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