Thursday, 5 July 2012

Memories of Silverstone

Damon flying the flag (Silverstone, 1999)

In two days time, its the British Grand Prix. The excitement started mounting for the now 5 year old when on the way back from Manchester (as part of the husband’s never-ending 40th birthday celebrations we trekked up to see the Stone Roses) he saw not one, not two but three huge red Ferrari lorries hurtling up on the other side of the motorway. This triggered ballistic excitement in the back of the car. Not sure if the 5 year old actually thought Alonso was driving one of the lorries (more likely to be Massa surely!) such was the borderline hysteria.

Anyway the 5 year old is now VERY much aware that Grand Prix races happen quite close to where he lives so it won’t be long until we start getting bombarded with pleas to go. Bring it on – we get to live the dream and the 5 year old thinks we’re the greatest parents ever. Plans to convert the 1 year old over to the dark side are well in progress (her nursery, with some amazement, inform me that her favourite toys are cars!). Happy Days.

So folks, Northamptonshire is where it is at this weekend (although possibly also SW19 if Murray makes it through to the final but he probably almost definitely won’t because that would be simply be unbelievable and ridiculous and would never happen in real life). And even more excitingly, bucketloads of rain are forecast to which I say (shamelessly stealing a line from Blackadder) “hurrah with highly polished brass knobs on.” I mean c’mon, if we are going to have The Worst Summer in Living Memory, the very least we are entitled to is a highly dramatic, chaotic wet British Grand Prix. 

My ticket for the British Grand Prix

Which brings me to my own British Grand Prix Experience. Just the one but I fully intend to rectify that in the next few years – sometimes I wonder what I did in my BC (Before Children) years. I went to the British Grand Prix in 1999. This was (rapid calculations which may involve a calculator) 13 years ago which means (OMG) I was just 24 years old... *contemplates emergency glass of wine to mark the huge passing of time*

Obviously because the 1999 British Grand Prix is SO long ago, my recollections are slightly hazy but here goes nothing.

Getting into the circuit involved possibly the most hideous car journey that I have ever known. Despite staying in a hotel a mere TWENTY miles away, it took round FIVE hours to get from the hotel and parked inside Silverstone. The roads were total gridlock and we just sat there for hours and hours. I thought at numerous points as the minutes and hours ticked by that we were going to miss the British Grand Prix. I was so stressed and panic-stricken that I actually feared for my health. To say things got fraught in the car was an understatement of epic proportions. Still no one died (just) which is the important thing. All those things that Bernie used to say about Silverstone needing to sort out the traffic problems were absolutely bang on the money. Mind you, not that he personally would have experienced any of it landing on the Bernie helipad. Anyway its good the way he still looks out for the little people.

I also remember it was ferociously hot. Ah back in the days when we used to get scorching summers.  

There were a LOT of hospitality tents and posh cordoned off areas (I wasn’t in one of these, obviously) and this was way back when in 1999 when Tony Blair had only been in power for 2 years and all those ‘fat cat’ excesses were merely an evil twinkle in some bankers’ eyes*

*Obviously the decade of Thatcher and free market economics had paved the way but I think in the early New Labour years we were trying to pretend we all now lived in a nicer and more compassionate world. Of course we all know now it was just the same old boom and bust, rich get richer and screw-you society. Ooops getting a bit political there. Error.

And so to the race itself. I’m so doddery that I can't even remember who got pole. Turns out it was Mika Hakkinen (that wouldn’t have pleased the 24 year old me!), then Schumacher, then Coulthard. I had an amazing seat at Luffield although I remember getting hugely irritated at all the Mercedes and Scottish flags being waved around. Nothing personal but the stupid doofuses didn’t seem to appreciate we all wanted to watch the race.

Michael Schumacher (Silverstone, 1999)

So who was my favourite driver back in 1999? Well I suppose it was Damon Hill as he was still racing but alas he was only driving for Jordan and (understandably perhaps!) on the verge of retirement. So in terms of a top driver and one who could challenge for honours, it was of course the one and the only Michael Schumacher. I was fully expecting a stunning wheel to wheel battle between Schuey and his then-nemesis, Hakkinen and was beyond normal levels of excitement as the cars lined up on the grid. At the start Schuey was passed by both Irvine and DC and then they all disappeared from view.

Suddenly wildfire rumours started spreading through the paddock and the stands. Schumacher had crashed. He was out of the race. It was a terrible crash. He was very badly injured. Then we heard that they were erecting white screens around the car and everyone started looking at each other and we were all thinking the same thing. Surely the unthinkable hadn’t happened. Remember, it was only 5 years since Senna had died. It seemed like AGES before we knew what had happened. Eventually those with radios discovered that Schuey had broken his leg but was stable. Whilst it was absolutely gutting to have seen Schuey crash out (and his title chances implode into the bargain), at least he was ok. What was hugely heart-warming was that everyone in the stands (whatever their allegiances) was desperately worried and relieved when they heard he was ok. Schuey lived to see another day – just the five F1 driver championships followed with Ferrari.

The race was won by DC so we had a British winner but I dunno, I never really felt the love for DC that I did for Mansell or Damon Hill. With Eddie Irvine in 2nd place and Ralf Schumacher (clearly having a moderately good day as opposed to his usual mobile chicane day) in 3rd place!

Damon Hill finished in 5th place which for the 24 year old me was the main cause of celebration on the day. I have dozens of almost identical photos of Hill in front of Luffield to bear witness to my excitement!

Even just reliving the 1999 British Grand Prix has got me pretty psyched up for Sunday. It. Is. Going. To. Be. Mega.

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