Silverstone – from my armchair to the front seat at the British Grand Prix
Last weekend I was lucky enough to be at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. I say lucky not only because it’s one of this countries most iconic sporting events and I was allowed to sing to the crowds, but lucky just to be there at all as treacherous weather conditions conspired against me and thousands of F1 fans travelling to Silverstone.
As an armchair fan of F1 I’d heard about the atmosphere at Silverstone being like no other GP, indeed my old pal Jake Humphrey has told me on many occasions, it’s a very special sporting event, noting its scale, its drama and the enthusiasm of the British fans. I was at Wimbledon on the first ever “people’s Sunday” so Silverstone had a lot to live up to in what can only be described as very British conditions.
And as I sat in a queue of traffic some 6 miles long last Saturday morning with rain coming down in buckets and rumours that we’d be turned back I did wonder if Silverstone would indeed live up to its billing.
But let me tell you – it did.
Yes it rained, and it poured, in weather conditions even Dr Foster (that bloke who went to Gloucester) would think twice about. At times the rain was almost biblical but no one complained, no one moved and as soon as there was a break in the clouds the cars came back on to the track and the show was back on the road.
As I stood at Brooklands I finally realized what it is to see F1 cars up close, or should I say hear them up close. The noise is like no other – “enough to shake your fillings loose,” a friend of mine said with a gappy smile as he called an emergency dentist.
It’s a cliché but it’s true that you really can’t appreciate the sheer speed on the telly. I was lucky enough to do a lap or two around Silverstone on a track day, approaching a corner at 90 mph breaking at the absolute last second was unnerving to say the least. Then a guy told me that at the same corner the F1 drivers don’t break at all and take it at like 140 mph. Once you’ve got your head around that, add in the good old British weather and the fact that these guys are trying to drive – sorry, race – at high speed through inches of water with next to no visibility and only a small red flashing light to guide them, I aquaplaned getting off my seat in the stand (Cuban heels were a bad choice admittedly) so God knows what it was like for these magnificent men and their sub-aqua flying machines.
At this point I’d like to apologise to Jenson Button who I obviously cursed. After tipping him to do well in an interview with Radio Silverstone he was almost immediately yellow-flagged on his final qualifying lap and so confined to the back of the grid . Sorry Jenson, me and Timo Glock owe you one.
And so it was via a twist of fate and winning a late night game of strip Kerplunk with Bernie Eccelstone I found my self on race day in the pit lane and behind the scenes in the Marussia team garage. To have this access was a privilege and I’m grateful to them for letting me in. They call them garages but I didn’t see a Ginsters anywhere. What struck me immediately was how clean and pristine and white it was. This place was more like a science laboratory with experiments being carried out on the cars and charts tracking the data and performance of everything from the degradation of the tyres to how many beads of sweat a driver expels per race. I was on the verge of asking if they wouldn’t mind doing an MOT on my mum’s Punto when a tap on the shoulder from a burly looking security guard told me it was time to go. I think Bernie must have finally twigged I rigged the Kerplunk. Rumbled.
Of course I wasn’t just there to enjoy my self, or win huge amounts of money off Bernie Eccelstone in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, I was there to entertain and be part of the Silverstone concert and after race party. I’m not going to lie (see above, all true, I’ve got you on the run Bernie) I was a little worried about how I’d go down with the crowd. My song ‘Just Drive’ has become popular with motorsport fans but many still see Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ as the ultimate driving song and as Eddie Jordan and his band played said song to much applause I did wonder what I’d let myself in for. Then they told me I’d have to follow Lewis Hamilton . (Bernie getting his own back) As I heard the applause grow for probably the most popular driver and F1 pin-up so did the butterflies in my stomach. My palms were sweaty and I’d begun pacing back stage. Crazy thoughts ran through my mind, what if they didn’t like my song, what if they started singing ‘The Chain’ chanting “We Want Eddie, We Want Eddie”? Worse still, what if Bernie was on the sound desk?!
I was a desperate man .
But as I looked for an exit, a place to run, somewhere to hide a man sporting a yellow Pringle jumper put a comforting arm on my shoulder and said: “You’re the lad who wrote ‘Just Drive’”.
I looked up in disbelief and said “yes” and there before me like a Pringle clad angel was Murray Walker, the legend, the voice of F1. He said: “You’re no 50 Cent, son, but you’ll do for me. Now get on that stage you’ve a crowd waiting.”
And with that I was back in the race striding manfully across the stage with Murray behind me shouting “Go go go”.
And so it was I belted out ‘Just Drive’ to a sea of rocket red and 20,000 hardly souls. The song says “there is a star that lights the road” and while Mark Webber took the glory on the track at this year’s British GP surely the real stars were the fans who battled the elements, who queued in the traffic and stood in the rain to see their heroes.
Thank you Murray and thank you Silverstone .Tagged in: Alistair Griffin, British, F1, formula 1, GP, grand prix, lewis hamilton, Mark Webber, Murray Walker, silverstone
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