Having been an F1 fan for most of my life it was a bit ridiculous that I had never gotten around to watching an actual F1 race when my home country boasts one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world. To add insult to injury, I even went and married a local girl whose parents live about 10 minutes away from the track, so my excuses were running thin. Then again, Bernie always serves as a good piñata, so I’ll just blame it on the exorbitant ticket prices F1 charges.
Pic: Hellooo Franchorchamps! – entry ‘la source’ on Friday
Thanks to the aforementioned wifey, I finally got to see my home GP live, and when we do something, we do it in style, so she took the “Gold 9 VIP package”. It isn’t quite the paddock club yet, but at Spa it was definitely worth it, including nice breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack (read: booze) package at the Hotel de la Source, which is literally at 50 meters of the la Source entry. Another nice perk of the VIP package was the parking spots, instead of queuing for an hour or two trying to get into the track, with this ticket you can gain entry to a separate – not in use out of GP weekends – highway exit, where traffic is very light, it took us maybe 15 minutes to get to our parking spot from the highway. The parking itself (P15 in our case) is about 200 meters from the hotel de la Source again…so no queuing, and no walking..gooood.
Breakfast included some croissants and such, but was nothing too fancy. I did watch the GP3 action mostly from the TV screens installed there as wifey wanted to savor the moment a bit before I dragged her out to the track in the mornings.
Pic: Chillin at the hotel
After going out for watching some track action, it’s a 5 minute walk from the grandstand – the white colored one in front of the pitlane – back to the hotel for lunch, where a ‘traiteur’ prepares some nice warm dishes. Nothing spectacular, but sure as hell beats living off greasy fries and burgers all weekend! The evening snacks after the race action usually involved lots of beer and wine in my case, so good times were had – had to make sure to recover the ticket prices in ‘free’ booze .
Pic: VIP Style baby
Sights and Sounds
So enough with the food review and on to the seating: the Gold 9 grandstand is very well placed right opposite the lower end of the pitlane – we were directly in front of the Williams pit, with goods views on the grid and la source entry, and even a bit of the exit as well as the track rises up again towards eau rouge. It is also mightily impressive to ear the cars come roaring around Blanchimont onto the chicane and the pit straight.
Pic: View from the grandstand left and right – Its the white covered one in 3rd pic
All in all, a good viewing position, but there are two downsides: it is a bit of a shame that the pitlane slopes down a bit, so you can’t really see the cars when they are coasting through the pitlane because the line of sight gets blocked by the higher pitwall. You can sort of catch the pitstops of the teams directly in front of you, but not of the rest for the grid. You can however look into quite a few garages. Here you see Bottas preparing for FP3 with his engineer.
Pic: Bottas gets ready for FP3
Of course, you are free to wander around the track with these tickets as well, so during the FP sessions we took a walk down to Blanchimont and the chicane, where as you can see here, a Williams can actually find the pit entry without running into someone during practice.
Pic: A William finds the pitlane entry without crashing (probably Bottas 😉 )
During FP3, my wife and I also walked down to eau rouge and the fan village behind it. As they always say, television really does not do justice to the elevation changes on this track..eau rouge is really steep lol. We saw a few cars zoom past there and while the speed was impressive I wasn’t taken aback as I thought I would…maybe eau rouge has indeed lost a bit of its ‘je ne sais quoi’ in these days of taking it flat out.
Pic: Amour a l’eau rouge
The fan village is your typical consumerist affair, where you can buy lots of overpriced official merchandise. I found it disappointing though that it was all the top 5 teams, and it was near impossible to find some merch from the lesser teams. Thousands of RBR, Ferrari, Lotus, Mclaren and Mercedes stuff, but I had to look long and hard for my Williams hat, and only saw a few caps of our beloved backmarkers Caterham and Marussia. Walking around, it was fun watching what people were wearing to gauge which teams had the most support. Somewhat surprisingly, It was a close call between Lotus and Mercedes at Spa, with a bit less of Red Bull and Ferrari, and Mclaren sort of between those. Looking at the stuff people are wearing, you’d be forgiven for thinking there are only 5 teams on the F1 grid..then again nobody wants to support a loser – which did make me contemplate switching my Williams hat to the Mercedes one after the team had another torrid weekend..(I did stick it out with Williams though 😉 )
Pic: GP2 feature race grid
The racing program is pretty packed during the day with GP3 , GP2 and Porsche supercup sessions keeping the action going. To their loss, not many people watch the junior series, so you can pretty much go sit anywhere to experience the track during those moments. Even the F1 practice sessions aren’t that busy. In Qualifying attendance evidently picks up, but still quite a few seats next to me were free, the only time the place was jam-packed was during the F1 race. It was disappointing to see my man Nasr take himself out at la Source, but at least it gave me an opportunity to take this snap of hm walking back to the pits in a thundery mood.
Pic: Unhappy Nasr
With Romain Grosjean deciding not to try and kill a world champion this year, the F1 race was mostly without incident, though I did catch Di Resta’s Force India bouncing around after Pastor had run into him like the idiot he is. (you can just about see the exit of the chicane from Gold 9 grandstand). Luckily, there’s always the young guns of GP2 and GP3 to see some carbon flying. GP2 was surprisingly civil this weekend, but the GP3 boys made for plenty of cockups to la source. You can watch the race from behind the stewards’s position at la source, and gives a good opportunity to see a GP3 car up close as it is being craned away to safety.
So you’ve now had my tripadvisor like review, now I’ll let you onto my F1 fan’s view on the race weekend. From a technical point of view, one thing really stood out, and that was the insane popping and blowing that can be heard from the Red Bulls as they braked into turn one. No other car made the kind of popping noise the Red Bull did. With extreme engine maps and off throttle blowing supposedly banned since last year, it really is shocking to hear the difference in sounds under braking between an RBR and pretty much the rest of the field. The Merc does quite a bit of poppin’ too, but nowhere near the level what the Red Bull is doing. In fact, it sounds like the further down the grid you go, the less popping there is to hear.
It was very noticeable, even to a tech layman like myself, and I wonder why not more fuss has been made about it this year. In not a single article have I noticed this being referenced. It would be interesting to get a detailed analysis of one of F1’s resident tech geeks on how it’s possible for the Renault in the RBR to sound so remarkably different under braking to all the other cars, when off throttle blowing is supposedly banned. Maybe Webbo and Vettel are giving it a squirt of gas under braking??
I missed the first practice session, but managed to watch the rest of it pretty much throughout. I was pleased to have bought a good set of earplugs prior to coming there as even the sound of a GP3 car gets really painful after a while. I definitely do not recommend sitting through a GP without earplugs! It was fun to be seated on the grandstand where you could see all the preparations going onto the grid, the activity in the pits during quail, etc. I was also sat right in front of a giant TV screen so could follow all the race action pretty well. It also helped in that respect that it was a fairly boring, straightforward race without too many stops. Anyway sitting on the pit straight basically gives you something to look at after the cars have passed by you, after all Spa is a very long lap, so sometimes- early on in the race before the field gets spread out, you don’t see a car for a minute and a half.
Pic: view of the big screen in front of grandstand, listening to Lewis interview during parade
Qualifying was very exciting, as you could really feel the weather shifting. While Sunday was disappointing and gave us one of the most boring races of the season, Saturday was one of the best qualifying sessions we’ve seen. For a while, I was convinced Di Resta got pole, as when the others went out for their last dash effort, rain was still streaming down on the pit straight. Therefore there was a good amount of shouting in excitement as we saw the times topple at the very end, and a good roar came from the many Hamilton supporters as he pipped Vettel to pole. They also showed the lap again on the big screen which was a nice touch.
The starts were of course always the most spectacular sight of the weekend, there really is something to hearing 22 cars revving up and unleash as they dive into la Source. Before the F1 race starts there’s a bit of a driver parade, this case they individually went into classic cars as they were driven around. Some drivers made an extra effort and sat up, where others really just sat there in the car out of sight. JB seemed to be the most accessible one, doing interviews as he had finished his lap. They also interviewed Hamilton and Van der Garde on the Kemmel straight which I could follow on the big screen as you saw in the pic above.
The race itself as said was a largely dull affair. I saw Hamilton get away well and thought ‘Good, at least Vettel won’t run away with this’…only to see him blow past on the big screen at Kemmel. The fun part of watching a race from the stands is that you can also follow the backmarker battle a bit – which is impossible just watching the world feed who’d make you think only 5 cars run in every GP. So I saw the Caterhams fight the Marussia’s, and Van der Garde holding off Pastor in the dying laps. It was also striking how Chilton kept losing time lap after lap on Bianchi, until the picture got a bit skewed when the pitstops started. At front nothing really changed once Alonso got passed Hamilton, which I could see from my position, after that they were pretty much trailing each other along, with some minor scraps for position into la Source nearer the back of the grid, none with too much drama. Mid- race I did start noticing the Williams team bring out the pitboards every lap – something most teams don’t seem to do anymore (and why would they if the radio is working) – but later we heard that the Williams radio did cock up (and now you see what you get when you can’t remind Pastor to stay cool about 17 times per lap).
Pic: Greenpeace banner from behind – at the time I thought it was just shell promo lol
To be honest I had not noticed a thing of those Greenpeace hipster protests, and, since I was standing behind it I could not read the banner, at firs I even thought it was just a shell promo stunt. I did see some security guys wrestle someone trying to descend onto the podium too, which is when the worst booing happened, during the Vettel interview. So clearly people were booing the hippies, not blondie.
While it may not have the same notoriety as the one in Monza, there was a bit of a track invasion as well after the race, as they opened the gates at La Source. I went down the pit straight to take a loo into the garages, and was suprised that barely 20 minutes after the end of the Grand Prix, all the cars were gone except for the ones of Charles Pic and Di Resta, as evidently those still needed some work after having retired from the race. The speed of the packup was quite impressive.
Pic: the remains of Di Resta’s Maldonated Force India
It was a pretty amazing experience to be walking down the straight where the cars had been gunning through just moments earlier, and it really was fun to feel the atmosphere, though I think anyone other than Vettel winning woul ave probably made it more fun. Nonetheless here is my attempt at making the Vettel finger look cool on the straight,
Pic: the finger
After years as an F1 fan, I absolutely loved taking in the racing during the whole weekend. The wifey and I are already planning to do some other races, Monaco and Monza being hot on the wishlist. It may cost a lot of moolah but damn you Bernie, this sport is just so exciting it’s worth it!