Yesterday afternoon, Lewis Hamilton gave his home crowd at the British Grand Prix something to smile about by dominating and winning the race for the third year in succession, and for the fourth time in his career. The Silverstone circuit we saw yesterday provided an event full of rain, safety car starts, tyre changes and tricky car control that saw some good scraps further down the field. When I saw the same circuit over the weekend of 9-11 July 2010, however, I was greeted for three days straight by continuous sunshine and blistering heat that served as a very welcome accompaniment to what remains the best weekend of my entire life.
A few months before, Mum had told me we’d be attending the 2010 British Grand Prix on a Saturday morning as I was watching a repeat of the Top Gear Bolivia Special in my pyjamas. What was therefore a fairly normal morning was turned upside down when Mum announced that she’d just got off the phone having booked tickets for the Woodcote B stand, then located at the final corner of the track overlooking the pits and starting grid. It turned out to be the perfect vantage point for us, but upon hearing those words tumble from Mum’s mouth I was, of course, thrilled to be going there at all. It was a long-held ambition and when confirmation came it was nothing short of a dream come true for me. I seem to remember that for the next few months – right up until the moment we left for the circuit on that Friday morning – I was on cloud nine and without a care in the world. In the week before the race, I had my move-up day for Year 9, which would be starting soon, and I must have told all and sundry about my plans for the weekend whether they were interested or not. I know Formula One is an acquired taste for some people, so I apologise if I bored anyone to tears! On the big day, as we finally drove through the Silverstone entrance, it felt like we were entering a magical land, somewhere only the drivers, teams and privileged few got to see. After all, until that moment I’d only ever seen any part of the circuit on TV! Once we’d set up our tent and walked into the circuit, however – with engine notes from the F1 support races echoing off every structure and surface – I was able to confirm what I’d always been sure of, that the whole Grand Prix experience was not elitist at all (unfortunately I can’t say the same for the racing, as things stand, because it is rather costly).
Smiles greeted us at every turn from fans and workers alike, many of whom were dressed in attire from all eras of F1 history – the first man I saw was dressed not in an up-to-date shirt, but in a 1994 season Team Lotus shirt. Nobody was ever afraid to pass the time of day or discuss the action with us at any point, be it in the stands during a session or on the campsite before we ducked into our tent. Louis and I decided we had to look the part as they all did, so he bought a “rocket red” Vodafone McLaren Mercedes shirt whilst I opted for a Renault F1 Team equivalent emblazoned with the name, signature and race number 11 of Polish driver Robert Kubica. Of course, I still have the shirt, and on a school trip one week later almost had a heart attack when it got wet on a ride at an adventure park (“this cost me £30, you know!”) The most important aspect of the weekend was obviously to be witnessed on-track, though, and the sight of Michael Schumacher’s silver Mercedes – the first car to pass our position during the initial Friday practice session – formed an image that will stay etched on my brain for as long as I live, accompanying the unbelievable screams of the 2.4 litre V8 engine. Every car, of every category, on every single lap, was a sight to behold and as aforementioned we were in the perfect place to observe them. Our particular grandstand also allowed us to wave at the drivers as a truck carried them by on their parade before the race, and to watch Michael Schumacher and his team-mate Nico Rosberg pay a visit to a Mercedes merchandise stand on Saturday evening.
The Grand Prix itself was 52 laps of gripping excitement, and I used everything from my view of the track to the reflections the pit building was giving of the garages below to keep track of it. It saw Robert Kubica retire (after 19 laps, with a driveshaft problem), and was eventually won by Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing, with Lewis Hamilton second and Nico Rosberg third. “Not bad for a number two driver”, Webber controversially said over the radio after crossing the line – and I believe the fans present didn’t think he’d done too badly either. If a British driver couldn’t win the race, perhaps he was their next choice! We left Silverstone on Sunday evening nursing peeling sunburn thanks to our choice of sandals in the blistering heat, but carrying memories that – for me at least – would last a lifetime. A cracking programme of racing, fantastic camaraderie with everyone we met, sunburn we didn’t mind, and a delicious lamb shank we ate in the restaurant. What more could a race fan ask for? Surely it’s only a matter of time before I go again, and yesterday’s race only made that desire stronger.