Forget the British Racing Drivers’ Club, Lewis Hamilton is the true owner of Silverstone. The Englishman won his fifth British Grand Prix at a canter last weekend, demonstrating the type of imperious form that the home fans have gotten used to over the past four years.
The triple champ’s snub of the very first F1 Live London event in the build up to the weekend was quickly forgotten. There were no boos for the Brit at Silverstone, as peak ‘Hamilton-fever’ returned.
In fact, having been fortunate enough to spend the entire weekend trackside, I’d be willing to say that peak ‘F1-fever’ has also replaced the pessimism that has previous riddled the sport.
Here are my trackside observations from a thrilling weekend of action at Silverstone.
Positivity at this year’s British Grand Prix was always likely to permeate each and every grandstand. The Liberty take-over and universally popular triumvirate who replaced a divisive Bernie Ecclestone are, of course, contributing factors, but this has also coincided with a regulation change which has re-energised the on-track competition.
Fans are relishing the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari. Finally, we have the fight between the two greats of their generation in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
A more engaging contest on-track fought out with visibly faster and more visually pleasing machinery, is the biggest change to the British Grand Prix year-on-year. Suitably, the atmosphere throughout the weekend was significant.
A competitive Hamilton on home-turf is always likely to motivate the crowd into a frenzy, but the Brit’s silver arrow was not the only car capable of generating a roar from the grandstands. Evidently, fans were appreciative of 2017’s more meaningful tussles.
Max Verstappen’s duel with Sebastian Vettel was brutal. Both were unwilling to offer an inch of space to each other, in an uncompromising battle that had the crowd on their feet. Fewer pit-stops and the increased effects of the turbulent air have made overtaking more difficult this season, but fewer passes do not mean a less appealing show. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Drivers have to work harder to pull off an overtake and the crowd are far more appreciative when a move is made, or not, in the case of Verstappen’s stunning defence against a charging Vettel.
With the German being Hamilton’s most potent adversary in this season’s title fight, his dicing carried a greater weight with the British crowd. Nevertheless, the other battles during the race served to enhance what was already a stunning atmosphere, far in excess of the already vibrant mood of the fans on race day last season.
The spectacle is also enhanced by elements not necessarily considered worthy of ‘telebox’ air time. For instance, practice starts on the grid immediately after the practice sessions create an incredible buzz in the grandstands overlooking what becomes an incredibly lively pit-straight.
Both the International Pit Straight grandstand at the climax of FP1 and the Club grandstand at the end of FP3 were great vantage points, as the drivers completed clutch bite-point finds and assessed torque maps ahead of Sunday’s all important launch.
It is these elements that greatly enhance the experience trackside. Television fails to convey the spectacle that is felt in the grandstands, hearing the technicality of a start procedure first hand and witnessing the incredible acceleration of the world’s most impressive machines. It is precisely why putting ‘bums on seats’ in grandstands around the world is integral to growing the core fan base of the sport.
As is showing off the diverse range of personalities within the sport. The human element of F1 is the most fascinating. The drivers are central to the compelling soap opera of the sport and Silverstone does an excellent job of putting the drivers on a pedestal in front of their adoring fans in an atmosphere more relaxed than seen in the interview pen minutes after a session.
Both the Fans Forum on Saturday evening and driver appearances at the Grand Prix After-Party serve to showcase the drivers’ personalities, but this season saw more stage content than in previous seasons.
Fans enjoyed Romain Grosjean and Pascal Wehrlein practising their tennis skills after FP1, serving t-shirts into the crowd. Fernando Alonso was at his charismatic best on Saturday evening reflecting on his Q1 glory run while Lewis Hamilton made his first of two stage appearances in the Fans Forum.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Christian Horner owned the stage on Sunday evening, with the Aussie succumbing to crowd pressure and performing his ever-popular ‘shoey’ alongside Verstappen. The Dutchman was alarmingly happy to drink beer out of his shoe. The beverage was adeptly avoided by host Tony Jardine.
Fans need to be able to connect with the competitors and the human element of the sport and the British GP is a fantastic platform to put the drivers on a pedestal. The stage activities are an integral part of the weekend and should also be broadcast online to engage those not at the track.
With regards to these main stage events and their placement alongside the on-track action, 2016 ultimately saw a similar schedule of events to 2017.
Liberty’s enhanced Fanzone, featuring displays of some rather fancy Renault road cars, an enormous F1 store, along with the more familiar F1 Gamezone as a separate attraction, were the most notable signs of the change of ownership of the sport.
A taster, therefore, of what is to come. Patience needs to be given to Liberty so that they can put into effect their vision of what F1 should be. For now, fans are able to enjoy the starter course before the main meal which is likely to arrive in 2021 according to Carey, Brawn and Bratches’ forecasts.
What is evident from my trackside observations is that F1 needs the British Grand Prix as much as the Silverstone facility does. A solution to the latest in what has been a history of crises surrounding the British Grand Prix needs to be found, and I have faith in the both sport’s governing body and the BRDC, Silverstone’s owners, to find said solution.
In the meantime, hats off to Silverstone, who clearly know how to put on a show.