Experiencing Formula One Racing at the British Grand Prix

Hamilton

The great engines whined at a tremendous volume as the race cars came around the turn and then accelerated with maximum throttle. As seen close to the track, the cars became a blur as they whizzed by at over 200 mph. I was 15 rows up in the stands and had a nice perspective view of the turn and the straightaway. On the giant screen in front of me I could see race information and driver’s eye views of the track in front of the race car as it sped by.

race car
The Formula 1 car is a blur at 200 mph.

This was my first racing event. I haven’t been interested in car racing in general, and know very little about Formula 1 racing. However, I was going to be touring the UK during the dates of the British Grand Prix, so with the goal of seeking out new experiences around the world I bought a ticket along with some English friends.

The British Grand Prix is held every July at the Silverstone Circuit, near the small village of Silverstone, England. My seat was in the grandstand seating area called Woodcote, located on the course right after the sharp hairpin turn designated number 7 on the map below. I had a great view of the sharpest turn on the course, followed by the straightaway before turn number 8.

Silverstone race course
The racing circuit at Silverstone.

My friends live in Bakewell, in the Peak District, a two hour drive north from Silverstone. Since all of the hotels near the racing circuit are booked many months in advance of the race, we had two choices. First, we could camp in a field near the circuit, which required lots of camping gear and opened us up to the possibilities of getting soaked by rain (this being England after all). Second, we could drive from their house to the racing circuit and back each day. We chose door number two. Although it was four hours round trip in the car, it was the best option.

race course view
Formula 1 race car in the straightaway after turn 7 at Silverstone.

The Grand Prix event takes place over three days. I had no idea that there would actually be a lot of car racing going on, not just one big race.

On Friday, the Formula 1 drivers take their cars for practice laps around the circuit. There are two other classes of race cars, called GP2 and GP3. These are older or slightly slower cars that up and coming drivers race before they are ready for the more advanced Formula 1 cars. The GP2 and GP3 cars race around the track in qualifying sessions to determine the starting order of the cars for the GP2 and GP3 races, respectively.

In addition, Porsche sponsors a series of races called Super Cup races. All of the cars in the Super Cup races are identical Porsche 911s. Only the skill of the drivers determines the champions in Super Cup, not any difference in car technology. On Friday the Porsches run their practice laps. (to see other cool Porsches go here)

Porsche 911
Close up of a Porsche 911 during the Super Cup race.

On Saturday, the Formula 1 cars race for their qualifying times. The GP2 and GP3 cars compete in a first race for each class. The Porsches hold their qualifying sessions.

On Sunday, the GP2 and GP3 cars competed in their second races (with combined times determining the champion), and the Porsches competed in their race. After much fanfare, including a parachute display by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Falcons jump team, and aerial acrobatics by some RAF  Typhoon fighter jets, it was finally time for the big race.

British Grand Prix race view
The start of the British Grand Prix at turn 7.

The race course is 3.66 miles around, and the race comprises 52 laps. The entire race takes about an hour and a half to two hours to run. The time is variable because there may be delays in the race due to crashes.

In searching for a particular shirt among multiple souvenir shops, I made the mistake of trying to walk around the outer perimeter of the entire racing circuit after the GP2 race. I kept walking to the next souvenir shop around the course looking for my desired shirt. By the time I got to the halfway point after 45 minutes of walking, I realized I might as well just keep walking around back to my starting point instead of turning around. I barely made it back to my seat in time for the big race.

The local favorite is British racing champion Lewis Hamilton, who drives for the Mercedes team. Every time his car came around our position on the track, all of the fans jumped up and cheered. Hamilton has won the race twice before, and was the favorite this time around.

Race car drivers at British Grand Prix
Driver parade before the British Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton is at left.

Hamilton was in the pole position when the race started due to having the fastest qualifying lap, but he was passed right at the start by two other drivers. He hung in third place until he stopped for new tires at lap 19. When the other two drivers were forced to change their tires, Hamilton took the lead.

He cruised along comfortably until late in the race when it started to rain. This is summer in England! Despite the rain, Hamilton stayed with faster dry weather tires while other drivers switch to slower wet weather tires. This gave him the advantage he needed, so that when he went into the pit to switch to the wet weather tires, the other drivers couldn’t catch him.

Hamilton
Mercedes team driver Lewis Hamilton, winner of the British Grand Prix.

I never knew how tire changing strategies and deciding when to take pit stops could make the difference between being the champion and having no place on the winner’s podium. As Hamilton crossed the finish line it seemed as if all 120,000 spectators cheered at once for the hometown hero.

La Jolla Concours D’Elegance

Porsche 356C

Recently I visited La Jolla, California and was delighted to find that the 10th annual La Jolla Concours D’Elegance was being held the same weekend I was there. I didn’t go into the main competition area, but there were many classic cars on display in the scenic village of La Jolla. Sprinkled among the Ferarris, Corvettes, Shelby Cobras, and Rolls Royces were a selection of my favorite classic roadsters like the Porsche 356 and the MG.

Porsche 356B
1962 Porsche 356B Coupe
Rear view of 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet.
Rear view of 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet.
Porsche 356C
1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet
1959 MG
1959 MG A Roadster
1961 Porsche 356C
1961 Porsche 356B Cabriolet
1961 Porsche 356B Cabriolet
Rear view of the 1961 Porsche 356B Cabriolet (1600 Super)
Austin Healey
Austin Healey, a classic British sports car

More photos of Porsches from my trip to the Porsche Museum near Stuttgart, Germany are here.

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Paradise at the Porsche Museum

Porsche 911

While I was driving from Dusseldorf back to Munich recently, I detoured to Stuttgart so that I could spend a couple of hours at the Porsche Museum.  The headquarters of Porsche is in Zuffenhausen, Germany near Stuttgart.  A striking museum building is set amongst the factory and office buildings.  The museum exhibits prime examples of the fine automobiles Porsche has built over the last 70 years.

The company got its start in the 1930s.  At first it was a design company and didn’t build its own cars. The German government hired Porsche to design an inexpensive car for the people.  This became known as the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful car designs of all time.

1948 Porsche 356
1948 Porsche 356

After the war, Porsche designed prototypes of a car it called the 356.  The 356 was a rear-wheel-drive, two door sports car.  Because the 356 proved to be very popular with American aviators, a special version of the 356 called the American Roadster was sold in the U.S. starting in 1953.  Early designs were air-cooled, rear engine configurations.

Approximately 76,000 356s were manufactured from 1948 to 1965, with only about half of them still surviving.  They are highly prized by collectors today.

Porsche next developed a coupe design called the 356 1500 Coupé which came out in 1954.  The iconic and instantly recognizable shape of the 1500 Coupé would be carried forward to many future cars.

Porsche 356 1500
1954 Porsche 356 1500 Coupe

There were three evolutionary stages of the 356, denoted A, B, and C.  In 1963, the 356 C Cabriolet was introduced.  It was an instant classic.

Porsche 356 C
1963 Porsche 356 C Cabriolet

In the same year, the first 911 was produced.  The 911’s profile resembled the 1500’s shape and had a six cylinder “boxer” engine which produced 128 HP. While I was at the museum, there was a large exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 911.  Customers were being admitted to the museum at a reduced rate for anyone who was born in 1963 or owned a 911.  I missed on both qualifications.

Porsche 911 2.7 Coupe
1977 Porsche 911 2.7 Coupe

The 911 evolved over the years but stayed true to its original sports car heritage.  More power and more features were added as technology improved.

Porsche 911 Turbo S
1992 Porsche 911 Turbo S 3.3 Leichtbau
Porsche 911
1997 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6

This year Porsche came out with a 50th Anniversary 911.  It produces 560 HP, goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, and hits a top speed of 197 mph, all for only $181,000 (layaway plan to pay for speeding tickets not included).

Porsche 911 Carrera S
2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S 3.8 Coupe

 

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit