Last updated on May 24th, 2016 at 10:02 pm

F1 Valencia: First Grand Prix Experience

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – although I really hope it isn’t! – to go to Valencia and watch the European Grand Prix from the comfort of the paddock club, courtesy of the very generous Pirelli (the sole current tyre providers for Formula 1). I’ve never been to a Grand Prix before, so I thought I would share my experience.

The first thing people usually mention when talking about seeing Formula 1 live is the sound of the cars. Having heard this many times, my expectations were pretty high, but that still didn’t prepare me in the slightest. Even before we arrived at the track we could hear that magnificent sound. As I was about to cross the track (via a foot bridge a short way through the gate) I saw my first car in the flesh – Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren. The noise as it passed made every hair on the back of my neck stand on end; this continued for the next ten or so cars, with each sounding better than the last.

We arrived at the grandstand to take our seats and had a beautiful view of the track, with the beach in the background and the swing bridge behind us. It really is a magnificent setting for the Grand Prix, and I’m not sure why it isn’t a more popular race, and some people don’t seem to like the modern, dock like surroundings.

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As you may well know, Pirelli supply six different tyre compounds to Formula One teams; Wet, Intermediate, Hard, Medium, Soft and Super Soft. The Wet and Intermediate tyres travel to every race to cope with wet weather conditions and Pirelli also choose two tyre compounds from the remaining four for each race. In case you had wondered how these two tyre compounds are chosen, we asked the Motorsport director of Pirelli Paul Hembery. He told us that it’s all done via simulation: the track layout, asphalt type, predicted temperatures for the race etc are all put into the simulator to determine how many laps each tyre compound will last for. This information is then used to choose the compounds for that particular race. Providing it remains dry, each car must use both compounds during the race to avoid a penalty. Paul also said that they aim for a two or three stop race when choosing compounds.

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Race Day

We were fortunate enough to have passes for the Paddock Club which included a one hour grid walk. During this time you could wander between the pit wall and a barrier around each pit garage. Mostly there wasn’t much activity in the garages at this time, but we did manage to see the Lotus team practicing tyre changes, and hence got a close-up view of the car. The rest of the time we spent celeb-spotting and trying to get pictures with the BBC and Sky presenters. We managed to block David Coulthard’s path and force him into a picture before finding Ross Turnbill randomly walking down the pit lane. Later on we managed to chase down Martin Brundle for a quick photo as he made his way to the commentary box for the start of the race; and despite probably making him a bit late, he stopped for the photo and wished us a great day. What a gent!

We spent a bit of time watching the BBC and Sky reporting teams both on and off camera, and it was interesting to note the huge difference in attitude between the two. The Sky team would stand pretty much silent, often separate and looked thoroughly workmanlike about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was scorching out there but when you compare that with the BBC team you could still see the camaraderie when the cameras weren’t rolling, with David Coulthard playfully slapping Jake Humphrey around the face a few times. Before going to Valencia I preferred the BBC coverage, and that opinion has only been enhanced.

On to the race itself. We had three choices for where to watch the race: the grandstand at the end of the starting straight looking into the first corner, on the balcony over the pit lane (the Pirelli lounge was above Lotus) or on top of Veles e Vents in the Marina with breath-taking views of different parts of the track. Unfortunately it was a short boat ride to access this and we didn’t want to miss any of the race travelling between locations. We decided to locate ourselves in the grand stand for the start of the race to catch any action going into the first corner and then head back to the balcony after 3 laps for the rest of the race above the pit lane.

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Every building you could see around the track had masses of people standing on the roof and crowded round every window. The atmosphere was electric and intensified every time a certain Spaniard named Alonso moved up the field. There was only one noise that could drown out the crowds and that was the engine of a Formula one car heading down the straight. The cumulative noise of a tight group of cars hurtling past together surpassed that memorable sound of a single car during free practice, and I was mesmerised by it. Looking around, everyone on the balcony was wearing their complimentary ear plugs but I didn’t dare miss a second of that deafening sweet, sweet sound.

Watching a pit stop close-up was to witness a picture of seamless efficiency and team work. The ability of the mechanics to work together with perfect timing in order to release the car so quickly must be a skill in itself. Add to that the heat and pressure of the situation when every nanosecond counts and you realise that despite the brilliance of the drivers it really is a team effort. This couldn’t have been more evident when Hamilton had yet another pit stop problem which cost him valuable seconds and potentially lost him the race.

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The European Grand Prix in Valencia is generally regarded as one of the dull, processional races with limited overtaking; but this year’s race was anything but. Alonso may have benefited from a bit of luck to win in his native Spain with the dominant Vettel and ever-impressive Grojean having mechanical problems but that doesn’t detract from an astonishing win, all the more so given a disappointing qualifying that saw him start in 11th position. It was obviously a weekend for Spanish gentlemen named Alonso and I’m sure one even won big betting on the exact result and circumstances in the football. Add to that the return to the podium for veterans Raikkonen and Schumacher respectively and it truly was a magnificent race – and one I was privileged to see live.

All that is left for me to say is if you have never been to a Grand Prix, you have to add it to your bucket list; you will definitely not be disappointed. I can’t wait to get married just so that I can request a Grand Prix weekend for my stag do.

You can also join us in our private group for the Pirelli GP Challenge and test your knowledge against us and win awesome prizes!. Read on for more here!

Also another huge thank you to Pirelli for making it happen! Check back soon for our thoughts on Pirelli’s new tyre the Cinturato P7 Blue and experience of driving a McLaren MP4-12C round a track!

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