Category Archives: Grand Prix experiences

Memories from trips to Silverstone, Spa and Monza

F1 traveller’s guide: Hungarian Grand Prix

The Hungarian Grand Prix joined the Formula One calendar in 1986.

The tight, twisty Hungaroring circuit near Budapest is now an established venue on the F1 calendar and a demanding test for the drivers.

There is barely a moment for the drivers to relax on this 14 turn, 4.3 kilometre track over 70 demanding laps.

The 14 turn Hungaroring track lies 19 kilometres outside Budapest

The 14 turn Hungaroring track lies 19 milometres outside the Hungarian capital, Budapest

Due to its usual scheduling in deep into the summer months, the drivers and fans can normally expect scorching temperatures.

However in 2006 it was an unusually wet race that helped Jenson Button secure his maiden Grand Prix win at his 113th attempt.

There have been some other similarly memorable Hungarian Grands Prix down the years, too.

At the 1992 event, Nigel Mansell achieved his lifetime dream of becoming Formula One World Champion and year later Damon Hill claimed his maiden win.

Few people can forget the 1997 race, though, when Hill, driving the Arrows, fought his way past Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari, only to later relinquish his lead with mechanical trouble.

Those memorable races aside, the circuit developed a reputation for delivering dull racing, with little opportunity to overtake.

But with the advent of KERS, DRS and the new generation Pirelli tyres, as with most circuit, this has changed and the racing has improved.

So, what do F1 fans who want to go to the Hungaroring need to know.

Following Anthony French’s low-down on the Monaco Grand Prix experience last time, in this second edition of my F1 travellers’ guide, Briony Dixon – who has attended the Hungarian Grand Prix on a number of occasions – gives her hints and tips for fans seeking advice on how to get to this ever popular Grand Prix in Budapest.

Travel

“For me, once the passionate and energetic atmosphere of the Hungaroring had been experienced, it was inevitable that it would become an annual visit, hence tickets for the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix being booked back in October.

“Each of my three visits so far have been arranged independently and travel to Budapest and subsequently to the track have varied each time.

“The first time, we flew to Budapest then hired a car as the circuit lies approximately 25km away from the city. The second visit was the final destination of a road trip across Europe so again, we drove from the city to the circuit.

“Reaching the circuit by car from Budapest is easy because it is straight down the motorway.

“However, once you enter the circuit, queues start to form as cars filter into the car parks. Leaving an hour for this is advisable, especially for qualifying and race day, more may be needed if you arrive later.

“Being in a queue at the Hungaroring is the best type of queue you will ever experience, providing you leave enough time, because you will be surrounded by fans walking to the circuit waving flags and chanting.

“This coupled with the sound of the helicopters overhead stirs your excitement and ignites your passion. Driving to the circuit can definitely be recommended and parking is free.

“Last year we spiced travelling to the circuit up a little in the form of the free shuttle bus from Arpad Bridge metro station in Budapest.  If you enjoy a good crushing and a brisk walk to and from the circuit from the drop off point, then this is the form of travel for you.

“Getting to the circuit isn’t too bad, neither is coming back on the Friday and Saturday, as fans trickle out of the circuit at different times.

“Race day, however, is another story.  With the Formula One race being the finale of the weekend, everyone leaves at the same time, making getting on to a bus rather unpleasant.

“On the positive side, it is a free service and runs fairly frequently.

At the circuit

“When you buy a weekend ticket you are given the opportunity to do the Thursday pit walk.

The Thursday pit lane walkabout allows you to see right into the garages

The Thursday pit lane walkabout allows fans to see right into the garages

“The circuit is opened between 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock and allows the fans a chance to walk along the pit lane to see the mechanics in action in the garages.

“There is also a driver signing.  Ensuring you get to the circuit early to get to the front of the queue for this experience is vital because the drivers only sign for a limited time and the pit lane gets severely congested.

Bruno Senna at an driver autograph signing session

Bruno Senna at an driver autograph signing session

“Travel to the circuit on a Thursday is interesting.  The shuttle bus doesn’t run, but there is a train that runs from Ors Vezer Ter station every half an hour.

“Arriving at Mogyrod, there is then an hour long walk to the circuit.  When leaving the circuit they block off certain entrances, including the one you use when you arrived by train.  This meant that we had no idea where we were going to get back to the station, so we followed the advice of stewards at the track which was wrong!

“Having been sent in a particular direction to find the train station, we walked for about 4km, only to then be told we were 10km away!  Befriending some American McLaren fans, between us we finally managed to reach Budapest three bus journeys later.

“The circuit is short so you can walk around the whole thing, the positive side of this being that you can reach the F1 village from wherever you are watching the race.

“I have watched the race from the Gold 2 grandstand on each visit.  Not only is it right above the grid but you also get a great view into the Red Bull garage.

The view from the Gold 2 grandstand

The view from the Gold 2 grandstand

“Taking binoculars is a must and enables you to spy on the other teams in addition to Red Bull.  Changes have been made to the grandstands for 2013 and the old Gold 2 is now included in Gold 1.

“If you want to position yourself in a place with a high chance of seeing some overtaking, then Gold 4 at Turn 1 would be a good choice.

“The track is great for those with general admission tickets as there are vast grassy areas that are elevated enough to gain a good view of the track without being too hilly or uncomfortable.

“Formula One at the Hungaroring is an experience you will never forget and if you are anything like me, is one that will leave a permanent imprint on your heart.”

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Want to go to the British Grand Prix? Here’s my all-you-need-to-know guide

Despite the fact that over seven million people in the UK watched the championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix on television, very few people ever go to a race.

Formula One may be the third most watched sporting event in the world – after the Olympics and football World Cup – but with only one event in UK every year, it’s not the most accessible of sports.

But getting the chance to watch a Formula One car roar past in the flesh is not necessarily as expensive and as difficult as you might imagine.

If going to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is as far afield as you’re willing to travel, then the options open to you are endless.

The cheapest option – if you just want to experience the thrill of watching a Formula One car driven in anger – is to get to Silverstone on the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend.

A Friday-only General Admission ticket – which, unlike on race day, will give you access to all open grandstands – will set you back £49 (£24 for a child), though this will rise to £65 when the ‘early bird’ offer comes to an end. For this, you will get the chance to watch three hours of Formula One practice, on top of practice and qualifying sessions for the support races, including GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup.

Saturday-only tickets cost £85 (£42.50 for children) however these will not grant you access to grandstands for qualifying.

For this, you will need a three-day weekend grandstand ticket. As I explained in an earlier post on the view from the Silverstone stands, there are many to choose from. The cheapest available at the moment is a weekend seat at Copse corner for £180, however a grandstand ticket gives you roving access to all open grandstands on the Friday and Saturday.

If it’s only the race itself that you’re interested in, a Sunday General Admission ticket costs £145 (£73 for children). And while that may seem a bit pricey, there’s so much more than the Grand Prix itself. The morning will feature three support races; a host of air displays, including the red arrows and a Grand Prix party after the race.

At the moment, however, an extra £7 will get you a covered seat at Copse corner, which seems like an attractive option given the deluge suffered by last year’s race-goers.

The easiest – and cheapest – way to get tickets to the British Grand Prix is via the official Silverstone website.

Getting to Silverstone

In terms of how to get to the Silverstone, there are plenty of options open to you.

If you’re only going on race day, Megabus operates a service from over 50 towns and cities across the UK from as far away Edinburgh, Southampton, Plymouth and Swansea. A return ticket from Cardiff, for example, costs £30, leaving at 6am and departing Silverstone at 4pm, around 90 minutes after the chequered flag.

Alternatively, Silverstone operate a Park and Ride service, just off the M1 and M40. For the first time, this service will operate on the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend. If you’re attending on all three days, it costs £15 per car. A one day pass is priced at £5.

If you wish to arrive by train, the nearest mainline stations are Banbury, Milton Keynes and Northampton. Stagecoach provides a bus service from all three stations throughout the weekend.

For those arriving by car, 2012 was a bit of a nightmare. Silverstone suffered from torrential rain in the build-up to the weekend. Fans were warned not to travel to the circuit for qualifying on the Saturday, in order to let the grass car parks recover in time for race day. Nevertheless, if you wish to travel by car to the 2013 British Grand Prix, a three-day car parking pass will cost you £60. A Sunday-only pass, however, will cost just £45.

Directions are available on the Silverstone website.

Camping

There are a number of campsites within a short walk of the circuit. Silverstone’s official campsite is Silverstone Woodlands, which costs £60 per person (£20 for children) and located on the south side of the circuit near Club corner. However on the three occasions I have been to the British Grand Prix, I have always camped at Whittlebury Park, which is a 5 minute walk from Copse corner. You can see a full list of campsite surrounding the circuit by clicking here.

Accommodation

If, however, camping is not for you, the Silverstone website has a comprehensive section listing local hotels and B&Bs.

Top Tips

If arriving by car, leave very early – especially on race day.

Remember your binoculars! There are many giant screens dotted around the circuit so you can follow the race properly. However, unless you’re lucky, they’re not normally giant enough to be able to read the on-screen graphics properly with the naked eye.

Take a pocket-sized radio and tune into BBC Radio 5 Live or Silverstone Radio of 87.7 FM.

Wear ear plugs! If you have never been to a Grand Prix before, nothing will surprise you more than the deafening noise. Ear plugs are available for purchase at the circuit.

Finally, if you have any money to spare, hire one of the hand-held Fan Vision controllers, aka Kangaroo TV’s. From one of these you will be able to watch the world feed shown on the giant screens and to millions of TV viewers around the world. In addition to that, you will have access to a range of commentaries; team radio, timing screens and a host of on-board options.

If you have been to the British Grand Prix and would like to give advice to other fans thinking of going for the first time, please share your experiences and tips below!

View from the stands: Silverstone

It’s where Formula One was born in 1950 and it remains one of the most popular and best-attended Grands Prix of the season.

Once an airfield in World War Two, Silverstone has changed beyond recognition over the years.

Gone are the days when straw bales ‘protected’ the fans from the death traps that the Hamilton’s and Vettel’s of yesteryear hurled around at brake neck speed.

Today’s modern facility boasts a brand new pit and paddock complex, superbly positioned grandstands and provides fans with entertainment ‘e-zones’ and a post-race concert.

I first attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2003. Almost ten years on, it’s a weekend I still remember vividly.

After watching qualifying on the Saturday at a friend’s house, a group of seven of us made the trip up to the Northamptonshire countryside.

The atmosphere at the Whittlebury Park campsite right next to the Copse side of the circuit was fantastic, with race-goers partying long into the night.

Unable to sleep, I crept out of my tent at around 5am and walked through Copse Wood and made my way towards the circuit to discover what I could see.

A short stroll later, I will never forget the moment I emerged from the woodland to the site of the five Copse grandstands lining the legendary (and then first) corner.

Eyes out like saucers, I tried to take in the size of it all. The car parks were already filling up with those ‘general admission’ ticket-holders eager to find the best spot; the smells of the burger vans cooking breakfast for the early arrivals wafted through the air; the ITV studio stood adjacent to the pit straight grandstand, ready for Jim Rosenthal to host the action to millions of television viewers.

The wait for everyone else to wake up seemed endless. Eventually they did and we made our way to a small café on the edge of the campsite for breakfast.

Support races including Maserati’s and the Porsche Supercup entertained an expectant crowd in the morning before it was lights out for the Grand Prix itself.

And what a race it was. Rubens Barrichello made a poor start from pole position, with Renault’s Jarno Trulli and Mclaren’s Kimi Raikkonen nipping ahead at the first corner.

David Coulthard’s headrest falling off his car aside, it was a fairly uneventful opening twelve laps.

Protestor Neil Horan invades the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix

That was until madness struck when a protestor invaded the track on the hanger straight, with the cars driving towards him at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. The crowd on the pit straight roared when a brave marshal ran onto the track and rugby tackled the man. Remarkably no one was hurt. But the deployment of a second safety car – under which nearly every car pitted – shook up the order in a way no one could have predicted.

What followed was overtaking galore and a truly remarkable drive from Rubens Barrichello to claim his first win of the season.

I made a second visit to Silverstone in 2006.

Again, we watched from what was the old pit straight grandstand overlooking the pit lane entrance. With the aid of a giant screen, this made following the strategies much easier than if positioned at another point around the circuit.

View of the old pit straight grandstand. The pits have now moved to the opposite end of the circuit.

The race was hardly a classic but there was a unique vibe about the weekend with it being a month earlier than usual and on the opening weekend of the 2006 World Cup.

There were England flags everywhere. Sitting in the grandstand with the GP2 race in progress while the BBC’s coverage of the England game was being beamed on the giant screens felt strange, but it kept everyone happy.

For my third and most recent visit to Silverstone in 2009, I decided to watch the race from the Stowe corner grandstand – a fantastic vantage point to catch the overtaking and one which I’d thoroughly recommend.

The parade lap: the cars make their way through Stowe corner before the start of the 2009 British Grand Prix

With the use of binoculars, I was able to follow the action for half of the lap: all the way from the exit of chapel, down the Hangar straight, through Stowe, Vale and Club, before the charge up to the Abbey chicane.

Sadly, this is no longer possible, following the building of the new pit and paddock complex.

The new layout has, however, enabled fans to enjoy viewing from two parts of the circuit at once – with several grandstands offering views of Farm/Village/Wellington Straight and the brilliant Maggots/Becketts complex.

For more information on Silverstone – with advice on getting there, buying tickets and camping – please see my all-you-need-to-know guide.

Schumacher wraps up 7th title in the Ardennes – Spa, 2004

Without a doubt the best race I’ve been to was the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

Two years earlier, the former F1 driver Tomas Enge checked into out B&B in Monmouthshire with some of his Czech mates, when he came over to see the Wales Rally GB. I dug out a tape of his crash in the Prost F1 car at Suzuka 2001 and showed it to him, which was met with a wry grin. My Dad and I mentioned that we wanted to go to Spa one year and he happily gave us his number and told us to give him a ring when we were there.

With no race in 2003, we made the trip a year later and Tomas – racing in F3000 – turned up at midday on the Saturday with a couple of paddock passes. He gave us a tour of his garage in the old Spa pit lane and at one point my Dad walked up a metal staircase only to find himself standing on the podium, to cheers of the crowd in the grandstand opposite! Standing on the pit wall as the F1 cars came screaming past down towards Eau Rouge in qualifying, kicking up huge amounts of spray, was breathtaking.

The race itself was a thriller. It was the 14th of the year and Michael Schumacher had failed to win only one of the previous 13.

Kimi Raikkonen took a storming win from 10th on the grid in the Mclaren, making a race-winning pass on Michael into Eau Rouge.

There was overtaking galore, three safety cars, loads of crashes and just about every car in Michelin tyres got a puncture.

Schumacher claimed his 7th title but on the day he was beaten fair and square by a brilliant Kimi – and boy did he look miserable; you could tell he hated losing.

At the end of 2006 – when he announced his retirement – I thought I’d always be able to say: “I was there when Schuey won his last title.”

When the German made is comeback in 2010, I wondered whether that would always be the case. But with Lewis Hamilton having now replaced him at Mercedes, it looks as though he has, finally, called it a day having failed to discover his Ferrari form.

What an honour it was, though, to have witnessed Michael Schumacher break his own record and become the first man to attain seven world titles.

But with Sebastian Vettel having now racked up three in a row, Schumacher’s fellow countryman has every chance to go one better.