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!

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Week After Next (Like The Day After Tomorrow, But More Epic)

Ok, it's July. That means one thing only to me: NURBURGRING. Yes, the month has finally arrived when I shall cross the Channel from my home in Kent and drive across Europe until I get to the home of the 2011 German Grand Prix. As mentioned before, this will be the first F1 race I've ever seen in person. The decision to go wasn't much of a planned event, with savings and strategies, but rather a realisation that the event was affordable and a reward for me winning an award from the British Psychological Society for the highest A-level grade in the UK - see, studying does have its perks! I think we can do the whole trip for around £500, although I will, of course, be cluttering the Range Rover with momentos... Well, what else is a scholarship for?! As it's nearing the time of departure (the 20th of July at around 8 PM for those interested), I thought I'd best update on what's happened so far in terms of preparation.

The Rangey is very nearly ready for its epic journey. Dad's had some worries about the ABS working on the car, so in order to eliminate these worries the whole system's come off to give us normal brakes that shouldn't cause any problems (touch wood). The panels are all still lovely and straight owing to a lack of trialling lately. I also believe that Dad's going to put a winch on the car, as well as a snorkel, just so it looks more awesome and so it functions a little better off road. Although whether this gets done in the next 16 days is unclear. Just to be on the safe side, phone calls were made to our insurance company about European break down cover. This is one thing that we definitely needed more than anything else - driving a 21 year old car across Europe to a trip of a lifetime is a risky business, and we don't want anything going wrong. Luckily, our insurance company provided us with the necessary cover.

On that note, a word of caution to other classic car owners: many companies won't offer European break down cover to those of you who drive a car over 11 years old. Some companies, like the RAC, will charge an extra fee. We were offered a quote of £74 by the RAC, only to look in the terms and conditions to see that the total cost would be £174 because of the age of the car. Needless to say, we didn't take that deal.

In terms of other preparation for the trip, I got my damage deposit back from my university accommodation, as well as a scholarship payment. This is, of course, going to be spending money for the trip. I don't exactly know what I'm going to buy from the circuit, but without doubt most of the merchandise will be pricey so I'm preparing myself to spend a bit more than I'd perhaps like. However, seeing as this is something I've always wanted to do I'm not letting a mere matter of money get in the way. Expect to see photos of what I've bought when I return and blog about the trip.

A final note is that my Dad and I have filtered in a trip to Bruges on the way back from the Nurburgring. We saw the Belgian city on an episode of Coast, and it looked far too good to miss out on. As the ferry back isn't until 10 at night, we'd be mad not to go! I've been given instruction that whilst there I have to buy chocolates. How can I resist obeying those instructions?

So, in just over two weeks I'll be on my way to the Nurburgring. Until then, I'm going to be far too overexcited. Kids at Christmas won't have anything on my excitement levels for this trip. Here's hoping for a Red Bull win just to top the whole trip off!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Happy Birthday Sebastian!

My blog wouldn't be worthy of the tagline unless I mentioned that today was Sebastian Vettel's 24th birthday! Sadly, the tag #HappyBirthdaySeb hasn't started trending on Twitter yet, but I'm sure Seb's had lots of birthday wishes nonetheless. Anyway, Sebastian Vettel has had a fantastic year in F1 so far - all but one pole position, and never out of the top two. Surely, he is an absolute genius! I speak for all fans of Sebastian when I say that I hope he has a brilliant birthday, and another good result in next week's grand prix.

On the subject of races, I'd quite like it if Seb could win at the Nurburgring too. This is his home race, and his first race in Germany since winning the championship. It also happens to be my first ever race in person! I must admit, I'm more excited than I have ever been before. Three weeks today I will be at the circuit watching 24 of the finest drivers race around my favourite circuit - heaven or what? I will of course be blogging about my whole visit once I come back from 'The Green Hell', and I'm thinking of creating a whole album of photos to share with you all. On that note, I'm thinking of buying yet another memory card for my camera - I just don't think that 1,700 photos are going to be enough for an obsessive fan such as myself...

One final Sebastian related note for those of you who are interested: Seb will be on Top Gear next week as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. As I said on Twitter earlier, my life is complete!

Happy Birthday Sebastian!