F1 2014 is in action at Silverstone this weekend, with Friday Free Practice marking the first time the new-era V6 hybrid racers have ran in anger at the home of British motorsport.
Motorsport fans to the core, MR is headed there today to see the new cars in action for the first time. How will they sound? What will they look like? Will the spectacle still be there?
Follow us through the day as we find out…
And the MR day ended at the BRDC, for the annual pre-GP media BBQ. All GoMW members are invited and many were there, slightly sunburnt after a day watching the racing. Particular treat for me was getting to speak with Paul Trussler, after admiring his commentary throughout the N24 race. I could hardly barge in then, as he was headphone’d up and mid-analysis, so it was nice speaking to him off-duty. Still don’t know how he does it, mind.
BRDC President Derek Warwick welcomed us, explained how the Silverstone 50th GP celebrations had turned the event into a four-day festival, and revealed that he expected the gate to be Silverstone’s third-best ever. Which is pretty good for a race that’s being held on the same weekend as the World Cup quarter finals, Wimbledon finals and the visit of Tour de France to the UK.
Earlier, Peter got to have a good chat with Derek. More on that later, but a snipped he gave to me as we walked back to the Maserati was how Warwick’s Driver Steward investigation at Monaco, into the Nico Rosberg incident, was the hardest he’s yet been involved in. “We deliberated four four hours,” he told Peter. “But we couldn’t find anything that said he was guilty – nothing. That was even with me, as a former driver, analysing the data to look for the tell-tales that won’t be obvious to analysts but would be obvious to me. There was nothing.”
1625h: Silverstone Caff
Oh, if only I’d been allowed to take pics: after lunch and interviews, it was down to the Lotus pit garage to stand in one of the canny ‘guest pits’ slap bang in the middle of the garage. Teams really have got this nailed – they lay on headphones so you can listen to the team radio, have a guy there to explain what’s going on, and everyone teamside completely ignores you and carries on doing what they’d ordinarily be doing.
I know, therefore, that when the cars go out, everyone in the pit garage eagle-eyes the monitors to follow progress of their man. There’s a guy who obsessively sweeps the floor. There’s not a strict no-eating rule, so baguettes can be munched in between pit action (and someone there likes black pepper Kettle Crisps).
I also know that before they go out, the drivers will have a chat with their race engineer. This isn’t like the stuff you hear on TV, all clipped conversations and one-word answers. It really is a chat, where the race engineer runs through what’s going on, the driver chips in where necessary and the general strategy for the next session is talked about. We listened in to Pastor Maldonado; he seems quite a nice chap on the radio, you know.
He went out and did his five laps as instructed, then came back for more tech dialogue. This showed the complexity of modern F1 cars – torque maps and diff settings were discussed just as much as ride heights, suspension stiffness and wing settings. It was fanatical work, step by step tweaking and perfecting the car (with guys in the background writing everything down – the settings, the chat around it, the prevailing weather conditions; everything). They have all this free practice but wow, how much inter-team work goes into it all – much highly focused and directed work at that.
Something else struck me: again, how quiet the cars are. On his out lap, Pastor did a radio check, clocking into the pits at every turn to make sure the radio worked throughout the circuit. Turn 1, Turn 2… Turn 8… Turn 12, 13, 14… all transmitted in almost-stereo-like clarity. “It’s impressive,” said our guide; “They are sometimes just as clear even when pulling 5G.”
1600h: Silverstone Caff
F1 certainly knows how to wow its guests. After watching free practice, I hot-footed it over to the pits, to meet the guys from Renault. Hot-footing it involved a bus ride, incidentally, from the old pits to the new: Silverstone even does this with makes-you-proud efficiency.
Met Alex and the rest of the guys, and was handed an F1-grade paddock pass by the Lotus rep, to get me through the Bernie gates. These things weigh a tonne: the most decadent lanyard I’ve ever worn. Then it was off to the Red Bull motorhome for lunch. This was something of a surprise (I wasn’t just there for a free lunch, honest) but, despite my doubts, Red Bull Racing seemed to welcome RenaultSport and its guests very warmly. We got the best seat in the house.
And what a house. The Energy Station is amazing. It’s huge, for one: so expansive, you can’t believe it’s all fully mobile. And the food they served – unbelievable. Octopus salad? Scottish salmon main course? Rocket fuel coffee for desserts (I skipped the trad Austrian peach and cream, er, bombe)? A whole other world.
Couldn’t get too carried away, mind: Renaultsport deputy technical MD Rob White was sat next to me, for an hour-long group interview (which, because the RBR Energy Station is also a bit noisy, turned into a bit of an MR two-on-one). Plenty to come on this: let’s just say he acknowledges the issues they have at the moment, is completely confident they’ll be sorted in the future… and also owns two vintage Bugattis that he’d love, one day, to spend some more time tinkering with.
Not at the moment though: what do you do in your spare time, MR’s Peter asked? “What spare time…”
1100h: BRDC Clubhouse
At Silverstone: and getting in was an absolute breeze. Drive down A43; turn off for Silverstone; drive into car park. As easy as visiting on a windy weekday in November. They’ve got this circuit access routine down to a tee.
The Maserati was entertaining, too. More on that later – a lot more, looking at the notepad. Pleasing to see it got a few glances en route, and it was satisfying to find it’s a punchy thing once stoked up too. But a bit more low rev response would be nice, Maserati: it may sound a bit like a V8 when revved but most V8s also have grunt where your engine does not…
The big interest was what’s going on right now though: the very first practice in a British Grand Prix weekend of F1’s new 2014-spec cars. V6 engines, hybrid trickery, 15,000rpm red line and all. Very first impressions? A low drone in the distance. The session was underway, but you’d hardly believe it. For this ‘new sound of F1 believer’, this was a bit worrying.
Courtesy of my Guild of Motoring Writers membership, I ducked into the BRDC Clubhouse and climbed the stairs to the roof terrace, just as most of the field was off out again. What did I see? To quote my notepad, cars that ‘looked slow… made F1 look easy… lacked drama… don’t need ear plugs anymore!”. Yoikes. The F1 spectacle really has gone, then?
Proviso: they were all on outlaps. This explained the armfuls of ugly understeer, that seemed even more dull with no noise in the background to make things exciting. As they sped up, things changed. The cars shed off the clumsy overcoat, started to look sophisticated, began to almost literally fly – the visual acceleration out of corners is stunning, all the more so as there’s now so relatively little noise. Think spaceships.
The noise itself has purity, in contrast to the guttural and painful blare of the V8s. It’s a rather deep, hollow drone going into corners, which goes up in intensity as the driver picks up the throttle through corners. Out of them, as revs rise, some of the old hard edge is there, but so too is a V6 blare that’s overlaid with a prominent whistle-whine and softened by the turbo: it sounds very smooth and high-tech when back on the power.
Even here, it doesn’t have a painful level of noise. And the fact drivers appear to be upshifting 3000rpm too early is also odd at first. But, after 20 minutes, I was used to it. Still not fully convinced, but I liked what I was hearing – liked the tuneful on-power noise, the sophistication, the fact there was more detail to listen to than simply ‘noise’
And without this distracting me, I found myself concentrating much more on what the cars were actually doing: the driving style, the lines through corners, the mechanics of driving. Frankly, it was far more interesting, and seemed a more intelligent way of watching F1. The satisfaction was following cars lap after lap as now you could see who looked fast, who looked scrappy, who looked like they had a beast of a car beneath them, who looked simply at one with it. In a race, it’s going to make watching the entire field battle from start to end rather pleasing, I suspect.
There’s lots more to watch and more opinions to field. For now though, after that early stumble, it’s a positive. It’s different, but it’s good. And far, far less painful…
Friday 4 July, 0800h: To Silverstone…
Our Silverstone wheels have just turned up – a Maserati Ghibli Diesel. It’s my first time in Maser’s BMW 5 Series fighter; no time to stop and admire right now though, as I’ve got a Free Practice session to catch…