out too much hope of getting a prime position.

A shot of the final corner of the Silverstone Formula 1 race track, shot through a grey metal fence. A car is on the race track, and there are dark grey clouds in the sky

But somehow, we managed to find one!

We were heading around the track towards Vale corner, when I spotted a small gap next to the fence right by the International Pit Straight.

It meant that we got an excellent view of the final corner, as well as being able to see the start/finish straight.

A grey fold up chair featuring the National Holidays logo

We unpacked our chairs (kindly loaned to us by National Holidays, but not a standard part of the holiday) and settled down to watch the qualifying session.

Nothing can really prepare you for the first time you hear Grand Prix cars ‘in the flesh’. The sound might not be quite as bone-shaking as the V10 3.5 litre engines of the 1980s, but it’s still quite awe-inspiring.

And the experience of seeing the speed of the cars when they’re right in front of you is quite different to watching it on TV.

I’m more used to photographing landscapes, delicious food or beautiful boutique hotels. Capturing a car as it speeds past you is something else, and it took me a while to get used to it.

Max Verstappen driving his Red Bull Racing F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

I was very glad that I’d taken my DSLR and telephoto lens with me on this trip. My little Canon G7x would really have struggled!

Qualifying for an F1 Grand Prix currently has three sessions, each lasting between 12 and 18 minutes. The drivers compete to find out who will sit in pole position at the front of the grid in the race on Sunday.

It gives them a big advantage at the start of the race, so there’s a lot of importance on qualifying well.

Max Verstappen driving his Red Bull Racing F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019. He is being followed by Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari

In the first session (Q1), all of the cars go out to set their best time. At the end of the 18 minute session, the five slowest drivers are eliminated and then there’s a short break before the 15 minute second session (Q2).

In the final 12 minute session of qualifying (Q3), just the top 10 cars go all out to set their fastest time around the track. The tension builds as the seconds tick down towards the final chequered flag when pole position will be determined.

The crowd at a Grand Prix is truly multi-national, but there is always a lot of support for British drivers at Silverstone.

Lewis Hamilton driving his Mercedes F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

And above all there was a lot of support for Lewis Hamilton, driving for the Mercedes team. He was aiming for a record 7th Silverstone pole position, so the pressure on him was even greater than usual.

Qualifying started under dark grey clouds, but the rain held off throughout the session. Magnussen, Kvyat, Stroll, Russell and Kubica were all eliminated at the end of Q1.

Hamilton lead the race to pole position, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc close behind.

Sebastian Vettel driving his Ferrari F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

After a short break, the cars came back out for Q2 and this time Leclerc was setting the fastest time. Hamilton sat in third place, with his team-mate Valteri Bottas ahead of him in second place.

Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Sainz, Grosjean, and Perez posted the five slowest times, and were eliminated from the final session of qualifying.

Valteri Bottas driving his Mercedes F1 car in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

Then it was time for the final shoot-out. Ten drivers battling it out to decide who would be sitting at the front of the grid the following afternoon.

And at the end of the session, it was Valteri Bottas who posted the quickest time and won the coveted pole position.

Valteri Bottas celebrates driving his Mercedes F1 car to pole position in qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019

Lewis Hamilton missed out on pole by just 0.006 seconds, much to the disappointment of the home fans.

Leclerc very nearly managed to out-pace both of them, but a mistake right at the end of his flying lap meant that he ended up in third position.

Charles Leclerc being interviewed by David Coulthard after qualifying at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, July 2019. Lewis Hamilton is talking to Valteri Bottas behind them, and their cars are parked on the track in front of the pitlane.

Food and Drink at the British Grand Prix

After the thrill of qualifying, we still had a couple of hours before we needed to be back at the coach. That gave us time to investigate the food options ready for the second day of the weekend.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Silverstone, but you can find everything from burgers and hot dogs, to mac n cheese and hog roast. And there’s even vegan and vegetarian food available, as well as plenty of bars and coffee stalls.

But be warned: the queues are absolutely MASSIVE!

I’ve never seen such huge queues, especially around midday. So plan ahead, take snacks in with you, and maybe try to avoid getting food at the most popular times.

Time to leave Silverstone

Finally it was time for us to leave Silverstone and head to our hotel for the night. We were held up slightly by a couple of customers who were late returning to the coach, but before long we were on the road.

Our first day at Silverstone had been very exciting, and Lyle and I were both really looking forward to the race itself on Sunday!

A Comfortable Hotel with National Holidays

The front of the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel

Each National Holidays tour includes accommodation on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. The standard price is based upon two people sharing a room but if you prefer, you can book a single room by paying a small supplement.

On some tours, you will have a named hotel confirmed in advance. On others, National Holidays offer a Select Hotel for a little less, and this means you won’t know exactly where you’re staying until you actually arrive. But you can work on the assumption that you will stay in 3 or 4 star hotels.

On our F1 weekend tour, we stayed at the Mercure St Albans Noke. It was about an hour’s drive from the race track, but not far from the motorway.

A twin room at the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel

Lyle and I shared a twin room, which was spacious and clean with very comfortable beds. The room had free WiFi, room service and extra pillows were stored in the wardrobe.

A twin room at the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel
A twin room at the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel

And while the bathroom was quite compact, it was spotlessly clean, with complimentary toiletries provided.

The bathroom of a twin room at the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel
The bathroom of a twin room at the Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel

The hotel itself had two bars and even had an indoor swimming pool, gym and spa. What a shame that we hadn’t packed our swimming stuff!

Dinner at the Mercure St Albans Noke was served buffet style with a choice of three main courses including sea bream, chicken in a cream sauce, and a vegetarian pasta dish. There was a selection of side dishes to accompany them, and a selection of cold desserts finished the meal.

The next morning, a self service breakfast included a range of hot dishes plus a selection of pastries, toast and plenty of tea and coffee.

The service at the Mercure St Albans Noke was excellent, all of the staff were very friendly and helpful. It’s worth noting that drinks are not included in the cost of your National Holidays tour, so you’ll need to pay for those separately.

Day Two of our Formula One Weekend

Another early start on Sunday meant breakfast at 6.30am ready for a 7.30am departure. The plan was to get to the circuit by 8.30 am so that we could see as much as possible of the day’s events.

But sometimes fate has other plans, and this was one of those times.

Our coach wouldn’t start, and so we were stuck at the hotel waiting for an engineer instead of watching the GP2 and Formula 3 races. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just one of those things, so Lyle and I fetched coffees from the local garage to while away the time.

I had a quick chat with some of the passengers while we were waiting for the engineer. Plenty of them have been on many National Holidays tours before, and said that they have never had problems like this before.

And I have to give a big thanks to the staff at the Mercure St Albans Noak here, as they allowed us all to check back into our rooms while we waited for the engineer. Being able to relax in our room rather than sitting in the lobby made the wait a lot more comfortable.

Finally the engineer turned up, did his thing, and we were on our way to Silverstone.

Race Day at the British Grand Prix

Racegoers at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

140,000 people visit Silverstone on race day, and the atmosphere is absolutely amazing. If I was excited about qualifying, that’s nothing compared to how excited I was to finally be at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix!

But we knew that our late arrival would probably make it difficult to find a location as good as our spot for qualifying. Believe it or not, some people start queuing at 1am on race day, and we didn’t arrive until around 11.30am.

A large crowd of racegoers in one of the general admission viewing areas at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

Sure enough, the space we’d found on the International Pit Straight was crammed full of people, so we carried on around the track.

We did manage to find a decent view from the general admission area near Vale, so out came the National Holidays folding chairs and we settled down for the afternoon.

A Full Schedule of Entertainment

Sports cars at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

There’s masses to keep you entertained on race day at the British Grand Prix!

The morning starts with GP2 and Formula 3 races, as well as a Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup race. Or if you are interested in older cars, you’ll love the Masters Historic Race.

A vintage Alfa Romeo at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

Remember what I said about the queues for food on qualifying day?

Lyle went off in search of food around noon on the Sunday, and it took a good 25 minutes for him to be served. I went an hour or so later and the queues were much shorter.

The Drivers’ Parade

Charles Leclerc waves as he sits on the back of a red vintage MG car, in the drivers parade at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. A group of marshalls in orange overalls watches from the side of the track

Next up was one of my favourite parts of the pre-race build-up. Each of the 20 F1 drivers was driven around the track in a beautiful vintage MG car.

Sebastian Vettel waves from a red vintage MG car, in the drivers parade at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019
Max Verstappen waves as he sits on the back of a pale blue vintage MG car, in the drivers parade at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

It’s a great opportunity to actually see the drivers before they get into their race cars.

Actually, I say that they were driven around, but some drivers opted to drive themselves.

Daniel Ricciardo smiles broadly as he waves from a pale blue vintage MG car, in the drivers parade at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

As you can imagine, everyone got a good round of applause, and there were huge cheers for the most popular drivers.

Lewis Hamilton waves as he sits on the back of a deep blue vintage MG car, in the drivers parade at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Photographers are taking his photograph from the side of the track

And the biggest cheer of all came when Lewis Hamilton appeared, sitting on the back of a blue MG driven by his father, Anthony. Lewis’ brother Nicolas was also in the car.

A fabulous display by the Red Arrows

The Red Arrows air display team provide the pre-race entertainment at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019

And then as the cars started to move from the pitlane to the starting grid, I heard the familiar roar of jet engines behind me.

I grew up near RAF Cosford, so I’ve often seen the Red Arrows in action, but it’s always exciting to see them arrive. And when they fly pretty much directly over your head, it’s even more exciting!

The Red Arrows air display team fly in formation at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Trails of red, white and blue smoke are coming from the back of the planes

The display went on for several minutes as the drivers moved onto the grid. It culminated with another fly-past at the end of the National Anthem, with the red, white and blue smoke trailing behind the jets.

It was the perfect way to round off the pre-race activities!

The British Grand Prix

Valteri Bottas driving his Mercedes F1 car at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Lewis Hamilton can be seen in the background in his car

Now we were really into the last few minutes before the British Grand Prix, and as the clock counted down, the excitement was building.

Just before 2.10pm, the engines were fired up and the cars moved off on the formation lap. They all came past us at Club corner, and then it was time for the green light. As Murray Walker would say – Go, go go!

A woman wearing a red tshirt puts her hands to her face as a Ferrari and a Red Bull Racing car battle through Vale at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.

Watching the race live is naturally quite different to watching it on TV. Instead of following the action all around the track, you are watching cars go past you at one fixed point.

But with race laps only taking around 1 minute 30 seconds, you don’t have to wait long for your favourite driver to come around again.

Daniil Kvyat drives his Torro Rosso car at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.
A crowd of racegoers watch the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. One of them holds a black and white chequered flag

Bottas seemed to be doing everything right, with a great start from pole position. But Hamilton was not giving in easily, taking the lead from his team-mate before Bottas grabbed it back again at Copse.

There’s just so much more atmosphere at a live race, compared to watching it on TV. The crowds around us were supporting everyone from Mercedes and Red Bull Racing, to McLaren and Ferrari.

Giovinazzi drives his Alfa Romeo F1 car into a gravel trap at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Dust and gravel fly into the air.

Then Antonio Giovinazzi went off right in front of where Lyle and I were sitting, beaching his Alfa Romeo in the gravel trap.

That meant that the safety car came out, effectively granting Hamilton a free pit stop and allowing him to rejoin in the lead.

A bright yellow JCB and marshalls in orange overalls working to remove Giovinazzi's Alfa Romeo F1 car from a gravel trap at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.

We also saw the ongoing tussle between Verstappen and Vettel, which culminated in Vettel punting Verstappen off the track and receiving a 10 second penalty.

But Hamilton kept his lead through to the end of the race, setting the fastest lap in the process. That was Hamilton’s seventh win in the 10 races so far this year, and his sixth win at Silverstone – an all-time record.

Bottas finished 25 seconds adrift from his Mercedes team-mate and the Ferrari of Leclerc finished in third place.

Post Race Celebrations

Lewis Hamilton celebrates driving his Mercedes F1 car to victory at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. He holds a Union flag in his hand as he drives into the pit lane

Hamilton performed a victory lap, holding the Union flag aloft as he drove around Silverstone and back to the pits.

And the large screens around the track all carried the same message ‘Please do not invade the track’, as one by one the cars peeled off into the pit lane.

Max Verstappen drives his Red Bull Racing car at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. A large screen at the side of the track shows the final standings on the last lap of the race

Then the gates were opened and the fans who had been waiting patiently all flooded onto the track.

Massive Union flags and one of the biggest Ferrari flags I’ve ever seen were all waved by a multitude of fans supporting every team and driver.

A mass of racegoers carrying giant flags rush onto the circuit at the end of the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.
A man carries a giant Ferrari flag onto the race track at the end of the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.

Eventually Hamilton, Bottas and Leclerc came out onto the podium to receive their trophies, and Mercedes took home the trophy for the winning constructor.

Spectators flood onto the race track at the end of the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Two large screens at the side of the track show Lewis Hamilton during the playing of the British National Anthem. He is looking downwards, and has a Union flag wrapped around his shoulders
The traditional champagne battle on the podium following the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019. Lewis Hamilton sprays Valteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc with champagne while spectators celebrate on the grass below

After brief interviews, it was time for the champagne fight – a long standing F1 tradition. Most of the fans seemed to be down on the track by now, and it was lovely to watch them all mingling together.

Watching the British Grand Prix at Silverstone had been a very special experience, and I know that it will last in both our memories.

Time to go home

Sebastian Vettel drives his Ferrari F1 car at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.

Lyle and I packed up our National Holidays chairs, and headed back towards the coach car park. We’d got time to get a cold drink and soak up the celebratory atmosphere around the track. Bands were playing, and everyone was enjoying the occasion.

And as the circuit started to empty, we headed back to our coach ready for the journey home. All of the passengers were chatting happily on board the coach as we travelled back up the M6 towards Manchester.

It was the day of the cricket World Cup Final, so Lyle and I were part of a group listening to commentary on one passenger’s phone, while another kept track of scores online.

And as the match reached its successful climax for the England team, and the whole coach erupted into cheers, it felt like the perfect end to our fabulous F1 weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo drives his Renault F1 car at the Formula One British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone circuit in July 2019.

National Holidays Formula 1 Spectacular Tour Review

This was my second National Holidays tour, following on from my Mystery Weekend last year. And I’m pleased to say that it was fantastic fun and we both had a wonderful time.

We travelled in comfort on the National Holidays coach, the hotel accommodation was good, and we enjoyed chatting with the other passengers.

And the Formula 1 was as spectacular as we could have wished for, with thrills, spills, a fantastic atmosphere and records being broken.

How much does a National Holidays F1 Spectacular cost?

And on top of all that, this holiday is exceptionally good value. Lyle and I travelled as a guests of National Holidays, but our two day tour would usually cost £299 per person.

That price includes tickets to the British Grand Prix on both the Saturday and Sunday, plus the hotel, dinner and breakfast, and of course travel to and from the venue.

When you consider that a general admission ticket for Sunday alone would normally cost £155 each, that’s fantastic value!

And National Holidays have thousands of great value tours on offer, with many of them costing less than £100 per person.

So the question is, would I consider travelling with National Holidays again?

And the simple answer is a resounding Yes!

Lyle and I really enjoyed our trip, and it was much more relaxing to travel to the event with National Holidays than to fight through the traffic myself. Yes, there were technical troubles on the Sunday morning, but to be honest that is just as likely to happen to my own car!

I’ve really enjoyed both National Holidays tours that I’ve been on, they’re fantastic value and I’d definitely consider booking one for myself in the future.

I’m very tempted by the Christmas market tours and travelling by coach would make a great change from flying to the continent.

So if you’re thinking about booking a coach holiday, why not take the plunge and book one with National Holidays?

The Details

Visit the National Holidays website to check the range of holidays available and current pricing, find the latest special offers and book your National Holidays coach tour.

Thank you to National Holidays for a fantastic weekend!

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