Sunday, 23 October 2011

Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli

This week has been a sad one in the world of motorsport. On the 16th of October a 15 car crash in the Indy 500 led to the death of British driver Dan Wheldon. Today, we lost Italian racer Marco Simoncelli in the Moto GP. These two deaths are tragic reminders of the risks involved in motorsport, and my thoughts are with them and their families. I know it's kind of stupid to be upset about the loss of people you've never even met, but the world of motorsport is like a massive family, and to lose anyone from this world is tragic.

I've posted before about why I hate people watching motorsport for the crashes, and today has highlighted why. I began watching Moto GP earlier this year, and I was immediately taken with Marco Simoncelli. He was a highly entertaining racer and was a joy to watch. Today's crash looked horrific - I wish I hadn't seen it. It's awful to think that in that instant we lost someone through nothing more than an accident. It makes you question whether pushing things to the limit is worth the risks, however I don't think there's a single racer out there who would give anything less than the maximum.

Dan Wheldon's crash in the Indy 500 was just as harrowing as Simoncelli's today. Safety standards in the Indycar races have been called into question, and rightly so. Mark Blundell commented that having four cars side by side is dangerous enough, without the massive high speed that these drivers carry. One slip led to a death and that just isn't acceptable.

We can only hope that people involved in motorsport everywhere learn from these accidents - just as F1's safety standards improved after the many tragedies in that discipline. I'd love to see motorsport reach a stage whereby the risks to life are almost non-existent, but whether this happens or not is another story.

Today, I'll be thinking of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Long Overdue Post

I sit here after watching the phenomenal Korean Grand Prix and I am writing an apology. I have been somewhat neglectful of this blog of mine lately, largely because of my return to university and the start of a whole new year of hard work. While I have a spare 20 minutes or so though, I feel I should update you with my life outside of university and let you know about my recent motorsport musings.

Since my last post (over a month ago... Sorry...) things have been all go in the world of motorsport and I thought I'd start with my favourite piece of news: Sebastian Vettel is the youngest ever double F1 world champion! Obviously, you've probably all heard this anyway, but news such as this is deserving of at least a mention. I'm incredibly biased anyway (a look around my room would tell you this - a Vettel poster, flag and Red Bull Racing merchandise litters my living space), but there's not much debate that Vettel absolutely deserves this second title. As of this morning, Vettel has won ten races and been off of the podium only once (funnily enough in Germany - the race I attended). His qualifying has been absolutely phenomenal, being on the front row in most races. In terms of points, Sebastian has (so far) acquired 349 out of a possible 400 - that's 87.25% of all available points. If he wins the final three races, he'll match Schumacher's most number of wins in a single season. Oh, and for those who doubted his overtaking ability then I suggest you watch the past couple of races again. An awesome move on Fernando Alonso and today's overtake for the lead on Lewis Hamilton should put a stop to the rumours that Vettel's not a racer. So, very well done that man! This morning also, Red Bull managed to seal a second consecutive constructor's world championship - a testament to the dedication of all the staff working for the team, and of course well deserved. Well done that team!

The Korean Grand Prix today was absolutely amazing. We've been treated to some good races this year and this one has to be one of the best. Battles between Webber and Hamilton were a joy to watch, and the psychology of the teams and drivers is getting more and more apparent in each race. An example of this is Fernando Alonso's dummy radio message of "I'm giving up, I'm giving up" - potentially an attempt to get Jenson Button to slow a little and give Fernando more of a chance of overtaking. With any luck we'll get to see more and more of this throughout the remainder of the season.

During Korea, we also saw the first non-Red Bull pole position since November last year. Lewis Hamilton managed to grab pole position at the last moment. Now, you'd have thought that Lewis would have been thrilled to halt Red Bull's Saturday pace, but apparently not. After getting out of the car, Lewis slowly wandered over to get weighed, seemingly disappointed with his performance. I'm not going to speculate why exactly Lewis is behaving in this way: no doubt the media will be all over this soon anyway. However, I do think that Lewis's image is in danger of being pulled down what with his behaviour recently. His on track performance has been subject to scrutiny by stewards, drivers, teams and fans alike. We're just not seeing the measured aggression of the old Lewis. Whether this is to do with his bad luck this year or some sort of personal issue I don't know. Hopefully he'll pick up in the next few races, if for no other reason than to build his reputation back up and gain more respect.

Now, my involvement in motorsport hasn't suffered as a result of returning to university. Of course, I've been watching the F1, but I've also been planning more trips and have visited Brands Hatch once again. The next big trip I have planned is a visit to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix. After going to the Nurburgring this year, I don't think I could go a whole year without hearing the sound of an F1 engine or experiencing the atmosphere of thousands of F1 fans sharing a race. So, with any luck the tickets for next year's race at Spa will be booked very shortly, and another summer trip will ensue - watch this space!

A few weeks ago my Dad and I took my nephew back to Brands Hatch to watch the British Touring Car Championship. I've been watching the BTCC on the television this year, and the racing in this discipline is just insane. So, of course, I had to see it in person. Brands Hatch seems to be offering a lot more to the fans recently, with pit walks being a fixture of the big races I've attended. So, early in the morning we went down to Brands and managed to get a walk around the pits. Autographs ensued, and my nephew managed to grab a grand total of 18 posters. I was also thrilled with my chance to get a photograph of Tom Chilton, and very pleased when Frank Wrathall signed my programme, despite officials trying to usher fans out of the pits. Thanks to Mr Wrathall for staying and making a motorsport geek very happy!

The support races included the Ginettas, Ginetta Juniors, Formula Renault and the Porsche Supercup. The Ginetta Junior race was surprisingly slow, but then again the drivers are all around the age of 14! It's interesting to see the young drivers build up their race technique, and this training is important as most of the drivers were warned for dangerous driving!

I was pleased that the PorscheNurburgring, and it brought back memories of the F1 atmosphere. The lead driver, however, suffered some bad luck as he gained a puncture, forcing him to sit by the fence at Graham Hill Bend.

The BTCC races were really quite fast paced, however we couldn't see a whole lot of the race as the Grand Prix circuit was being used. However, a lot of cars seemed to be pushing hard where we were stood. When the tyres of a racing car go off, you can really see it. Especially when numerous drivers end up off the circuit right where you're standing! Jason Plato was the man with the best luck of the day, as he won the first two races - no doubt pleasing the fans wearing the Plato masks!

So, once again I apologise for the neglect of the blog, but it's good to be back! Hopefully there will be many more motorsport musings to come with the closing of the F1 season and hopefully with more Brands Hatch trips to come.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

I Love F1. I'd Love To Drive. But I Don't Envy The Drivers...

If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll be aware of my obsession with motorsport and F1 in particular. I really love watching the spectacle of motorsport, and I honestly feel that motorsport and racing is so unique that you don't get the same experience with any other sport. I also enjoy competing in motorsport through off-road trials in Land Rovers. I've done a few rally experiences over the years too, and found that I quite enjoy driving fast, and I love getting a car to go exactly where I put it, whether through slow maneuvering in the trials or the fast-paced actions in rally driving (I turned 18 exactly while executing a handbrake turn in a Subaru rally car). In short, I'd love to drive competitively for a career. However, I don't envy professional racing drivers.

This seems quite an odd thing really - kind of paradoxical. I'd love to drive professionally, however I wouldn't want to be in the same position as a professional driver. This isn't because of the pressure that drivers come under - I thrive under pressure. It's not because of the danger - I can be quite an adrenaline junkie. No, it's because of the sponsors.

Tonight I was watching the television when the ever annoying ad break came on. Alongside the usual 'Cash-for-Gold', 'Have you been injured?' and Hovis ads was an ad for Santander, the bank which sponsors McLaren. Two Santander ads came on, in fact. In the first, McLaren's own Lewis Hamilton was pictured standing on a podium - all three slots on the podium were occupied by Lewis to be accurate (the stewards would have a field day!). The second Santander ad (which admittedly, I quite enjoyed) featured Lewis and Jenson Button building a massive lego F1 car. Once the Santander ads had finished, an ad for the new Fiat 500 came on, this one featuring Fernando Alonso (although not, I noticed, Fernando's voice). Finally, an advert for Head and Shoulders shampoo aired, featuring Jenson Button and the worst acting I've ever seen. This final ad pushed me over the edge.

I understand that F1 is big business, with sponsors galore and lots of people involved in the apparent corporate machine. Yes, drivers need to be sponsored to even get into F1. Sponsorship is part and parcel of racing. However, do drivers really need to feature in adverts like those listed above? Head and Shoulders, Jenson? Really? Drivers should be just that; drivers. While the sponsors obviously need the reciprocity (we give you money, you give us advertising) can't they leave the drivers to get on with their sport? This is one of the reasons why I don't envy the drivers. F1 in particular is getting more like big business and moving away from being a pure sport. (Ok, other sportsmen are involved in advertising, I realise this, however I have to point out this feature in racing too).

A second reason why I don't envy racing drivers was highlighted when I went to the Nurburgring. During my trip to the Nurburgring I attended a pit walk and an autograph session. I also watched the drivers' parade before the race. Now, I had a choice whether to attend these events. I sense the drivers are more limited in their free will. Fair enough, I'm guessing the drivers understand that they have to meet fans, but would I want to walk out to hoards of people screaming my name and hounding me for a signature every single working weekend? I'm not so sure.

A third reason became apparent today on Twitter. The usual suspects were in attendance at Monza, and so for people who are slightly addicted to Twitter we got an interesting insight into a Thursday on a race weekend. Loads of Twitter/F1 people were posting pictures of the media sessions on a Thursday, and it made me realise how many interviews, press conferences and general publicity sessions that the drivers have to go to. F1 is a team sport, however you rarely see the mechanics giving interviews - the drivers are the ones who face the questions. Would I enjoy my every move being questioned a hundred times over by different journalists? I doubt it.

So, on a race weekend a driver has to answer a never ending barrage of questions and meet their adoring (and at times, crazy) public. When not racing, they have to please the sponsors and become the face of a brand - be that Fiat, Santander or, indeed, Head and Shoulders. However, that's not all.

Last weekend I took an unexpected trip to Cardiff to watch the Red Bull Speed Jam for which I won tickets. In attendance were Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. It was their weekend off, however they were still being made to get back to the day job and entertain us. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. However, it does seem a bit much for the drivers to have to drive around and show off when they're not actually racing. You wonder how much choice a driver has in this matter. No doubt they enjoy the actual driving - if they didn't then they wouldn't be in that career - but do they enjoy having to go to these events? If someone went up to Mark Webber and said 'you have to drive this car round this place at this time and go and sign a hundred-odd autographs', would he be that willing? I doubt I would be, and that's another reason why I wouldn't envy the drivers.

Monday, 5 September 2011

F1, Mark Webber, Chris Pfeiffer, Stunt Planes and Hugs From DTM Drivers... All in a Weekend!

It's Monday afternoon, I'm sat in front of my PC absolutely exhausted but happy from the weekend that I've just had. As you may have gathered from my previous blog post, on Friday I won tickets to watch the Red Bull Speed Jam in Cardiff on Saturday. The win was a complete shock - not least because I had to make provision for getting to Cardiff from Kent in less than 24 hours. Luckily, I had won two tickets to the Speed Jam, and so of course I told my Dad and we drove from Kent to Cardiff at 9am on Saturday morning.

We arrived in Cardiff around 12:30, and there was none of the stress of traffic and finding parking spaces that I was expecting. We pulled up, parked the van and then went for lunch at one of the restaurants in Cardiff Bay. When searching for a restaurant, I was surprised to see that nobody else in the Bay had arrived for the Speed Jam. I was in my usual motorsport attire of Vettel hat and Red Bull shirt and couldn't see anybody else wearing anything like this... Until I saw a Red Bull mechanic waiting outside one of the restaurants! Reassured that the Speed Jam was taking place, and pleased that I wasn't the only person in Cardiff wearing Red Bull attire (alright, the other person worked for the team but still...), we found a restaurant and had lunch.

After this, we had an hour to spare and so wandered around the bay when all of a sudden we came across the streets which would be holding the races and demonstrations later. The arena itself was quite big, and we could see a whole lot of Red Bull displays. While we were standing there, I heard a familiar voice - that of Jake Humphrey. I looked around and then actually saw Mr Humphrey! He managed to trick a crowd of fans who had gathered into thinking that the Red Bull Matadors (the air display pilots) were flying while the sun was shining. Sadly, we'd have to wait for this spectacle.

We watched the show rehearsals for a while, then decided that we'd be best off getting in the queue early for the gates opening at 2:45. We were glad we did - the queue had extended up the road towards the hotel even once we arrived. People arriving after us eventually went past the hotel and around the corner - again, before the gates were due to open! We queued for a long while when the gates finally opened and we swapped our printed tickets for a wristband (which is now adorning my wall of memories in my room) and grabbed a spot from which to spectate.

I was really pleased with the fact that we could get so close to the track. We positioned ourselves near the fountain outside the Millennium Centre so that we could see along one of the straights and could see a screen. Although the gates opened at 2:45, it was ages before the action started at 4:30, so I engaged in my favourite pastimes of photography and people watching. During my people watching, I noticed that some people entering the circuit had printed programmes. I am a bit of a hoarder of programmes, and so I set off to find out where to obtain one for the Speed Jam. There were no stands for merchandise near where we were standing, and so it was a mystery to me where people had managed to get a programme. Determined, I managed to summon up the courage to ask a Red Bull fanatic couple where they got their programme - luckily Red Bull fans are a friendly bunch and I grabbed myself a souvenir for the day at the entrance where the programmes were being handed out for free.

On my way back to Dad (who was saving my space by the track), I noticed that security were stopping people from going up to where Dad was stood. This worried me, as I wanted to get back to Dad, and wasn't sure whether security would be very forgiving. Luckily, a large group of people had just entered the track and were being redirected to the other side of the circuit. I made a break for it and ended up back with my Dad, ready to watch the event, and while we were waiting a golf buggy was making its way around the circuit. We didn't really realise what was happening and nobody paid much attention to the buggy until it got up close and started bibbing. Then, we realised that the buggy was piloted by none other than Mark Webber! Waves and applause from myself and my Dad ensued and the event got underway.

The first things to appear were the Red Bull Matadors. These guys are something else. They fly their planes so close to each other that every moment they are flying is impressive. All sorts of stunts are incorporated into their routine; flying upside-down, flying up and then coming to a halt before tumbling towards the earth and, my personal favourite, sliding the planes so that they look as though they were drifting. If you've never seen the Red Bull Matadors, I suggest you go straight to YouTube and look them up - you won't regret it! As soon as I've finished writing I will upload my videos from the Speed Jam so you can see exactly what I've seen.

After the Matadors came the first of three qualifying heats for the Red Bull Kart Championship. The Speed Jam played host to the finals of Red Bull's mission to find the best amateur kart driver in the UK in 2011, and so the qualifying heats were so important to the men and women driving. Unfortunately, just as the first heat got underway the rain started to fall. I say unfortunately, however for the spectators this was fantastic. You could easily tell who was at home in these conditions and the driving prowess of the karters came through. Heats two and three came later on and a grid was formed for the final of the Kart Fight.

In between heats we saw what I was most looking forward to - Mark Webber taking the Red Bull F1 Show car out for a spin on the streets of Cardiff - quite literally! The first time he took the car out the rain was falling and so we didn't get to see the car driven in anger, however being two feet from one of these machines while it's being driven is always special.

The second demonstration to take place in between kart heats was Chris Pfeiffer giving us a stunt display on his motorbike. This was absolutely amazing. I'd seen Chris Pfeiffer once before at the Race of Champions a few years ago, however I'd not seen him this close. Armed with my camera I managed to film him right as he was coming round to where we were stood. He came along the straight on one wheel and right where me and my Dad were stood he stopped the bike by lifting its back wheel in the air and then proceeded to spin around on the bike - again, with only one wheel. Chris Pfeiffer is definitely another recommendation for a trip to YouTube, he's absolutely insane but clearly brilliant as well.

A third demonstration right before the finals for the kart fight came from Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Nascar. The car was surprisingly big and noisy! The size of it was so big in comparison to the track that it was a worry whether Ricciardo would actually make it round some of the tight turns. Of course, Daniel is an F1 driver and therefore he managed it with no problems and we got to hear the noise of the car. It's great when you see drivers really enjoying themselves, rather than just driving for the day job and we perhaps saw this the most with Daniel Ricciardo. Just as the presenters thought he'd stopped, he span the car around to do so many doughnuts that we lost him in the smoke, and then came around for a second lap of the track. Once back at the arena, he asked the mechanics whether he could do a third lap, however he was told to switch off the engine - much to his disappointment! To make up with a swift end to his runs, he grabbed a bunch of Red Bull hats and ran off to the edge of the crowds and rewarded some lucky fans with free merchandise! It's safe to say that Jake Humphrey had to wait for Daniel to stop having fun before he got his interview.

With Ricciardo's display over, the final heat of the Kart qualifying took place, immediately followed by the final. The race was quite intense, with the top three men constantly swapping places. Some of the track was still wet from the earlier rain, and so the drivers had to be careful to stay facing the right way. After much overtaking and lots of fast paced racing the kart winner was crowned and Red Bull had their champion!

So, you'd have thought with the final race over that Red Bull would call it a day. But, knowing this team, we were treated once more with a display from Mark Webber in the show car. This time though, the rain had stopped and so Mark got his chance to really show off. I had made a video of Mark on his first run and so this time round I decided to photograph the car. Just as Mark got around the corner before our spectating point I had my camera ready. As soon as he got right in front of me and my Dad, he decided to give the engine a rev and perform a burnout. I had no ear defenders and leapt back about three feet! I've never heard something so loud as an F1 car burnout two feet away from me and it's something I'll never forget! Thanks Mark! On Mark's second lap round I decided that my ears had taken enough of a beating and so my Dad became my ear defenders - it must have been funny to see. I gave Mr Webber a wave as he went past, and that concluded our day at the Red Bull Speed Jam. We arrived home around midnight and had to go straight to bed - the next day we were due to go to Brands Hatch for the DTM!

After around seven hours of sleep I got up and gathered everything I needed for my trip to Brands - camera, sunhat, coat, but typically I forgot my umbrella (possibly the most vital thing for the whole day as it turns out!). We set off to pick up my nephew at 8 in the morning to arrive at Brands in time for our 9am pit walk.

My Dad and I have been to Brands numerous times and so we know that the best plan for a day there is to get Southbank parking. We arrived at 8:30, pulled up at Southbank and wandered over to the megastore. During the walk around Druids, my nephew asked what the queue was for. I asked him what queue and he pointed out the people standing at Paddock Hill Bend. I said to my nephew that they weren't queueing, they were simply waiting for the racing to start. Oh how wrong I was. It turns out that my nephew was right and there was a queue for the pit walk extending from the end of Hangar Straight towards the middle of Paddock Hill. Inevitably, we had to join the back of the queue and my hopes of getting into the pit walk fell. I needn't have worried. As soon as we joined the queue the people in front of us started to move forwards and in less than five minutes we were walking around the pits.

I've been going to Brands Hatch for many years now - I think I went to my first race when I was around 4/5 years old. However, I've only been in the pit lane once, and it was so long ago that I don't really remember it. I was determined to get a good look at nearly everything this time around. There were loads of people in the pit lane - however it wasn't nearly as crowded as the Nurburgring pit walk. My nephew was completely in awe of the cars, and because he's so young people were more than happy to let me and him through to get a good look. To my delight, the drivers started coming out to give autographs when we were looking at the cars. I managed to get the autographs of Renger van der Zande, Oliver Jarvis, Susie Stoddart, Mike Rockenfeller, Mattias Ekstrom and Jamie Green. I also got photographs and hugs from Mattias Ekstrom and Jamie Green - something which put a massive smile on my face! We stayed in the pits until we were ushered out, and as we were walking out over the Hangar Straight I took the opportunity to pick up some tyre marbles and a small spring that I found lying on the ground - definitely interesting souvenirs!

The pit passes that we'd bought also enabled us to go around the paddock. I've walked around the paddock a few times at Brands, however the last time I watched the DTM (in 2009) it was completely off limits. It was nice then to finally get a look at the cars of the support races. We were photographing the various Lotuses, Eurocars and Nippon Challenge cars, and stopped to have a look at a Subaru. While we were looking, the driver of the car came over and asked us whether we'd like to sit in it! Of course, my nephew jumped at the chance (as did I come to that!) and we had our photographs taken inside a real racing car. The driver of the car, Richard Senter, was a really nice guy and we cheered him on in the Nippon race - many thanks go to him for making our day that little bit more special! During the rest of our time in the paddock, my nephew got his chance to sit in his dream car - an AMG SLC Mercedes - and we saw a hell of a lot of amazing machines. After the ramble around the paddock, we went and watched the last of the DTM warm up, ready for the races.

There was so much on at Brands in terms of support races. We saw three Lotus Elise races, the Racecar Euroseries race (which features some spectacular slides at Graham Hill Bend), two Formula Ford races (which were surprisingly well behaved - not like the other races I've seen with them!), the Nippon Challenge (in which we cheered on Richard Senter) and a demonstration lap of the World's Fastest Ice Cream Van (yes, really!). All of the races were spectacular, with the Nippon Challenge being the best of all.

The DTM race took place in the pouring rain. Martin Tomczyk went on to win the race, with Mattias Ekstrom coming second. We cheered on Jamie Green and Susie Stoddart during the race, and it was awesome to see Ralph Schumacher, Gary Paffett and David Coulthard racing as well. The noise of DTM cars is also an amazing experience - it was lucky that we remembered to bring ear defenders and so we're not deaf one day on!

Brands Hatch is always a good experience, and if ever you get a chance to go then once again I'd recommend a visit there without hesitation. Getting to walk around a racing paddock and pit lane is a rare experience and you have to get this experience at least once.

So, overall a brilliant motorsport weekend and one that I won't forget. The Speed Jam was so unexpected, and hopefully I'll get a chance to visit this event again. Brands Hatch, while not a surprise, once again reminded me why I love that circuit. Oh, and being hugged by DTM drivers was great! Bring on the next motorsport weekend!


Friday, 2 September 2011

A Weekend Of Motorsport - Even Without F1!

I've been very excited over the past few days, as this Sunday I'm off to my spiritual motorsport home of Brands Hatch to watch the DTM! I've been going to Brands every couple of months since the age of 5, and it's one of the main reasons why I'm such a petrol head. I last saw the DTM in 2009, and it certainly was an exciting event! The sound of a car is the best thing about it I think, and these cars are certainly no exception and it's something I am definitely looking forward to!

So, today I was getting ready for the weekend's entertainment when an email comes through. It's from Ticketmaster. Thinking that it was some promotional thing, I opened it up without really expecting anything much. Oh how wrong I was. As I was reading, I noticed the subject said 'Your Red Bull Speed Jam Application 2011'. The next thing I read was the words 'We are pleased to inform you that you have been successful in applying for tickets for this event'! How surprised was I?! I re-read the email a few times, pinched myself to make sure I was dreaming then I was certain I'd managed to win tickets.

Once this had sunk in and I stopped jumping up and down and giggling like a lunatic, I read the time and location for the event: 2:45 on the 3rd of September in Cardiff Bay. Could be an issue I thought, as I live in Kent. I phoned my Dad, managed to garble that I won tickets and informed him of the location for the event... Luckily, my Dad's a petrol head too and so tomorrow I go to Wales to watch a celebration of motorsport in the streets! Woohoo!

See, my nerdiness does pay off - all I had to do to get the tickets was answer the question of 'Who got pole position for the 1975 British Grand Prix?' - Tom Pryce. Thanks Red Bull, I'll be seeing you tomorrow!!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

For Sure, F1 Interviews Have A Lot Of Phrases, Obviously

Ok so I'm a massive nerd as regular readers (and friends who I've forced to look at this blog) will know. As part of my nerdiness, I tend to notice really stupid things and one of these stupid things relates to F1 and its staff. Towards the end of 2009, I noticed that drivers and officials in F1 would say 'For Sure' a heck of a lot - to the point where it became distracting during the course of a weekend. Being a nerd, I decided to look into this further for the 2010 season, and I kept a 'For Sure' count on Microsoft Word. Basically, I would note down the name of the person (driver, team boss, engineer, presenter, whatever), count how many times they said 'For Sure' in a single interview and then produce a total at the end of a race weekend. Every practice session, qualifying session and race was covered, and every instance of 'For Sure' was counted. Yeah, nerd.

At the end of the year, I looked back at the totals for each race weekend for each person and added all of these together. In doing so, I was able to find out who stuck to the typical interview phrase the most. Lee McKenzie once stated that the worst offender for 'For Sure' was Jenson Button. However, my detective work (and frankly, lack of anything better to do) quashed this idea. As a result, I can announce that the person who is clearly obsessed with the phrase 'For Sure' and as such is now the 'For Sure Champion 2010' is Ferrari man, Stefano Domenicali! Well done to him! Since conducting 2010's investigation of 'For Sure' usage, I've only ever referred to Domenicali as Stefano 'For Sure' Domenicali!

With this pointless competition over in 2010, I had to continue the pointlessness in 2011. However, I noticed that this time round drivers have added a new phrase to their interview techniques. The phrase? 'Obviously'. I hate this more than 'For Sure'. Why? Well, if it's obvious, why are you saying it?! Nevertheless, I endeavoured to count the instance of 'Obviously' alongside its brother 'For Sure'. This year I'm also counting team efforts in interview styles. Obviously, the result is ongoing and for sure we won't know the winner until the end of the season finale, however if you're betting people and want a tip, I'd back Red Bull for the 'Obviously' count. A certain Australian who celebrated his 35th birthday recently is way ahead... Approaching the 100 'Obviously' milestone... I will obviously announce the winner of this pointless, nerdy competition at the end of the year. Who knows, Red Bull might be celebrating more than a driver's and constructor's championship in 2011...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Summer's Over. The Battle Has Resumed. Oh Yes!

Did we all have a lovely summer break? Yes? Wonderful! Or were you like me, and desperate for the F1 to come back off of its holidays? Yes? Excellent! Either way, you have to say it's good to be back, and it feels good to dust off the old blog.

So this weekend just gone saw the Spa Grand Prix - one of the most iconic races on the calendar. There was the usual talk around the paddock over the weekend, and there were questions about Red Bull's performance after their lack of wins at the previous races. Would McLaren and Ferrari overtake them? Has Sebastian Vettel finally cracked? Will Mark Webber say 'to hell with this' and leave at the end of the season? Well, no. None of these things happened and Belgium just proved what a strong team Red Bull are.

The Friday practice sessions were very wet, and we didn't see a whole lot of action there. What was lovely to see was the return of Bruno Senna to F1. He took over from Nick Heidfeld, and is set to race once again in Monza, and possibly for the rest of the season. However, it has to be noted that a lawsuit is currently in progress as Heidfeld is technically locked into the contract until the end of 2011. Whether this lawsuit is successful is another matter of course. What wasn't so good was that Ayrton Senna's nephew got caught out in the tricky conditions and stuck the Lotus Renault into the barriers. At least Senna can be comforted by the fact that Paul Di Resta did exactly the same thing, and that both cars were repaired before qualifying.

After wet running in pretty much every session up until qualifying, everyone seemed cautious about what quali would bring. McLaren looked on brilliant form during qualifying and at the last minute Lewis Hamilton looked set to take pole... Until Sebastian Vettel came along and went almost half a second faster! Well, normal service resumed from the German driver and his Red Bull team then! The big surprises in qualifying included Schumacher losing a wheel on his first outlap and crashing into the barriers. Turns out, the wheel nut was cross-threaded and so the accident was kind of inevitable. However, this wasn't much of a comfort as Schumi qualified in 24th place. Heikki Kovalainen had some good luck though, as he managed to get his Lotus into Q2 once again, showing that Lotus are indeed improving and are approaching the pace of the mid-field. Another surprise was that Jenson Button could only qualify 13th, after slowing to let team-mate Lewis Hamilton past - something which must have been (to use a common F1 phrase) 'bitterly disappointing'. After Senna's crash on Friday, everyone was thrilled when he managed to qualify in 7th place - clearly, this man is one to watch in the future.One final thing to mention about quali was the crash between Hamilton and Maldonado - a crash which looked like revenge from Maldonado after Lewis Hamilton passed him when setting a fast time. Maldonado was given a 5 place grid drop (surprisingly lenient in my view) and Hamilton given yet another reprimand for the incident.

So, with the grid set it was time for race day. Spa is typically a circuit suited to those cars with great straight line speed - traditionally not Red Bull. Sectors 1 and 3 are characterised by long straights, whereas sector 2 is more to the Red Bulls' liking. With this in mind then, it would be interesting to see who had the advantage this year. Another problem for Red Bull was that their tyres suffered from blistering (possibly caused by Newey experimenting with more camber than Pirelli recommended) to such an extent that the bosses and drivers were worried for the safety of their drivers. So worried in fact that they appealed to change their tyres on the grid - something which is not permitted for those in the top 10 qualifiers. Of course, this request was denied, provoking anger among the team - not less Sebastian who could be seen having stern words with a Pirelli worker. Red Bull are though a racing team and so rather than face a penalty for changing tyres, extensive calculations were carried out and the team figured that Mark Webber's tyres would last until lap 3, and Sebastian's would last until lap 5 - both pitted on these respective laps. With disaster averted in this respect, the race could continue.

Although Sebastian started on pole, it was Nico Rosberg who had an awesome start - seriously one of the best starts I've ever seen - and took the lead on lap one. However, this lead was short lived and eventually normal service was resumed. You all know I'm not one to describe the race in every detail, so I recommend you watch the race to see Rosberg's amazing start, and to see an edge-of-the-seat overtake by Webber on Alonso. Really, an overtake on the outside of Alonso at Eau Rouge is something else - no wonder Christian Horner said he closed his eyes! Spa wasn't so kind on Lewis Hamilton however, and he clocked up another DNF after crashing into Kamui Kobayashi. Lewis did later say that it was 100% his fault and apologised to the team, however you have to wonder whether Hamilton is becoming one of the unluckiest men in F1 right now.

After one of the most thrilling races I've seen this year, Sebastian Vettel overtook several other drivers (who said he wasn't a racer?!) and eventually won the race, with Mark Webber bringing in a second place for Red Bull and Jensonwatch the race if you haven't already - it's convinced me and my Dad to take a trip to this race in 2012! With Sebastian's victory comes another blow to the championship rivals - Sebastian can win the driver's championship in Singapore should he win the next two races. However, F1 is increasingly unpredictable and so we can only wait and see what happens. No doubt we'll still get some thrilling action throughout the rest of the year. Bring on Monza!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Insurance Woes

I'm writing this blog in a bit of a blind rage at the moment. My insurance company has made a change to the detail of my policy which has resulted in it being pushed up by an additional £300! My policy for my first year of driving was around £400 - pretty good considering I was insured at the age of 18 and my car of choice is an old Land Rover. Fair enough, I was on a limited mileage policy, my excess was massive (making me drive far more cautiously to be fair) and I was a named driver, but a £400 premium for a new, young driver isn't bad. Now, when my renewal came through the price had tripled to £1200. So, I had a year's experience, but my insurance had gone up threefold? Obviously, we didn't want to accept that so we moved to a new company (ironically, the Green Company for my hardly green Landy). The premium was still more expensive than my first year (probably due to the 'credit crunch' or whatever the news is labelling it as now), but only by another £200. Brilliant, I was still able to drive my car.

Now, today my insurance company have made a change to my policy which means that my insurance is nearly £900 at the flick of a switch. Why should this be? I have no idea. Oh and don't forget that this includes admin charges which we never called for in the first place! So, unless they explain why it's that much more expensive or put the charges back down it looks as if I'll move companies again - or give up driving until I'm at the golden age of 21 where insurance starts to move to sensible prices.

In preparation for get more insurance hunting, I went on and looked up prices. Three months ago my average quote was around £600, which was pretty much the limit for us. Today, my average quote is over £1000. I can't afford this. I have an inkling that the reason for the price increase is the new legislation which means insurers can't charge men and women different prices any more. A big drive for gender equality means that women's insurance has gone up, rather than men's coming down. Well done feminists. Sorry. It's probably not their fault, but I feel there's a lot of short-sightedness in that they expected men to have cheaper insurance. What self respecting company would miss an opportunity to make more dough? So, a failure on the campaigners' part I feel as now we're all worse off. Ok, I'm the world's worst feminist (can't stand the movement but that's not for delving into on this blog).

So, while we're now worse off but equal on gender terms, where are the campaigns against age discrimination? Why should I as a young driver pay more than an older driver? You could argue that it's down to experience. Well, I've run an experiment into this. For me to drive a Peugeot 306 1995 as a 19 year old, non-home owner, student living at home, holding a driving licence for 1 year and 5 months it will cost me at least £1400. Change the date of birth to a 39 year old but keep all other details the same? £800. Why should someone with the same level of driving experience have their premium nearly halved? Where are the laws preventing age discrimination? Simply, there are none. This is wrong.

Now, another experiment I ran was with my Land Rover quotes. For me to be a named driver on my Dad's policy it will cost me over £1000 as I said earlier. For my Dad to insure the car without me on the policy? £85. Honestly. No, I haven't missed a '0' off the end. It really would cost £85 over a year to insure that car - but because I'm aged 19 and have only held my licence for just under 2 years it costs over 10 times the amount. Crazy or what?

So what of my quandary? I can either stop driving for two years until my premium goes down to something I can afford, try and plead with my insurance company or try and find something cheaper. Whether I succeed in this is a different matter. Hardly seems fair that my insurance is so high because of my age. Maybe I'll start my own campaign. Except what would happen? Older people would have to pay more, rather than young people paying less. Isn't capitalism great? I'll update you on whether I can keep driving at a later date. For now, I'm going to try and calm down by filling myself with tea!

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Power of F1 Fans

I've written a lot about the new BBC/Sky F1 deal which comes into effect next year. The level of outrage towards this deal is immense - I've never seen this much unrest among F1 fans. The main reasons for this unhappiness vary, and I'll outline some of them further on.

The BBC/Sky deal is basically that Sky Sports will show every F1 practice session, qualifying session and race live. Apparently, no adverts will interrupt the race, however it's unclear whether ads will interrupt any other sessions and it's likely that any pre-race build up will include ads. As well as this, Sky will charge £30.50 per month for the privilege of accessing Sky Sports - on top of the existing Sky subscription fee. Now, to watch free F1 we can go to the BBC. Great! However, we can only watch 10 races live, with delayed extended highlights for the rest of the season. I don't know about you, but 10 full races and 10 select moments doesn't seem to equal a season to me. I also object to highlights programmes - would you watch a football moment for only the goals? No? Then why watch an F1 race for only the overtakes? Oh, and we'll also have to pay a license fee as per usual.

Our options then? Watch a full F1 season live (as we have done for many many years) for a large fee, in turn giving a profit to Murdoch's unethical empire, or watch half an F1 season live and try to avoid seeing the result before the highlights.

So, people need to be made aware of the main causes of outrage and some of the pitfalls of this deal. Such causes include:
  • Paying a huge amount to continue to be dedicated fans - F1 is expensive to watch in person, why should it be expensive to watch it on a television?
  • We're being given no choice of whom we pay. Recently the Murdochs have been central in the phone-hacking scandal - should F1 be affiliated with a company that engages in these practices?
  • The deal was struck when BBC still had a contract. We would have enjoyed free F1 on the BBC until the end of the 2013 season if the contract hadn't been broken
  • Both the BBC and Sky are being hazy on the details of the coverage. There are rumours that the BBC Online and Mobile coverage will be unchanged - does this mean we can watch all races online or does it mean that the coverage is the same as the TV coverage, highlights and selective races?
  • If the BBC had backed away from a deal with Sky, we could have had F1 on Channel 4 or Channel 5. Yes, ads would have interrupted but we could still watch a full season for free - we coped with ads on ITV
  • It was rumoured that the Concorde agreement had safeguards to prevent F1 moving to PPV. Apparently though, the BBC's half-hearted coverage means that this safeguard is bypassed
  • Teams initially seemed worried about the new deal, however now they're all fine with it because they will receive extra income - the fans are not being considered, nor is the obvious drop in audience size
  • Sponsors may object to the deal, meaning that F1 loses more money than it makes as a result of the deal. In turn, should sponsors move away from smaller teams then these teams could be lost
  • The BBC is spending £900,000,000 on a move to Manchester, yet a £45,000,000 contract for F1 is too much. Presenters are also payed the big bucks, but F1's 6,000,000 strong audience and nearly 50% share in all TV viewers isn't enough apparently.
  • An article by Ben Gallop of the BBC got over 6,000 comments, yet the comments section was closed and the comments are apparently ignored.
So, with all these things in mind many fans believe that it's time for their voice to be heard to try and knock some sense into the F1 big boys. F1 fans should be considered in such deals, as well as just the financial implications. Now, a few email addresses and petitions have been posted on the Facebook and Twitter pages of Keep F1 On The BBC (@KEEP_F1_ON_BBC). To make things easier for us fans, here's a list of these email addresses and petitions. Use them responsibly: don't give abuse to innocent people, just make it clear that there are a lot of us who are unhappy. We're drawing the attention of officials to our displeasure, not making their life a misery, so don't make us look bad! You'll find the addresses of people to email on the links.

Keep F1 on BBC Petition

Formula One Teams Association (FOTA)

BBC Complaints

Keep F1 on FTA Petition

Twitition (Twitter Petition)

BBC Sport

Sky Sports

If anyone has any more contacts please feel free to drop me a message on Twitter (@MooEvilBoffin) and I'll add them to the list. Once again, please be sensible if you're going to email anyone - don't make F1 fans look bad. Be polite - we just want to draw attention to the displeasure about the deal, not antagonise innocent people. Hopefully the power of the fans will save F1 and keep it free for all!

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hungary Victories Under A Dark Sky Deal

Once again the rain made F1 an interesting and exciting affair this Sunday in Hungary. Back to back races are an unusual treat for F1 fans, and I watched this race straight off the back of my trip to Germany. This weekend, Sebastian Vettel was on much better form after his mechanics broke the curfew and worked through Friday night to get the car back to his liking. This work seemed to do the trick, as Seb ended up back on his usual front-row spot - much to my relief.

Now, usually if Seb isn't on the pole I'm not overly worried - drivers have their off days, this is perfectly natural. However, Germany was Sebastian's worst qualifying and race result (although by normal standards, 3rd on the grid and 4th in the race isn't exactly terrible) for a very long time which prompted immense debate about his ability. Now, I'm always one to come to the defence of drivers, and this being Vettel I am even more charged to defend his driving. Recently on Twitter I noticed a heck of a lot of Vettel hate, (largely from Hamilton fans, which is quite a surprise) and when I challenged these views I got some interesting reasoning. The main reason for the dislike of Vettel was that he apparently "didn't win on merit". This is an intriguing definition of 'merit' in my opinion - apparently merit doesn't include leading races from the front in perhaps the best car out there. People are of the opinion that when someone in the fastest car gets pole position, has the best pit stops and leads races from the front, they're simply not trying hard enough for the wins and as such they're not deserved, thus the driver isn't any good. So what we seem to have is the conflicting idea that while Vettel is getting all the wins, all the poles and having the best stops, he simply is no good and we must dislike him for not 'earning' it.

Now my take on this is that yes, while Vettel is in the best car and starts from the best position most of the time this doesn't mean he's not trying for his wins. Mark Webber has been on pole several times this season in the Red Bull sister car, yet he hasn't won a race since Hungary last year. Surely if Vettel's wins were due to the Red Bull on pole, Mark Webber would have enjoyed similar success? Another argument that Vettel's quick but not good at racing seems somewhat unfounded too. Vettel hasn't had to overtake as he's led the race from the start. In these situations it seems unfair to criticise Vettel for not overtaking. Why not criticise the second place drivers for not overtaking Vettel? At the end of it all, Vettel is world champion and is leading the 2011 world championship and so he must have some racing prowess somewhere!

Overall, I don't understand dislike of drivers at all. It's not just Vettel that people dislike - Alonso endures similar levels of dislike, however people can't criticise Alonso's driving ability. My acknowledgement that it's mostly Hamilton fans who dislike Alonso and Vettel has always struck me as odd - why should fans of a particular driver dislike other drivers? Vettel is my favourite driver, yes, but I don't go through the gloating and put-downs of other drivers unlike many Hamilton fans I've seen. Of course, fans of other drivers probably react the same way, and not all Hamilton fans react like this, but of those who do engage in this behaviour the majority are fans of Lewis. Food for thought really.

Anyway, after I'd engaged in my debates this weekend I settled down to watch the race and it certainly was a thriller! The start of the race was wet, which nobody had foreseen. Everyone started on inters, however the track was so slippery that it was hard for anyone to pull out much of a lead. I've never seen drivers slide the cars so much as the start of this race, it's definitely worth a watch. Lewis Hamilton eventually overtook Sebastian Vettel, and a dry line started to form once the pack had settled down. From there on in it looked like plain sailing for Lewis, however rain falling around turn 10 prompted him to change to intermediate tyres from the super-softs that everyone had donned. Quite a few other drivers were with Lewis on this, including Mark Webber, however it became clear that the tyres were unnecessary and staying on slicks was the better option. From there, Lewis's race went wrong. He had a spin, and in the heat of the moment span the car back round in the middle of traffic, prompting Paul Di Resta to take an off-road excursion. For doing this, Lewis took a drive through penalty - a somewhat harsh penalty many thought - meaning that not only did he have to stop to change back to slick tyres but he had to come into the pits a second time to take a penalty. This gave the lead back to Jenson Button, and ultimately he won the race with Vettel second and Alonso third.

One other event worth mentioning includes Nick Heidfeld's car essentially exploding after he came into the pits. Apparently the car had been stationary for quite some time, leading to the engine overheating and catching fire. HeidfeldVettel pitted and came across Heidfeld's stricken car in the middle of the pit lane. Luckily, Vettel managed to narrowly avoid Heidfeld's car and the race continued unabated.

Amid the action this weekend was the dark cloud of the BBC/Sky deal for next year's race coverage. A lot of fans have been upset and angry at this decision - me being among them. The deal is basically that Sky will get full coverage of every race, qualifying and practice session and BBC will get live coverage of 10 races only, with extended highlights for the rest. This means that in order to enjoy a full F1 season, fans have to pay £30.50 per month for the Sky Sports package, as well as the price of a usual Sky subscription. This is something which is unaffordable for many fans, myself included. As a result, F1 is highly likely to price out a number of its audience, as well as lose its casual viewers.

It was thought that the Concorde agreement had safeguards to prevent F1 being shown on Pay-per-view (PPV) television and remain exclusively free-to-air (FTA), and that the teams would obviously try to prevent a loss of F1's audience. Martin Whitmarsh was quoted as demanding clarification on the deal, and a number of teams stated that they hadn't been consulted which gave us hope that the deal would be quashed. However, once Bernie Ecclestone had met with teams it became clear that the teams wouldn't be fighting it due to the short-term financial gain the deal would bring. As for the Concorde agreement, well it would seem that there were either no safeguards, or that the BBC's limited coverage was enough to warrant F1 being shown on PPV television. While the fans are angry about the deal, seemingly there is little that we can do and many of us have drawn the conclusion that F1 is likely to sell off its fans in favour of buckets of cash. A lot of people involved in this deal have broken their word, another source of anger among the fans. Bernie Ecclestone for example stated that it would be suicidal for F1 to move to Sky. Clearly, a large amount of cash later and the deal is more attractive. What the sponsors think of the deal remains to be seen. In my opinion, if the audience of F1 is sufficiently decreased when F1 moves to Sky the teams may lose sponsorship money. If this is the case, it could prompt a rethink of the whole deal, and hopefully F1 would return to FTA TV.

Honestly, I'd much prefer F1 on FTA TV with adverts, rather than F1 being PPV. The BBC coverage simply isn't enough in its proposed form - 10 races isn't a season, and deferred highlights means that many of us will have to avoid the result of a race until the highlights are shown. Personally, I've never understood the point of highlights programmes without showing a race; would you want to watch only the goals in a football match? Of course not! You want to see the build up. In the case of F1, you want to see the build up to an overtake, not just the move. You want to see perfect laps which lead to a race win, not just the driver on the podium. Will the limited FTA coverage work in this case? I don't think so. So, F1 fans are stuck between being forced to pay for Sky (therefore lining the pockets of someone who many people dislike) or to watch half a season. This hardly seems fair to dedicated fans, and we can but hope that someone sees sense. For now, we'd better enjoy the rest of the season - it could be the last full season that we see for free, and I intend to love every second.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Goodbye Free F1...

I awoke to the awful news that F1 will be moving to Sky Sports from 2012 - 2018, with BBC showing only half the races in each season. We'd been hearing a lot lately that F1 was likely to be moving away from the BBC, however the teams had been adamant that F1 must be free-to-air. This seems to have gone out of the window entirely, and I for one know that my days of watching F1 each race are probably numbered. Let me explain...

I currently have a Sky subscription, however it's the most basic package and so it's affordable. From 2012 should I want to watch F1 as I do now I will have to pay an extra £30.50 per month. I can't afford this. Now, it's probably not the end of the world as I'll still be able to watch highlights of the races on the BBC - obviously not live. I doubt I'll be able to see qualifying or any of the practice sessions either, at least not live or in their entirety.

So, for me to watch F1 in HD for every practice, quali and race from 2012 - 2018 it will cost me a total of £2562. Fair enough, this is over a 7 year period, but this hardly seems like F1 is free-to-air. So it seems like for all the teams' shouting and screaming that F1 must be free-to-air (because of sponsorship and such), this just won't happen because someone wants to make or save a buck. As I've already stated, highlights and half the races live doesn't make F1 free-to-air - we should be able to see a whole season.

Now, aside from the money aspect of the new F1 deal I have to point out F1 in the context of the ethical issues of Sky. Recently the phone hacking scandal has centred around Rupert Murdoch, to the point where Parliament forced Murdoch to halt a take-over deal. There seem to be no such ethical considerations in Bernie Ecclestone's mind. Do we really want F1 to be associated with a company which is involved in phone hacking of innocent people to sell a story? If anything, the hacking scandal led people to want to boycott Sky. As F1 fans, we have no choice and Murdoch gets more money in his billionaire scheme.

Also, Sky Sports was recently associated with a sexism row, with two pundits making somewhat patronising and sexist comments about a female referee in a football match. Ok, I admit that I'm the world's worst feminist, but I don't want F1 to turn into a boys club, with commentators ogling the pit girls and not talking about the cars. It seems unlikely that we'd be lucky enough to keep the team of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle, so we could lose the expertise of the current team.

As if the cost and association with Murdoch wasn't enough, the move away from the BBC means that we could be losing the opening programme before qualifying and races, losing the amazing commentary team, losing Martin Brundle's grid walk and losing The Chain. All because the BBC want to save a buck and Murdoch and Ecclestone want to make a little more. This isn't acceptable. Pricing fans out is one of the worst crimes of any sport, and I doubt that many fans will stand for this. With any luck, teams will protest. However, luck isn't on our side. So, we'll have to see what happens, although by the look of it this could be the last season that I get to watch in full and I for one intend to enjoy it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Well, I'm Back.

It's Tuesday the 26th of July 2011 and I've been home for 16 hours having returned from one of the best weekends of my life. I know that I won't be able to give this weekend as much justice as it deserves through writing this blog, however I will do my very best to try and give you an overview of the five days I had away from England. You must remember that as much racing as I've seen over the years (regular trips to Brands Hatch mean I'm no stranger to motorsport), I've never seen an F1 race in person. My expectations for the weekend were therefore quite high, having seen F1 on the TV and watching every race religiously. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed and I have had the best weekend that I can remember. It was definitely worth the 107 day wait.

The Journey

The weekend started on Wednesday for me. Dad had the day off work to get everything prepared for the trip. We knew we had a long drive ahead of us - from Dover to the Nurburgring would take us around 7 hours. Our ferry was booked for 9PM, however we left the house at 6:30 in order to be sure to arrive in time. The early leaving was kind of not worth it to be honest - we arrived over 2 hours too early! This did however mean that we were the first on (and therefore off) the ferry, and so we spent the time either sleeping or reading or eating to get ready for the epic drive.

We arrived in Calais at midnight (European time), and immediately ran into problems. We were expecting to go through the usual customs checks once off the ferry and so we were looking out for people to direct us. This never happened though, and the lack of street lights meant that we missed our turning towards the motorway! The sat nav proved a great boon in this case - although the "Turn around when possible" instruction got really irritating. We ended up going around the docks and through loads of little villages - places where we weren't sure we should be. In truth, it was kind of scary as we were expecting people to jump out on us at any minute. I guess things always look that much more terrifying in pitch darkness. Eventually, we found our way back onto the main roads and the journey was really underway.

We didn't spend all that much time in France, although it was really hard to tell when we got into a different country. We guessed that we had arrived in Belgium when the motorway signs changed and the language was ever so slightly different - talk about detective work! Most of our journey was taken up in Belgium, and it was the one place where we stopped for fuel. The Range Rover was absolutely brilliant in that respect - you wouldn't have thought that a 21 year old 3.9 V8 car would only need one stop on the journey but there you have it. It truly is the best car in existance - in my view at least!

Once we got out of Belgium we started the German leg of the journey. It was still dark at this point, and so we didn't get to see much of the Eifel mountains. All we knew of the mountains at this point was the height of them - we were just driving up, up, up and up! Eventually, the sun started to rise and we could finally see where we were. As we neared the track, the roads became like a motorsport circuit with tricky twists and turns. Now, if you were in a Caterham or something these roads would be so much fun - in a Range Rover designed for off road competitions driving in semi-darkness is slightly scary, but an adrenaline rush nonetheless! After spiralling round for what seemed like an age, we saw signs for the Nurburgring. At 6:30 AM, we arrived at the campsite, ready for the F1.

Thursday: The Pit Walk

After much fussing, tripping over, tangling of ropes and fighting metal poles, the tent was up. It was so hard to find a camping space at the site, largely because the event was so popular and this was the Nurburgring's official campsite. Yes, there were other sites around and some of the car parks were converted to accommodate those who couldn't get in at Camping am Nurburgring, but this was definitely the best site. We managed to find a spot under the pine trees on a hill - one of the greatest things about the Rangey is the old 'You can go fast, I can go anywhere' saying; we needed it this weekend. After breakfast, we set off to collect our tickets from the Nurburgring welcome centre.
Getting to the centre was a hell of a walk. It must have easily been two miles to the centre of the track, and most of that was uphill. I don't think I've ever walked so far in a weekend! We got to the welcome centre way too early, and so spent most of the afternoon looking at the merchandise stalls and the shops. I can tell you now that despite being a 19 year old girl, I've never been on a spending spree in my entire life. Up until now anyway. I bought merchandise across the entire weekend, and I've returned home with a Red Bull flag, mug, badge, Vettel poster, cup (which came with a drink at the food stalls), Nurburgring mug, sticker and probably a load of other stuff. All I have to say is best spending spree ever! After we'd looked around we went to collect our tickets. Luckily we didn't get stuck in too much of a queue - with the sheer numbers of people there we were pleased that we got to the welcome centre so early. 

With our tickets we were given a programme and we found out that the pit walks were scheduled to take place from 3:15 to 5 just behind the welcome centre. Realising that the Nurburgring was absolutely packed with people we decided to set off really early. It was just as well that we did really, as there was already quite a queue there. At this point, we got a taste of the famous Eifel weather. We knew that rain was going to be a problem at some point at the weekend; showers were scheduled for at least once every day. What we didn't expect was this amount of rain in a shower. Of course, we stood in the rain waiting for the pit walk - I wasn't letting water from the sky stop me from getting to go into the pits of an F1 circuit. 15 minutes into the rain and soaked to the skin I remembered that I had packed an umbrella - typical!

After what seemed like an age, we were allowed into the pits. The pit walk itself was crazy - people were everywhere just waiting for a glimpse of the workings of an F1 team, and how could you blame them? I was surprised at how open everything was. The secrecy of F1's technology led me to believe that the teams would shut their garages up for fear of people seeing something on the car that they'd rather the other teams didn't know about: Just look at the mechanics who are often to be found standing at the back of a Red Bull when it's on the grid. However, every garage was wide open, and so once we'd battled our way through the crowds we managed to see inside every one of them. I'll soon be uploading the pictures and sending some of the photos to the teams to play a little game of 'Name the Mechanic', once I get the results I'll be sure to post the pictures here with the names of the people working on the cars. 

As well as being able to see inside the garages, I was hugely surprised when a certain person came past on a push bike. The person's name? Michael Schumacher. Yep, he just cycled past everyone waiting in the pits. He soon returned to the garages though - followed by one Nico Rosberg! Sadly, they both went past so fast that I couldn't capture a photograph, but I'm sure I'll remember the day that Schumi cycled past me for years to come. After a while, we reached the one thing I absolutely HAD to see: the Red Bull garage. And who was outside? Sebastian Vettel! After getting through the scrum, I eventually managed to get a photograph of Seb, to my immense delight. I also managed to get a photo of myself outside the Red Bull garage, a photograph which I will cherish for quite some time. Anyway, we continued along our pit walk and saw inside every single garage. We even saw Williams doing a pit stop practice. The noise of the wheel guns was awesome! I never expected it to be so loud! As soon as I have a chance I'll upload a video of the stop and post a link. As we made our way towards the end of the pits we stopped outside the Force India garage - where we saw Adrian Sutil. There certainly wasn't a shortage of drivers in the pits, and it was nice to be so close to these awesome racers!

After the pit walk and being awake for over 36 hours we began the two mile walk to the camp site. I think Thursday night was the only night when I got any sleep - the rest of the weekend I was running on adrenaline and Bratwurst...

Friday: The Night of the Techno Music

 I woke up around 8 on Friday, feeling considerably less tired than Thursday but no less excited: today was the day I'd get to see 24 of the best drivers in the world drive 24 of the most technologically advanced cars in existence. We headed off to the circuit fairly early, as we knew that we had a long walk. We were expecting to have to stand in the zone where our tickets were allocated, however the circuit was open everywhere and so we stood at the hairpin around turn 9. The GP2 cars were out on circuit when we arrived, and even then the noise was quite something. I managed to take a few photographs and videos before the practice stopped. We then waited for the first F1 practice to start. During the waiting, we saw the course cars come out on circuit - Dad decided that he wanted the estate car that was on track, simply because the noise it made didn't fit the car at all! Of course, I took the opportunity to make a video. 

Once the course officials were satisfied, the F1 practice began. The newer teams were among the first to come out on track, and although I had ear defenders I didn't put them on straight away as I wanted to experience the noise with no interruption. I fell in love. The sound of those cars is absolutely phenomenal and I have to tell you now that the television does not do that noise justice. I did, however, concede defeat and put my ear defenders on and thanks to that I still have my hearing! When more of the cars came out on track I noticed something that you really can't experience when watching F1on TV, and something that's been the centre of attention for quite some time: the sound of the car with the off-throttle blown diffuser. The horrible burbling noise that you can just about hear on TV is actually as loud as the engines when the driver is accelerating! That was perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend. 

Over the day we saw so many different things during the practice. Schumacher went off circuit in FP1, right in front of us when we sat in the Vettel tribute stand (well, I couldn't not sit there really!). Once he regained the circuit the fans were waving and cheering him on - he really is seen as a kind of demi-god in Germany. Eventually, we moved around the circuit and sat where our tickets were allocated for the second practice. We were sat by turn 12 - one of the fastest parts of the circuit, just before the chicane. I was really pleased with where we sat, there's nothing like seeing those cars flying round at such high speed and braking hard for the twisty turns at the end of the straight. 

On Friday evening we went back to the tent and spoke with the guys who were camped near us. I have to say this for F1 and motorsport in general, it really does bring people together. The English guys camped with us were mostly Hamilton/McLaren fans, so of course there was banter about Vettel and Red Bull - although I don't think the guys expected a 19 year old girl to start talking about engine regs in 2014! A good evening all round, although we had very little sleep due to the techno music played through the night. Seriously, I will never doubt Mark Webber again when he said that the camp site could be heard all the way to the drivers' hotel! I've never heard such a mix of music, and I think I've heard as much AC/DC as I can take in a year.

Saturday: The Autographs

Saturday was of course quali day, when we would see the cars pushing like crazy to get to pole position. The night before we had headed to the shop at Camping am Nurburgring in order to buy some breakfast for Saturday. We needed to buy something that would keep, as we had no fridge and the only cooking equipment we had was fire. Let me tell you now, smoked croissant is an interesting dish, however it did set us up for the day.
Because the quali is perhaps more popular than the practice sessions, the FIA helicopter camera thing was flying about much more than the day before - it was perhaps as impressive as the cars themselves. It was great to watch it flying around, and we could only assume that the pilot got bored as the helicopter dived in and out of the surrounding trees in quite an aerobatic display. 

The qualifying itself was amazing to watch, mostly because of the atmosphere at the circuit. The fans were all urging their favourite drivers to get pole, and the final quali session was quite tense. I was surprised that I wasn't as disappointed that Sebastian wasn't on pole, however I was still thrilled that a Red Bull was on the front row. 

Once the day's qualifying sessions were over (Porsches, GP2 and GP3), we headed to the driver autograph session. This was the most insane part of the weekend - the crowds were like nothing I'd ever seen! We got to the session early, but clearly not early enough as the Eifeldorf Grune Holle was completely packed. I had my doubts that I'd actually get close to the drivers (I had already given up on the idea of an autograph, and I was mainly concerned with taking pictures). However, luck was on our side as we were allowed in to the main square! Once we reached the throng the real madness started. Sebastian Vettel appeared from inside the hotel and the crowd went wild. I don't know whether I'd go to another autograph session to be honest, largely because I felt that I was in real danger of being seriously injured. At one or two points I felt faint and as though I was being crushed. But, being the hardy Vettel fan that I am, I persisted in pushing my way through the crowds and by sheer luck alone I got my photographs. Vettel eventually left the crazy session, only for more drivers to appear. I managed to see Heikki Kovalainen, Paul Di Resta, Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Vitaly Petrov and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Once Schumacher and Rosberg appeared we made our escape - not because I didn't want photographs of them (far from it), but because the crowd went so wild that I honestly believed that someone was going to be seriously injured and I didn't want it to be me.

After the madness, we returned to the tent for the evening: The night of the fireworks. Honestly, when I was packing for Germany it never crossed my mind to bring fireworks and explosives, nor footballs to blow up. The F1 weekend was definitely a party for the German fans.

Sunday: Race Day

Sunday came around really quickly for me. We woke up at 7, as I wanted to charge my camera up for the race day. Unfortunately, the inverter which we used to charge up our phones and things from the Range Rover's battery had broken - possibly because of the wet weather. So, I had no battery for my camera and I was relying on my camcorder for the biggest day of my year. Never mind though, as nothing could dampen my excitement. We had a breakfast of firelighter beans (so named because they had a certain smoky quality due to the cooking methods we used... Namely, fire) and then set off to the circuit.

We arrived just in time for the GP2 race, which had some pretty close racing actually! It was so cool to see the cars going three abreast into the chicane at the end of the straight, and it raised our hopes for an exciting F1 race. We also managed to see the Porsche supercup race, which was quite different from all the other races as the cars look like, well, actual cars so to speak. Once this race was over, we had a nearly 2 hour wait before the weekend's main event. 

During the wait, the driver parade took place. This is one of many aspects that you never get to see on television, and it was fascinating listening to the interviews. I have always held the view that certain words get overused in F1, overused to such an extent that I've kept a count of them across the year: my Obviously and For Sure count. The weekend went to show that the words aren't just overused because of the TV coverage - the drivers really do say them that much! Joking aside, you get more of an impression of how personable the drivers are during these sessions - Fernando Alonso was the happiest I've ever seen him. You're also amazed when the drivers switch languages in a heart beat - Although it was hilarious when Timo Glock was asked to speak in German and answered in English! Luckily my camera held out just long enough to take some good shots.

Also before the race we saw something we didn't expect - David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen driving old Mercedes cars around the circuit. This was quite a spectacle, and you got a small sense of what it must have been like to see the old drivers take the cars out on the Nordschleife. 

After the entertainment we watched the race. It was the most amazing atmosphere I've experienced. The noise of the crowd and the cheers and shouts at every drama was something I'm glad I got to witness. You really don't get this on the television. On the first lap, Heidfeld had a collision with Sebastien Buemi and went flying off the track, quite literally. This happened right in front of us, and you could hear the intake of breath from the crowd. Lewis Hamilton went on to win the race, with my beloved Red Bulls only third and fourth, however I wasn't disappointed as the race was such a spectacle. The icing on the cake was when Fernando Alonso pulled over on the track on the slow lap in and Mark Webber picked him up. This happened literally in front of where we were standing, and I have an awesome video of Alonso getting on to Webber's car. 

The last thing that we saw on Sunday was the circuit closing, and the trucks leaving. This was an experience in itself, and it's crazy seeing just how quickly these teams work. Within half an hour of the race ending the trucks were all heading off, the course cars had cleaned up the circuit and it was as if nothing had happened over the weekend.

So, with the race done we headed back to the tent for our final night at Camping am Nurburgring, ready for a whole day of travelling.
The End of the Weekend

When Monday arrived we said goodbye to the friends we had made, packed up the tent and left Camping am Nurburgring at 10:30. It was lovely seeing the Eifel mountains in daylight, they really are impressive. The journey home took us more or less back the way we came, however we took a slight diversion through Bruges to pick up chocolates and waffles. We arrived in Calais for our 10PM ferry, and made our way home. I was sad to leave Germany, it was a beautiful place, and I really did have the best weekend of my life there.
So, worth the wait? Definitely. Would I go again? Definitely. And the camping? Well, it wouldn't be the same without it. Trust me, I'm going to the F1 again, and every motorsport fan should see F1 at least once. The noise, the sights and the atmosphere can't be replicated, and I'm in love with the sport even more.

If you can't get to a race, I've tried to capture most of the event in pictures. I'll also try and get back to you on the Name the Mechanic game. For now though, I'm going to watch my videos and relive the experience again and again.

Photo Albums

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nurburgring Here I Come

Well this is it guys, I leave for the Nurburgring on Wednesday. I'm unlikely to be blogging in that time due to making the necessary preparations (in other words, trying to stuff all my clothes into my suitcase), so I thought I'd give a quick round up of everything I'm going to be doing and seeing when I'm at the legendary German circuit.

When I last looked at the Nurburgring's official website, there were a load of dates listed for when people could take their own cars around the Nordschleife. Sadly, only Monday the 25th was listed, and by that time my Dad and I would be on our way back to Calais for the ferry. However, recently another date has been added, so on Friday we'll be taking the big blue Rangey around the 22.8km circuit! We won't be setting any records, but it's going to be great fun anyway.

The weather forecast for the weekend doesn't sound so bright and cheery as we'd hoped. In fact, looking at a 14 day forecast the weather was: rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. So, I'm going to have to acquire some wellington boots in a hurry. Frankly though, I couldn't care less what the weather does. I'm going to be seeing some of the most amazing cars and drivers over that weekend, so water isn't going to make it any less awesome.

Of course, any holiday requires the necessary holiday photographs with which to bore family members and this one is no different. Well, it may be a little different in that these photographs aren't going to be boring at all. I originally bought myself an 8gb memory card, which would let me take 1,500 photos (this is in addition to my other memory card which gives me 300 photos). Now, 1,800 photos seems like a lot, but this is only the case if you're not as F1 obsessed as I am. When I went to the Autosport International show in January I took well over 200 photos, and that was just one day. Not trusting myself to take fewer than 1,800 photos I've gone and bought a third memory card - 16gb. I can now take nearly 5,000 photographs, so god help any family members who ask to see the holiday pictures...

Recently on the F1 website it was announced that Nico Rosberg would be driving Juan Manuel Fangio's 1954 Mercedes around the Nordschleife. I've not managed to find out the exact day on which Rosberg will be driving this amazing car, but hopefully it will be when my Dad and I are at the circuit. If I do manage to see it, then of course you can expect to see photographs.

So, to the weekend plan in a nutshell. On Thursday, we're planning on doing the pit walks and hopefully the coach tours around the circuit (whether this is in English or German is another story, but it'll still be good to get driven around the GP circuit). Friday is when the action all starts, with GP2, GP3, Porsche Supercup and, obviously, F1 practice sessions. In the evening I believe that the campsites have entertainment and of course we're driving the Range Rover around the Nordschleife. Saturday brings the usual qualifying sessions, and the autograph session arranged by the circuit. Whether I'll manage to meet any drivers is another story, but I'm going to give it my best shot! Sunday is race day - I doubt whether there's anything more I need to say about this! Dad and I are standing at T12, the long straight before the chicane where I believe the DRS zone will be placed. Monday is where it all ends and we go home via Bruges.

That's that then. Next stop, Nurburgring! I'll try and upload the photos as soon as I come back. If you click here you'll be able to bookmark the album, ready for when the photos go up. There's nothing on there yet, but come next Tuesday you'll be overloaded with F1 glory!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Half Wet, Half Dry, Team Orders And A Spaniard

Did we all enjoy that? Today's British Grand Prix was a far cry from the boredom of Valencia two weeks ago, much to the relief of F1 advocates everywhere. Silverstone always seems to be a special race, with plenty of controversy (Mark Webber's "Not bad for a number 2 driver" being an example) and debate, as well as pure racing. This year was no different.

In terms of the racing spectacle, qualifying was a somewhat testing affair for the teams. The quintessentially British summertime led to rain falling during the session, so we saw much slower times than normal. The 'unsettled' weather (a favourite phrase among British weather forecasters) meant that in Q1 it was the Toro Rossos of Alguesuari and Buemi who fell along with five of the six drivers of the new teams. Making it through to Q2 due to the bad luck of the Red Bull sister team was Kovalainen of Team Lotus. The usual suspects made it through to Q3, with the only surprise of Schumacher qualifying 13th. Of course, being ahead in your home race is always something which drivers relish, however the McLarens of Button and Hamilton had a trying time in the rain. Lewis qualified 10th on the grid with Button qualifying 5th. The final Brit on the grid was Paul Di Resta, who performed quite impressively once again, out-qualifying his team mate Sutil and the McLaren of Hamilton to end up 6th on the grid. It was however, the usual team at the front of the grid: Red Bull. Although this time the order was switched around slightly with Mark Webber putting in an extremely brave lap in the rain, leaving Sebastian Vettel to qualify second.

Aside from the drama on the track, Saturday brought the typical British Grand Prix controversy. This time, the debate surrounded the issue of blown diffusers, where exhaust gases are pushed over the diffuser even when the driver is off throttle, giving more downforce in the corners. Martin Whitmarsh and Christian Horner were at the centre of the debate, with Whitmarsh claiming Red Bull was running 40% over the 10% off throttle limit. Of course, Horner rubbished such claims, however it was no secret that Red Bull would be disadvantaged by the limit on use of the blown diffusers. The debate ultimately led to meetings with the teams until an agreement was reached about how the diffusers were to be run. Of course, nobody could see who would be affected the most until race day.

So, here I am at 6PM on Sunday evening and I have the results of who was running well and who was not. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari ultimately won the race, after his team had been decidedly quiet on the diffuser debate. Did this mean that Red Bull had suffered terribly due to the ban? Had we finally seen the charging Bull halted? No. Vettel finished second with Webber finishing third. So, what about McLaren? Well, arguably they had a poor race, with Hamilton finishing fourth and Button retiring from the race due to an error in the pit stop whereby the wheel nut was not fixed on to the front right tyre. Up until that point, the British driver had a fairly good race, and the race being cut short was a result of error in a high pressure situation - these things happen! Hamilton also suffered at the end of the race, as his fuel levels were critical. As such he was powerless to stop Mark Webber charging past. In the dying laps of the race Filipe Massa was informed that Hamilton was vulnerable in fourth place, and the Ferrari man charged up towards Hamilton, giving some absolutely fabulous racing on the final lap. However, Massa running wide meant that Hamilton kept his fought-for fourth place.

Now, I've written the above as though it was all straightforward in the race. However, Red Bull opened some discussion when they saw Vettel in second with a KERS problem. Webber, then in third, was chasing down his team mate, pushing Vettel hard into defence when we heard a radio message telling Mark to 'maintain the gap' - obviously team orders. In Germany last year Ferrari were absolutely slated for telling Massa that 'Fernando is faster than you... Can you confirm you understood that message'. However this year there is no ban on team orders. In the post race interviews Webber stated that he had ignored several messages from the team and continued racing Vettel, although ultimately he finished behind Sebastian. I'm divided on my opinion of this use of team orders. On the one hand I'm disappointed that the guys couldn't race, on the other I can understand that Sebastian is leading the championship by a huge margin and that the team doesn't want the drivers to repeat Turkey 2010 and end up in a wall somewhere. Mark was clearly annoyed that the team had given him orders, and no doubt will be having stern discussions with boss Christian Horner and the rest of the team.

So, that was Silverstone. The end of this race marks the end of the wait before I go to Germany for my first ever Grand Prix. It's amazing to think that the next time I don my Red Bull shirt and my Vettel hat I'll be wearing them whilst standing by the side of the Nurburgring! For tonight though, I'm content with watching Seb racing around the Top Gear test track - something I'll recommend to everyone!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Summertime, And The Circuit Is Rainy

From the title's mention of 'rain' you can safely assume that F1 has returned to its roots in Britain. It's now over 50 years since the F1 World Championship was formed, and in the UK we're still enthusiastic about our motorsport, even if it does rain all the time.

The two practice sessions today were very wet, with limited running in FP2 due to the weather. Formula 1 is no stranger to wet weather though, and eventually we did see some running. We saw numerous spins, with Kobayashi's off being the worst. Luckily, Kobayashi managed to avoid turning the car over by the skin of his teeth and walked away from the incident.

The British summertime weather is notorious for being hard to predict, although I believe that there have been mentions of showers for tomorrow. Whether this will affect qualifying remains to be seen. Sadly, I won't be watching the qualifying or FP3 due to actual paid work, however my success in repairing the Sky Plus box means that I will avoid all news outlets, Twitter and other fans so I will be able to pretend my recording is live. Believe me, I'd much rather be watching a qualifying session than spending eight hours working on a Saturday, but my finances need boosting up for my forthcoming trip to the Nurburgring.

Since my last post I've been getting incredibly overexcited about my first Grand Prix meeting. It's now less that two weeks before I leave for Germany and as of today everything is in place for the event. In order to give me more of an idea of what to do once I arrive (aside from watching beautiful cars zoom round my favourite circuit), I've sent out messages to teams, drivers and F1 media people asking what I absolutely must see and do. As of yet, only Red Bull have responded:

Go to the driving signing sessions, take an umbrella, taste the local beer/barbecue. TAKE EAR DEFENDERS. 
Perhaps the best advice I will receive! While I'm still waiting on replies from other teams, one team who responded to an earlier message was Virgin Racing. This weekend, Virgin have been sponsored by the film 'Cars 2', due for release when I am at the Nurburgring. The film's logo has been placed on the car, however I suggested that the team should draw a face on their cars in order to be more in keeping with the film. Virgin Racing responded with:

@MooEvilBoffin we do have the little marussia mouth!

I know the teams are always busy, and for them to respond to my messages is always a pleasing moment, so I dedicated my 'Follow Friday' to @RedBullF1Spy and @MarussiaVirgin.

One last Twitter user who received special mention from me was @SaveTheRing. This user is dedicated to a campaign to save the Nurburgring from a somewhat worrying state that it's found itself in. I can't begin to go into the details of the campaign here as I wouldn't be able to explain it in enough depth. However, you can read about the campaign here. Once you've read the article, you can sign the petition. I also suggest you follow SaveTheRing from the link posted earlier. I adore watching races at the Nurburgring, and this race will be my first ever grand prix meeting in person. It would be a dreadful shame if people like me couldn't go to the circuit, so I fully support this campaign.

So, hopefully Red Bull will continue their charge on qualifying tomorrow. Until I get back home, please don't give away the result! No doubt I'll give you an update after the race; it's good to have F1 back home!