Find out how I got on when I visited Silverstone for a spectactular F1 British Grand Prix weekend
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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?
But I paid a visit to Silverstone in July 2019 for the Britsh Grand Prix, and 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!
An Early Start at Manchester
Our weekend started bright and early in Manchester city centre. Our driver checked our luggage into the secure storage on the coach, and Lyle and I made our way to our 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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Luckily the hotel 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
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.
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 our folding chairs and we settled down for the afternoon.
A Full Schedule of Entertainment
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.
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
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.
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.
As you can imagine, everyone got a good round of applause, and there were huge cheers for the most popular drivers.
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
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 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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Eventually Hamilton, Bottas and Leclerc came out onto the podium to receive their trophies, and Mercedes took home the trophy for the winning constructor.
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
Lyle and I packed up our 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.