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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Silverstone F1 Practice Day!

  I have to confess that I’d never really given Formula One much attention...

 ...A dull, elitist sport wrapped up in obscene amounts of money and annoying celebrities. Not even much ‘racing’ to be honest.
  My middle brother is a bit of a fan however and, seeing as all three of us brothers now inhabit far corners of the country and rarely see each other, the idea of an annual motorsport jolly together came into being a few years ago.  We’ve done F1, Touring Cars, Drag Racing and the Le Mans Classic so far and are now dabbling with Moto GP, driven partly by the increasingly steep price of F1 tickets.
  My first trip to see F1 was Silverstone for the British GP practice day a few years ago and involved an early start and a suicidally fast 150 mile ride on my R1 to Towcester to what has become our traditional rendezvous at the Jack’s Hill transport café.  I’d got as much random motorsport attire hidden under my leathers as possible in an attempt to look like a proper fan (although I probably stood out with my Isle of Man TT and BSB gear!) and, sure enough, middle brother and little brother turned up shortly afterwards looking the part too.

  Big fry up, few mugs of tea, bit of excited chatter and then we were off in convoy to the circuit!

  My middle brother still remembers my first experience of F1. After leaving the transport café we were sitting in the usual queue on the A43 waiting to get into the circuit.  I pulled up beside his car on the bike and shouted excitedly, “Bloody hell, I can hear them from here!”
  The amazing thing was that I was astride a Yamaha R1, with a Micron race can, wearing a helmet and earplugs! So, yes, quite a din.

  The noise IS quite remarkable. There’s the waaahhh, waaaahhhhh bit that you get on the telly except here it makes your ears ring. You start off laughing at all the wimps wearing ear defenders and earplugs but by the end of the day you really wish you had a pair too….
  But then there are the apocalyptic pops and bangs between gears and the craziest of Doppler shifts as the cars pass at 200 mph.  Plus the smell of the exhaust… and laughing when Michael Schumacher crashes right in front of you….

Squelch! Typical British Summer weather!

  Once you’re over the physical shock, you start to notice the brightly coloured crash helmet bobbling about inside the car. Blimey…  that’s Jenson Button. Hey, that’s Massa! Something of the veneer falls away at this point and you see this mystical sport for what it is. Massively hi tech cars, hugely expensive engineering and just normal (albeit highly paid & talented) blokes driving them.  For me at least, that was where I was changed from being mildly irritated by F1 to being surprisingly intrigued by it.  I’m a bit of a geek at heart although I think I hide it quite well.

  The thing you just don’t get watching the telly is the physics-defying performance of the cars. Again, on my first trip to Silverstone, we all stood on the corner at Copse which used to be at the end of the old start finish straight. We heard the first car screaming towards us off in the distance and then it came into view down the straight, probably getting on towards 200 mph. It kept coming straight at us… and coming…  I thought his brakes had failed (it was Fernando Alonso IIRC) and I was within a millisecond of throwing myself to the ground to take cover. The driver was clearly heading for a massive crash…
  But with nothing but a slight lift of the throttle, he just turned the wheel and the car remained glued to the track as it swept around the corner.  WTF! How the bloody hell could it do that?

  This is a clip in the pouring rain at the end of the Hangar Straight shot last week. Not surprisingly the drivers are tip-toeing around the circuit.  You can see from the spray how hard the rear wing is working...

  My favourite place to stand is on the Maggot’s / Beckett’s complex on the far side of the circuit.  Standing here you get the perfect F1 engineering experience and appreciate the forces the drivers have to put up with.  The cars scream in at 180 ish into a slight left kink, then straight into a 90 degree right hander without lifting, having taken most of the kerb. Immediately the cars flick into a 90 degree left hander, kerb hopping in the process, then braking hard for the slightly more open right hander towards the Hangar straight.
  Again, watching the cars tip in at that sort of speed just defies the laws of physics. As a mere mortal, you can’t even comprehend the car being able to stick. Then you have to imagine the poor drivers going from 3 or 4 G one way, flicking to the other side, then braking hard…  Brutal. Just brutal.

  Here’s a bit of a grainy clip taken at Maggot’s during a slightly drier 2nd practice in 2013. Stood here for over 30 mins and was nearly deaf by the end!

  Being an anoraky type, I quite enjoy comparing the different car setups and driver techniques. Two cars in the same team can behave differently – one more understeery, one with a softer back end etc in response to driver technique. That’s another amazing thing – in spite of the close convergence of all the engineering in all the cars of all the teams, every driver has their own way of doing things. Some just chuck the cars in almost rally style, setting it up slightly sideways before the apex while others do it go kart style, nice and smooth. You can see why some drivers are well known for looking after tyres and being so good in the wet while others just break cars and are hooligans!!

  F1 teams make a big thing about how technology in the car gets filtered down to the average family car on the road which is fair enough, but I think the most interesting legacy recently is how the F1 pit stop has been an inspiration for huge improvements to train punctuality and, bizarrely, dramatically reducing mistakes in hospital operating theatres!
  My mum just had a new hip so, probably thanks to F1, she can be fairly confident she’s not walking around with a pair of forceps still inside her!

  So, it may be dull but as an audio / visual experience and an engineering masterclass, it’s well worth a look!

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