Fosters British Grand Prix - A Spectators Viewpoint
                                       9th - 11th June 2006 attended the British GP at Silverstone on 9,10,11 July 2006 viewing the race, free practice and qualifying sessions from the public enclosures around this spectacular high speed circuit. This article is not about providing a detailed report of the racing action, although we will briefly cover aspects of this along the way, but rather what you can expect if you decide to attend a Grand Prix at anytime in the future. The build up to the race is always an exciting time with a terrific amount of activity taking place in and around the circuit to prepare it for the eyes of the world. With approximately 250K fans expected at the venue, and countless millions more watching the race on television, preparation is critical, and this year the organisers did a great job. The race schedule was even adjusted to ensure that football fans could watch England's opening game in the World Cup, live on the big screens around the circuit, following the Formula 1 qualifying session. Access to Silverstone has been greatly improved over the past few years, and consequently driving to and exiting from the circuit poses few if any holdups. Large numbers of fans either stay locally or camp at one of the many sites within walking distance of the circuit, and this makes for a more relaxed approach, hopefully guaranteeing a little more sleep as well! We arrived at the circuit on Friday for the opening day of free practice at 8am and had a good look at the many souvenir outlets and team displays before making our way down to Club corner our chosen viewing point for the day. The bulk of the practice session featured the teams test drivers, with the race drivers limiting their track time to conserve their engines which need to last for two race weekends. The fastest time of the day was set by Fernando Alonso. Club corner is one of the few places at Silverstone where fans can take photographs of the cars at relatively close quarters with modest telephoto lenses, avoiding the safety fences by standing on the high spectator banking provided. Friday is a fairly quiet day in the scheme of things and although there was a good crowd, moving around and gaining a good viewpoint was not a problem. Silverstone can be a place of extremes of weather conditions, being an old World War 2 airfield, fairly flat and exposed and situated on a plateau. This year though, rather than the customary chilly weather and seemingly constant threat of rain, the circuit was bathed in sunshine resulting in very hot conditions on and off track. Sadly the centre of the circuit was out of bClick for wallpaperounds for the general public, so obtaining close up views of the cars and drivers in the paddock was not possible. (Read our other Inside Track article - The changing face of the F1 Paddock to learn more.). There was a welcome addition this year though in the form of the BMW Sauber team's 'Pit lane Park'. This was a new innovation by the team designed to allow fans to get up close to the action. The Pit Lane Park was situated on the far side of the circuit on the outside of Beckets corner. We arrived at the circuit early on the Saturday morning and headed out to Beckets to pay a visit. BMW Sauber had made a big effort, even down to laying a section of tarmac with a circular area at each end connected by a straight. The whole area was enclosed and entry was free. The main feature, was frequent demonstration runs throughout the day by world touring car champion and BMW Sauber test driver Andy Priaulx. Andy put on a great show with the Formula 1 car, doing doughnuts at each of the circular track sections then zipping down the short straight between the two.The eager fans had a great view from just a few feet away protected by Armco barriers, with tiered seating provided at one end of the arena. Around the periphery of the arena there were car simulators, interactive multimedia displays, a pit stop challenge and much more. All in all it was a great effort by the team and proved to be very popular, attracting fans in their thousands. By the time we left the Park, Formula One qualifying was beckoning, and it was time to find a viewing position on the outside of Maggots curve, and the approach to the sweeping Beckets sequence of corners. This is now one of the most spectacular places in the world to see Formula One cars in action, and is praised by fans and drivers alike, it really is a must for all visitors to Silverstone. The cars enter the sequence at over 180mph, with the drivers just tapping the brakes and flicking down a couple of gears as they literally fly through the curves and onwards to the Hangar Straight and Stowe corner. At this point on the circuit fans can get very close to the cars, the noise is extreme and some form of ear protection is recommended. The qualifyiClick for wallpaperng session was very spectacular, with the new knockout format adding to the excitement. World Champion Fernando Alonso emerged fastest for Renault, securing pole position for the race, and defeating his main challengers, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen. So, after two unprecedented scorching hot days, the big question was would the weather hold for the race itself, the Fosters British grand Prix. We found out at around 05.45 am on the Sunday morning awaking to slightly more overcast skies but with every indication that it would remain hot. The critical thing now was to have breakfast and make our way to the circuit and to secure a good viewing spot for the race. We chose to spectate from the raised viwing area at the exit to Beckets, gaining a great head on view of the Formula One cars weaving at high speed through the sweeping curves.. At 07.15 am this area of the circuit was fairly quiet with plenty of space available anywhere on the banking. By 11.00 am it was far busier, but some space was still available for latecomers. The support races were soon on, starting with the Porsche Supercup and then the GP2 sprint race. The GP2 race was very exciting in the early stages, with McLaren protege and hot British prospect Lewis Hamilton battling his way through to take his second victory of the weekend. Lewis is almost certain to become an F1 driver in the near future, and with his abundance of natural talent his is a name to watch out for. Following on from the GP2 race there was a spectacular display by the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, 'The Red Arrows. Shortly after this impressive display the Formula One drivers were on track, but this time as passengers in vintage Rolls Royce cars for the driver parade. Then it was time for the build up to the British Grand Prix, with the cars and drivers making their way around the circuit and on to the grid. The race got underway cleanly with all cars heading into Copse corner unscathed. However an incident at Beckets soon saw the safety car deployed after Mark Webber and Ralf Schumacher collided and were both eliminated. When the race resumed Fernando Alonso resisted some early pressure from Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher but was never seriously threatened and cruised to the first Silverstone victory of his career. The race was pretty lacklustre given Alonso's dominant form, but nonetheless there was still a great atmosphere throughout. After the Grand Prix and podium celebrations, the final support race for historic sports cars took place, bringing the on track action to a close. For those not desperate to get away, there was yet more action however, as the organisers put on a concert by rock band 'Status Quo'. This has become a tradition at Silverstone, and it was good to see some of the F1 drivers making an appearance on stage, including David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers. All good things must come to an end though, and 'The Quo' rounded off a great weekend of entertainment. Exiting the circuit was a painless process with traffic arrangements and good access roads ensuring no repeat of the horror stories of the distant past. To close off, yes you do get good TV coverage but nothing quite compares with the speed, noise, smell and atmosphere of seeing the big race 'live'.

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