Travel 2005 – Silverstone

3rd June 2005 – Silverstone Tests

It’s been a busy few days, is all I can say. Lynne stayed up in Silverstone till Wednesday, mostly building bookshelves, but we also went out to the Rice Bowl in Towcester for dinner on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Gina called round on her way back from Oxford, and we talked and talked and talked, as well as going out to the local Italian restaurant, La Strada, for dinner. It was the first time we’ve met, and I thought it was very successful. I must propose a weekend or two when she could come to stay, but I’ll need to sit down with my diary first and try and figure it all out.
We were going to drop by the F1 tyre testing session at Silverstone, as guests of BAR, but then BAR decided that the weather was too bad, so they decided not to run on Wednesday.

I decided I’d drop by last night instead, arriving at the circuit around 5 pm. The teams were all packing up by then, but there were still a lot of people around. For one thing, testing is free to the public, and although they can’t get close to the cars, they are at least not paying a couple of hundred quid to not get close. The result was a lot of people, including a number with guest passes, roaming around the paddock just outside the various tensa-barriers, hunting for drivers. I was very grateful to be on the inside of the barriers at BAR. I’m not sure whether I was supposed to be there, but frankly I didn’t care. I started by saying hello to Mig, and collecting the pass he’d got for me, then I took a wander along the pitlane, down to Jordan. I spent 10 minutes in semi-incomprehensible conversation with Dyson (it’s not his real name, but if ever there’s left over food, he’ll hoover it up), the Japanese engineer who used to work at Carlin in F3, but who followed Trevor to Jordan. The trouble is Dyson has the most impenetrable Japanese accent, so it isn’t always easy to understand what he says. The gist of it was that F1 is a completely different environment, and he’s enjoying it, but he misses F3. He may turn up at Castle Combe, though he wasn’t sure whether he ought to go with Carlin, or with Double R Racing… I told him Double R needed all the help they could get, whereas Carlin are doing very nicely at the moment (five wins from the last five races).

Anyway, I was saved from further linguistic confusion when Tiago Monteiro showed up to say goodbye to the boys. I haven’t seen Tiago since last October, but he was looking as good as ever, is about all I have to say, and for a man who had spent the day inside a car, pounding round and round Silverstone, he was remarkably sweet-smelling too… but there I go again getting distracted by him. The trouble is, he’s got everything as far as I can tell – looks (dark hair, eyes sparkling somewhere between green and blue, designer stubble, charm, fluency in at least three languages, and we’ve known him for years)… He was as outgoing as ever, while his team mate, Narain Karthikeyan is still doing his best “rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights” impression, though he at least managed an audible hello. His manager Piers Hunnisett was trailing round after him as usual, claiming to have him on a very long piece of string. He’s still unable to account for his own disappearance the day we were all meant to be on the same flight back from Macau last November though. After I’d done the walk up and down I wandered back to BAR, and hung around there for a while.

This provided quite a bit of amusement for me, as I was able to watch the great Jenson Button Escape Plan taking shape. Picture, if you will, the sort of vehicle you would expect an F1 driver to be driven away from the circuit in. A Porsche? A BMW? Something very flash… not a turquoise VW camper van of uncertain vintage (but at least 30 years old). OK, so it had been done up, and it had tinted black windows, but even so, it’s not very F1. It worked though, because who would expect him to get into that? Before he went, he signed autographs for a couple of little kids, but refused one for a bloke who wouldn’t give his name for the dedication, saying he wasn’t about to sign something that the guy had no intention of keeping. I mostly ignored Jenson, but then I’ve been doing that since 1999 when I realised he might be fast but he’s got no personality, and I see no reason to stop now.

I hung around a little longer, and had a chat with Adam Carroll, currently amazing people in GP2 (he wouldn’t be if they’d paid attention to his earlier career), who says he shouldn’t be in GP2 really, because he really doesn’t have the money to do it. However, Super Nova team owner David Sears is no fool, and he needs to rebuild his reputation after a disastrous couple of years where he seemed to have lost the plot completely. He needed a fast, effective driver, and he certainly got one. I managed to speak briefly to Takuma Sato, who had about enough time to say “Hello! Long time no see!” before he was engulfed by a crowd of autograph hunters, and vanished from view. By contrast, Alan Webber (Mark’s father) legged it past, screeched to halt, demanded to know how long it had been, and then realised his lift was about to go without him…

I talked to a number of journalists, photographers, and general hangers on that I hadn’t seen in a while, and it was while I was doing that that I saw the funniest moment of the day. Over at Renault there was, predictably enough, a large crowd between the trucks on the garage side and the motorhome. This meant th drivers had to somehow get between the two without getting mugged by autograph hunters, and the like. Needless to say the big draw there at the moment is F1 Championship leader Fernando Alonso, though they’d quite happily pursue his teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella as well. So, clearly Alonso is a man with a cunning plan. He waited till Fisichella went out, then snuck through the crowd at speed, flung himself into the motorhome relatively unmolested… and locked Fisichella out! Alonso could be seen through the glass, almost beside himself with laughter, while Fisi was left to hammer on the door. To be fair, he was obviously very amused too.

I was beginning to get both bored and cold by then, and just as I was about to try and leave the circuit, Heikki Kovalainen wandered along, fresh from a rather boring day showing Renault corporate guests round the place. He was looking well – fit and tanned – and he believes that he’s really got a good chance of lifting the GP2 title at the end of the year. The odd thing was how little attention the crowd paid him, compared to Carroll. A scant half dozen people bothered him at all as he walked back to the car park with me, chatting idly. So when he gets to F1 they’ll all still be going “Who’s he? Where did he come from?” despite the fact that this is the man who comprehensively trounced Michael Schumacher in last year’s Race of Champions event. He’s also the man who we’ve been tipping for stardom since he arrived in British Formula Renault straight out of karting.

Anyway, ten minutes later I was home, computer wrestling for fun and profit (or something), in possession of a brand new BAR lanyard, which I’ve hung my work security pass on, just to annoy people.

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