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F1 Opinion 16

Notes from Spa

I have just returned from Spa after a weekend of impossible privilege in the F1 Paddock Club at the Belgian Grand Prix at the invitation of Mercedes-Benz. As it’s been over 10 years since I last went to an F1 race and it may be as long before I do it again, I thought I’d jot down some disconnected observations that might not normally make it into a regular race report.

1. Spa is the best track in the world. I know I said this last week but it bears repeating.

2. The sight of a Formula 1 car exiting Blanchimont in the wet is the most impressive thing I have ever seen a car do.

opinion  Notes from Spa

3. On Lewis’s wet/damp pole lap, his speed through Eau Rouge never dropped below 170mph.

4. The F1 Paddock Club provides unlimited fine food and wine, unrestricted viewing from Blanchimont to La Source, PlayStations, massage, pitlane access at prescribed times and the chance to pass through barriers impenetrable to everyone else while looking insufferably smug. A two day pass cost £3095 and was sold out. It does not provide paddock access.

5. Adrian Sutil is a total petrolhead. “You know the best sound in the world?” he asked me. “V12”, he replied before I could speak. He owns an eight cylinder Ferrari F40 and would very much like to race at Goodwood.

6. Eddie Jordan isn’t putting it on for the cameras.

opinion  Notes from Spa

7. During the race, while Lewis was consistently as quick or quicker than Nico, he was slower at La Source. He was told at least twice on the radio that Rosberg was braking earlier but carrying more speed through the turn. As Eau Rouge is now flat, your exit speed from La Source determines your speed all the way to Les Combes, almost half a lap away.

8. We were welcomed with open arms to the hospitality units of both Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-powered Force India. At no time was there any suggestion we might visit McLaren.

9. In the first GP3 race there was a vast accident eerily reminiscent of Jackie Oliver’s crash at Rouen in 1968, where his Lotus 49 tore itself apart and finished with the back and front of the car many yards away from each other. While both drivers escaped unhurt, Oliver is regarded to have cheated death. By contrast Jack Harvey hopped out, put a thumb up and raced the same car the following day.

opinion  Notes from Spa

10. I found Bernie Ecclestone’s car parked behind the pits with ‘Mr E’ written on his pass. Apparently writing ‘Mr F’ on mine would not have provided similar access.

11. If you turn up in the Mercedes hospitality unit with a heavily tattooed and, as it turns out, quite charming young rapper called Professor Green, even Lewis Hamilton will appear star struck.

12. If you ask Lewis how, on a drying track where no corner is as it was on the previous lap he nevertheless knows precisely what speed to hurl his Mercedes into the apex he will pause, shrug, smile and simply say: ‘I don’t know. I guess I just kinda feel it.’ Which is why he is the quickest, most exciting driver in F1.

13. The man who walks up and down the pitlane wearing a vast latex Lewis Hamilton head is, in fact, a woman.

opinion  Notes from Spa

14. I spent most of the race in the Mercedes garage tuned into the radio transmissions between the cars and the pits. Lewis spoke very little. The only two comments I heard was a slightly terse, ‘I’m getting everything I can out of this car’ and ‘How is my pace compared to Nico?’

15. Claret is of largely Irish descent. Irish pioneers who’d booked passage to the New World were merely taken down the Bay of Biscay and told what is now Bordeaux was in fact America. Instead of demanding a refund, they stayed and made wine. This story courtesy of E Jordan Esq.

16. If you try to take a photograph in the back of the garage during the race, an arm will appear from nowhere and encourage you to desist.

17. Modern F1 cars don’t actually all sound the same. By the end of the weekend I was getting quite good at telling a Ferrari from a Renault, Mercedes or Cosworth.

opinion  Notes from Spa

18. If you have a paddock club pass in your windscreen traffic jams on race day are things that happen to other people. There is even a secret motorway exit to which you alone have access leading to series of farm tracks that take you straight into the circuit. It is the closest to Platform 9 ¾ it is possible to come in the muggle world.

19. If you leave the Paddock Club car park armed with almost 600 of AMG’s finest horsepower and a Flexi-plus Channel Tunnel ticket, you will be in England 3.5 hours later.

20. You will wake up the following morning to a house full of warring children, dogs that need walking and work that won’t do itself and wonder whether any of it actually happened at all.

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opinion  Notes from Spa

Add your comments

16 comments on Notes from Spa

  1. Aidan, 27 August 2013 14:35

    Loved the article and style – thanks

  2. PeteC, 27 August 2013 16:07

    Agree totally with Aidan. I used to rate Nigel Roebuck as my favourite Motor Sport scribe, I’m beginning to wonder now. If only you liked TVRs a bit more Andrew!

  3. Michael Spitale, 27 August 2013 17:50

    Brilliant article…

  4. JOE PIZZARELLO, 27 August 2013 19:52




  5. Bill, 27 August 2013 20:15

    “”Which is why he is the quickest, most exciting driver in F1.”"

    …finishing a sennaesque, devastating whole 2 seconds ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg over 44 laps of Spa.

    You know Andrew, for a self confessed hack you really outdid yourself in this article.

  6. Alex Milligan, 28 August 2013 00:39

    @ Bill…..ouch!!! Whilst in the context of this race you have a point, overall, Mr Frankel is correct in my opinion. LH is the most exciting and fastest F1 driver currently. I am no fan of his particularly, but he is the guy I am constantly drawn to in Qualie and the “race”, such as it is these days. I put him and Alonso on a par, SV next, then Kimi.

  7. Rich Ambroson, 28 August 2013 05:27

    If Hamilton is the most exciting driver in F1 right now, that may explain (along with the excessive runoff areas; same at every track advertising covering up the scenery; tire politix; etc.) why I don’t have the same interest as I used to.

    Honestly, I don’t get the media’s continual description of Hamilton as so exciting. Andrea de Cesaris wasn’t described as exciting, but other than being in a top team, Hamilton isn’t really much different than de Cesaris was.I suppose exciting in this day and age was “crash prone” a generation ago…

  8. Aldo, 28 August 2013 13:11

    Is the other big plastic head supposed to be Vettel?

    I think it looks more like a cross between Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard.

    However, it’s not earth shatteringly important I grant you.

  9. BJ, 28 August 2013 13:41

    Was that an Arrested Development reference?

    “Mr. F”?

  10. paul sainsbury, 28 August 2013 14:56

    @ Rich

    In what way is LH ‘crash prone’? Unless you are still living very specifically in 2011, that is a totally inaccurate assertion. Maybe time to move on, eh?

    As far as an ‘exciting’ driver, I sincerely believe that if your soul is not stirred by some of Hamilton’s qualifying and race performances, perhaps you can’t tell the difference between a Hamilton and a ‘De Crasheris’?

    Agree with you about the run-off areas though!

  11. Doug Meis, 28 August 2013 16:32

    Love the Harry Potter reference.

    In modern F1, driving style has to be tailored to maximize the “aero”/downforce of the cars. No more Ronnie Peterson-style exuberance. It tends to shade the talent and excitement of a drivers like Lewis Hamilton and that’s a shame.

    How much fun would it be to see some of today’s top drivers competing against each other in pre ground-effect F1 cars?

  12. Rich Ambroson, 28 August 2013 16:39

    Hi Paul,

    Well, I believe Hamilton plowed into the back of Kimi’s Ferrari in ’08, not 11. He’s had many seasons of erratic driving, as well as lying to stewards, playing the blame game/race card, etc. De Cesaris wasn’t always a “crasher”; his season with Jordan in ’91 was pretty good. (I wasn’t a de Cesaris fan, just noting the similarities in approach and differences in media descriptions)

    Having watched F1 (and many other forms of racing), I feel I can tell the difference between a great racer, and a media hyped racer like Hamilton or a media slammed racer like de Cesaris. What really gets under my skin is when Hamilton is compared to true greats like Villeneuve. So far as I know, Gilles never ever lied about another competitor, especially to get that competitor busted by the stewards (Oz, ’11 for Hamilton), nor did Gilles ever then lie about said lying.

    As a Jean Alesi fan, I suppose it also rankles that the media would describe Jean as hot headed or wild yet Hamilton, who has a car with much better reliability than the crapwagons Ferrari gave Alesi, is talked of in such revered tones. It doesn’t wash with me.

    Glad to see that the runoff areas are equally despised. Honestly, when watching practice and the race on TV from Spa this last weekend, it looked more like any other track in the series than it ever has with all the runoffs and massive advertisements obscuring the (former) grandeur of the track. I’m sure it’s great in person to see the cars working it on the remaining good corners, but on TV it comes off as another BCE-mart.

  13. paul sainsbury, 28 August 2013 18:06

    Hi Rich,

    We agree on much else, but we will have to agree to disagree on Hamilton. You can cite cases of driving errors having been made, much the same I could draw attention to, for example, the 2007 debut season where his driving was almost comically blemish-free until right at the end of the year. However we feel, Lewis is certainly one of those drivers who stirs up strong opinions.

    I am a fellow Alesi fan, and will always cherish the memory of him exiting a wet Blanchimont in the Prost in 2001, as I sat on an earth bank with my feet dangling above the circuit. I am pretty sure that particular viewing spot would not be available anymore………..

  14. Rich Ambroson, 28 August 2013 20:10

    Cheers Paul. It’s nice to have a polite disagreement. Even better to “meet” a fellow Alesi fan. I envy you your experience at Spa in person!

  15. IM, 29 August 2013 08:24

    Very interesting and entertaining article but am I alone in finding drivers referred to only by their first names irritating?

  16. Andy Hill, 29 August 2013 16:19

    Excellent article, enough said!

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