Braving the weather at the British Grand Prix

WET AND WILD: Eventual winner Mark Webber battles the elements during qualifying
WET AND WILD: Eventual winner Mark Webber battles the elements during qualifying
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SPORTS Reporter SAM MURLEY braved a waterlogged weekend at Silverstone to discover the attraction of the British Grand Prix and attempt to dispel the myth of a boring spectacle.

A COLLECTIVE gasp rings out as Kamui Kobayashi’s multi-million pound, finely-tuned Sauber hurtles uncontrollably into the pit area, sending four unexpecting crew members crashing to the ground. Who said Formula One was uneventful?

It is a statement that persistently tumbles from the mouths of detractors of the sport, and admittedly one I had muttered myself in the past.

However, this season is different, an unpredictable campaign has unfolded, throwing up seven different winners in its first seven races, prior to Fernando Alonso’s triumph in Valencia last time out.

So what would I make of my first experience of a live Grand Prix? Would it reinforce perceptions and reservations that I once had or would the excitement of unpredictably ensue?

As I battled to overcome the somewhat biblical downpour in Northamptonshire, news on the radio told of the despair that more than 20,000 fans would be refused entry to Silverstone for the qualifying stages on Saturday as conditions around the campsites and circuit worsened.

For those, like myself, lucky enough to overcome the conditions, I arrived at the spiritual home of the world championships, after hosting the inaugural event back in 1950 and was ushered on to a specially laid-on bus to take me to the Media Centre.

Winding round the undulating perimeters of the circuit, I got my first glimpse of action as drivers tentatively cut through the sodden corners of the track on a practice session.

Stepping off the bus, a quick swipe of my chipped press pass took me through the security gates and into the Paddock area situated at the back of the pits.

The overwhelming sense of affluence strikes you immediately, the eyeline dominated by gleaming three-story media suites of each team on one side, faced by another row of mobile trailers all cleaned incessantly by a team of employees.

Celebrities from actors Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson through to 70’s pop icon Leo Sayers soaked up the atmosphere, enjoying the abundent hospitality on offer as the Red Arrows soared spectacularly overhead.

To those privileged enough in the inner sanctum of the paddock, the appeal of F1 was obvious.

But what about the ‘real’ fans, those who had endured adverse weather conditions to camp out all weekend before clambering into the grandstands or perching themselves on the treacherous grass verges to get a passing glimpse of their sporting heroes, what was the attraction?

Rrain-affected qualifying saw drivers tested to their utmost capabilities, creating excitement due to the nature of the unpredictably casued by the surface.

Battling the elements just to keep on the track, Spaniard Alonso, in his Ferrari, best tamed the curcuit to grab pole position for the following day’s main spectacle.

Sunday brought the return of the masses to Silverstone, a 125,000 capacity crowd converged on the curcuit, bringing with them the exciting buzz of expectation.

And they weren’t to be disappointed, although a surprisingly dry race throughout, thrilling moments ensued.

Intriguing early lead changing duels between Alonso and crowd favourite Lewis Hamilton, Kobayashi’s previously mentioned pit stop mishap, Pastor Maldonado clashing with Sergio Perez, ending his race and finally Aussie Mark Webber hunting down and passing Alonso into Brooklands with four laps remaining to snatch victory, his second career win at Silverstone, all played their played in a memorable race — one local commentator Ben Edwards revelled in.

“It was a fantastic race and it always makes things exciting when you have a lead change four laps from the end,” stated Wortham-based BBC commentator Edwards, reflecting on the weekend’s action.

“After the weather we had throughout qualifying it was astonishing that we had a dry race day but it was a great reward for those who had managed to drag themselves there.

“The atmosphere was wonderful and it shows the dedication that these fans have for the sport.

“It is truly amazing what people will do but being here to the experience the buzz and the sheer noise is something very special indeed.”

And that for me sums up the allure of F1. A chance to experience cars travelling up to 200 miles per hour, albeit briefly, ear piercing sounds reverberating around the track, untimely crashes and dramatic lead changes, perhaps not the essence of excitement for everyone but for the hundreds of thousands of adoring fans and myself, the attraction was clear to see.