A Visit to Silverstone

I spent Sunday at Silverstone during the FIA GT1 World Championship event. There were two reasons for going, firstly I wanted to see the big circuit layout changes for myself and secondly I needed my first post-winter fix of live racing.

I got there a little late after not realising just how far away the circuit is from my house, I’d underestimated by a full hour and I had got away late too – I must have arrived 90 minutes after the time I’d intended. This meant I missed the GT3 race and most of the GT4 race. Luckily I’d been directed to park at Abbey corner so I was just a short walk from the first part of the new section, where I watched the last ten minutes of the GT4.

Abbey

The first thing that struck me was the building site opposite. This is the location for the brand new pitlane. The only thing finished is the track itself, the new pitwall, and whatever existing facilities were not torn down. There is dust and dirt on the track surface, not helped by the wind which must be blowing plenty of it from the construction site in the infield. It had also been raining.

Revised Abbey corner
Revised Abbey corner. Former track runs where cones are, even older track in foreground. (c) P.Wotton

The new Abbey is a very fast corner! It is much tighter than I expected it to be yet the cars carry a lot of speed through there. I would expect F1 cars to reach 150mph+. The GT cars were travelling quickly too but were hampered by the low grip on the damp circuit. I’ve never watched a race on the old layout from here but it seems clear to me these changes improve this viewing spot considerably – far better to watch cars flying at speed than the heavy braking of old. Remember this will become the first corner in a year or two when the start line is moved down here – until then I don’t expect much passing at this point.

Here are a couple of shots I took of the new pit area as it looks right now – it is early days yet and they have rightly been focussing on completing the new section of track. You can see how tight Abbey looks, but because it opens out again they can carry a lot of speed.

Unfortunately there was nowhere to watch the exit of Abbey as there’s a little campsite / motorhome park in the way. I could probably have sneaked in actually, never mind. I hope they move the camping area and put a stand or a spectator bank here, it would be great to see the cars coming toward you at speed as you’d be able to see the cars move around and see the drivers working to control them, especially in the damp conditions we had.

Village/Loop/Aintree

Moving further up the new section, I entered the grandstand at the Village corner. I’m hoping this was a temporary stand as it wasn’t quite big enough, it seemed to be the busiest stand at the circuit as it was full for this race and people were being turned away. I must give a shout out to the steward in the left-hand side of the stand where I was, very friendly and he did everything he could to make sure every seat was filled before he apologetically and reluctantly turned anyone back, checking every time. He even seemed a little disappointed when I moved on halfway through the race, as if I thought it wasn’t good enough when in reality I only wanted to see a different angle. Much better than some of the jobsworths you can get doing that job – I have to say I’ve come to expect anyone in a flourescent coat at a race track to automatically hassle you or check your ticket and say you don’t have the right pass – this was quite the opposite, two thumbs up.

If and when they build a bigger stand it does need to be angled slightly clockwise, to give a better view of the run into the corner so you can see an overtake move being set up, rather than finishing. Those at the far right had a good view.

What I liked about this stand was the closeness to the track. I’m a little disappointed my only decent photo to illustrate this was of a Safety Car! I do have a short video, limitations with WordPress mean I can’t embed it here.

Village corner
The view at Village corner, up close to the cars. (c) P.Wotton

It looks to be a good place to watch a race if you like to see cars for longer periods of time. It puts them in front of you for longer and you can really see them working to slow down, then hard on the gas for the short section before hard braking and turning in before the other guy can get inside on the left. You can see the Loop does set cars up for an overtake through Aintree and along the following straight, and cars were side by side as they left our vision, but you don’t see how those moves are resolved until they come by again – a big screen may be needed here. There was also no circuit commentary at this point, though this is sometimes useless as it is drowned out by the engines I do find it helps for when the cars are at the other side of the track and when there is a Safety Car.

FIA GT
GT cars through The Loop and Aintree corners, from Village stand. (c) P.Wotton

GT and F3 cars seemed to be able to make it work, it was hard to tell not really being familiar with the paint schemes of anything other than the Vitaphone cars (I do like that car), that and the cold biting wind making my eyes water. To be honest I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the race order, I was really watching to see how the drivers worked the new section and whether there was much side-by-side action.

I think F1 drivers will be able to line up a pass into Village, they will have to be very optimistic if they expect to make it stick though. If they do get alongside they will have to watch out in The Loop because several times I saw cars go for the same piece of track, and the car on the inside (left) had to back out of it almost every time. What will probably work better is the way The Loop upsets the rythym of a driver if he gets it wrong so we should see lots of passing attempts into Brooklands corner.

I do think it’ll make a great MotoGP track, we could yet see the best MotoGP race of the year here.

Wellington Straight
I made my way over to the Maggotts grandstand, in doing so I had to cross the National straight which has now been renamed for the Wellington bombers that were once stationed here. This was the first race I’d witnessed the Corvette C6.R in person, and what a sound! The Ford GT was similar and surprisingly so was the Nissan. Great to hear all sorts of engines sounds in one race. Just a few pics I took on the walk:

I made it to the Maggotts/Becketts sequence, there is a grandstand on the left side of the track and if you stand at the top row or along the right-hand side you can look behind you at the new layout.

The grandstand on the outside of the circuit at Becketts has been dismantled but let me tell you, when the replacement is up it will be a prime viewing position. You’ll have fast cars in front of you and in the background you’ll see the new section where you may have cars passing and getting into trouble – plus it means you see the cars twice per lap, last year you’d have seen them 60 times during the F1 GP and this year you’ll see them 120 times, instantly helping to justify the high price of the tickets.

For those where I was stood on the infield side, you’ll have to be sure to get as far right in the stand as possible and be ready to crane your neck. While you do get neckache and with a crowd you may struggle, you do get a better idea of how battles are progressing when you see them twice. I followed a Maserati and a Nissan for a couple of laps and even in the half lap between Becketts and Village it was clear the Nissan was faster – I believe it overtook for 3rd.

Aston Martin DBR9
Aston Martin DBR9 at Aintree corner, viewed from back of Maggotts stand. (c) P.Wotton

Rest of the Day
I stayed in this position for the start of the British F3 race but this was as tedious as most F3 races are, at least it seemed it to me. I didn’t see much passing, there was an incident at The Loop where a car tried to pass on the inside but instead tagged the guy on the outside into a spin – I suspect this will happen a lot in open wheel cars here. James Calado and Oliver Webb fought it out for the win which eventually went Calado’s way.

While they were doing that I made my way to Copse and watched the end there, before wandering around the fully open (if somewhat deserted) paddock. The F3 teams were wheeling their kit back through and various GT teams were packing up, that was about it. I managed to buy a Vitaphone Maserati jumper – which was on discount – for even less after confusing the German shopkeepers and then realising I didn’t have enough money. I think they just wanted to get rid of me!

Final Thoughts on Silverstone
The changes are very good. We’ll mourn the loss of Bridge corner for the driving challenge, and we’ll celebrate the different challenge the new section brings. It is tight and the drivers will need to get their elbows out. Brooklands should now feature passing.

Okay so Silverstone looks scruffy at the moment. The place is half-finished. None of the grandstands on the main straight were open, some are old ones still being put back together, some are brand new ones that haven’t been finished yet – if it looked quiet between Copse and Luffield, that’s why. The stand at Village needs making bigger and others aren’t even there at all. These things will be fixed by June for the MotoGP race.

The track is surrounded by upturned mud. Most of this will surely have grass seed in it and will look great next year, if not sooner. The construction site will be an eyesore for the 2010 Moto and F1 GPs and then it’ll be gone.

Silverstone 2010 as a place is a work in progress and a venue in transition. It will get better – in some ways it already is better, it offers better viewing locations already.

Just one more thing. The food vans are overpriced and the one I visited – infield by the fairground at the crossroads – served cold food and lukewarm tea. All concessions had shut before the last race had finished. I wanted to watch the races and then get something for the road – I had a 3-hour drive ahead of me. This is not good enough. This was the first big event after a very public relaunch, you should be bending over backwards for people. Just keep them open until ten or fifteen minutes after the last chequered flag. Admittedly it was a very late programme and the race didn’t finish until 5.30pm, but that is not an excuse to close. Fix this.

You can view more of my photos of the day at my Picasa site. There are also a few more short videos on my YouTube account.

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7 thoughts on “A Visit to Silverstone”

  1. Pat,
    This is a question about your london marathon post on sidepodcast: you used a photo, and i’m wondering what the rules are for using flickr images on a website. Did you know, or get permission from the owner? I ask as i’m planning on using flickr images on my blog.
    Thanks, Peter

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  2. Hi Peter.
    On the original Flickr page containing the photo there is a line on the page that says “Some rights reserved” or “All rights reserved”, if you click that it’ll tell you what you can do with it. The “Some” pages are usually Creative Commons licenced so you can use them if you give credit alongside it, those that say “All” usually are copyrighted but I did use one of those because the text description given by the uploader said it was free for editorial use.

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  3. I think it would be good if for F1 the new fiddly bit could be replaced with a hairpin. A fast flowing track with one slow corner the cars would not be that well set up for, perhaps giving overtaking opportunities. However, I guess that might cause a jam on lap one when it becomes the second turn.

    The new start/finish is an issue for another reason. Most races after the start, the cameras follow the action at the front (unless there is an accident or incident) but something I have noticed over the years is with the British GP at Silverstone, the shot-selection lingers on the Maggotts/Becketts complex long enough to see the full field zig-zag through on lap one before cutting to the front again. This is one of the most iconic moments of the season that I always look forward to and worry a bit the TV people might not do that year. When the new start/finish is employed, the field will be more spread out by that part of the circuit which will spoil the impact.

    However, the changes seem fairly reasonable and Silverstone has maintained its character over the many years in combination with modernising track-layout better than anywhere else.

    (It is a sad state of affairs that the castrated Hockenheim is even still one of the better circuits of the year.)

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  4. I’m not convinced a hairpin would work. I think also the new section is designed to put cars in front of a grandstand for longer.

    You’re right about that opening shot of Maggotts/Becketts, for me it is ruined with the Hangar bridge, if you look at the old videos from the 1970s they had a very high camera at Stowe which followed cars all the way from Copse. They should still have that.

    Hopefully it’ll work..

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  5. Great write-up, Pat! Looks like a mixed bag, as far as the “improvements” go, but I’ll be very interested to see how it all does when F1 gets there.

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