THE BRITISH GRAND PRIX ON A BICYCLE
EXACTLY seven days on from a weekend trackside with Marcos Ambrose, our intrepid fan boy had jumped on a ye olde British Airways 747, and headed to Silverstone for the biggest blow out of the 2013 Formula 1 season.
WORDS & IMAGES: Mark Walker
Unlike the previous tale of Mustang rental cars and the Napa Valley Hilton, this epic journey involved a (not very good) bicycle, and a spare bedroom.
Friend of The Race Torque Dr Mitchell Adam happened to be living at the time in a village named Newport Pagnell, which is just to the eastern side of Milton Keynes, the home of Red Bull Racing, with his spare room an upgrade over the inner London broom closet I had been residing in post Sonoma.
The previous evening’s bicycle cruise to the accommodation was quite pleasant, featuring lovely countryside, a tour past the British iteration of Tickford, plus a chance encounter with a rather placid cat, which it transpires was a morbidly obese rat.
You know that bad sleep you have before a particularly early alarm? A few ales the night before didn’t help, neither did the timetable for the English sun in June, which buggered off at 11pm only to reappear again at 2:30am.
Not one to squander insomnia, the early morning was spent on Google Street View, familiarising myself with the required turns that followed my 5:30am departure.
The one thing that Google neglected to mention was the fact that the 30km journey from Newport Pagnell to Silverstone was entirely uphill. Not nice.
By the time I reached the village of Whittlebury, some decisive navigation was required, however, several well lubricated (even for 6:30am) local race fans, also on push bikes, were heading in a contrary direction to the Google suggestion.
What do I have to lose? I put my faith in the drunks, which led to an encounter with the security guard at the front gate of the Whittlebury Park Golf Course.
“Righto then, going to the race aye?”
“…I hope so!”
“Righto then, on your way then.”
Through a golf course, a forest, and a paddock, I arrived at the backdoor to Copse Corner. An epic win that shattered the Google predicted arrival time.
My next concern was where to lock my bike up, but before I could ask the woman at the gate, she said “You’ll enjoy riding your bike around the track today, inidit.”
The second massive victory for the day was swiftly followed by a third, with the first concession stand inside the venue exclusively selling Bacon Rolls. A genuinely lifesaving encounter.
Generally speaking, the concessions were well priced, with foodstuffs coming in at around £4.00 a pop and drinks at £2.20.
With a pair of wheels, I was able to complete a circuit of the track and explore the surrounds prior to the main event.
I managed to watch the GP3 race at the end of the Wellington Straight/Brookfields/Luffield complex, before heading to Copse for GP2 and Becketts for Porsche Supercup.
Credit where it is due, at least on GP day, Silverstone is the best manicured race track I have ever seen, although, a lot of the grandstands looked rather temporary in construction.
While all the merchandise stands are identical to those seen at Albert Park, the Pimms kiosks gave the game away that you weren’t in Melbourne anymore…
Before the race I scheduled an hour of attempted sleep, which was a complete waste of effort, largely due to the adjacent heliport, which on race day is genuinely the world’s busiest airport.
Pre-race entertainment consisted of the Red Arrows; picture the Roullettes, but with big boy BAE Hawk T1 jets. This show was utterly brilliant.
Also, I was well pleased with my seat, top row of the Stowe Grandstand A; you could see the cars enter Becketts, exit Becketts, and then all the way onto the pit straight, when you would lose them behind the Wing.
The race itself will go down in history as being rather memorable, but not if you were Pirelli, with many tyres blown on the Hanger Straight, otherwise known as the stretch of track directly in front of my vantage point.
After a while, race control couldn’t be arsed sending the safety car out to clear the rubber debris, with the officials wandering the circuit on an emu parade under the “protection” of local yellow flags. Purely terrifying.
There was zero doubting who the favourite son of the crowd was – and it definitely wasn’t Jenson Button, even if the majority of punters were kitted in McLaren colours.
For every circuit post his puncture, Lewis Hamilton received a massive ovation from the crowd, it was as if there was nobody else in the race!
I sat there quietly all race long, until three laps to go I yelled something at Mark Webber, which frankly startled those around me. “You what mate?”
Nico Rosberg eventually claimed the win from Webber by 0.7sec, with Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Jean-Éric Vergne, Sergio Pérez and Fernando Alonso all suffering tyre failures.
Post-race, I succeeded where Webber couldn’t, and I won the dash out of the car park – you could sense that the traffic snarl was going to be immense.
The trip home was broken up by a stop at the delightfully named “Cock Inn” at Potterspury, and a cruise through a genuine English willow cricket bat plantation.
Best Grand Prix adventure ever? It would have to go close…