Formula 1 is an expensive hobby of mine. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I just love it. Being an electrical engineer, I not only enjoy the driver duels, but I keep a keen eye on the technical developments of the cars as well…
Since 2014, the cars are powered by hybrid power units in an attempt to show the world that F1 can showcase green technology, and hence this change has heightened my interest. Oh, and let us not forget that the drivers are the real stars of the show, so the change in technology has coincided with an upturn in Lewis Hamilton’s fortunes, as his Mercedes car is the class of the field.
I try and get to races when I can. This year, I went to watch the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in June, and this summer I visited the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix.
I arrived by plane into Brussels on the Thursday before the race, and after a combination of trains and a bus, I arrived at my hotel, which was just east of Liege, some 40km from the circuit. I made the decision to attend the Belgian Grand Prix back in April, and even by then all of the hotels nearer the circuit had been sold out, so the ‘Hotel Restaurant de la Tour’ was the best I could do.
The hotel consisted of six rooms above a very popular restaurant. The room I stayed in was spacious, clean, and was perfect for my three night stay. Breakfast was provided each morning, and in the evenings I ate in the restaurant below. The food was tremendous, and the staff friendly. Location wise, being a bit of a distance from the circuit, I faced a challenge commuting to and from the hotel. Both the circuit and hotel are essentially in the middle of nowhere, so I had to rely on public transport to get to and from the event.
On the Friday, the first practice session started at 10AM, and given that I was unfamiliar with the public transport in the area, I opted to get a taxi to the circuit. I ended up paying 80 euros for this, and due to the security and local road closures, the driver dropped me some 2 km from the circuit. Eventually, after a long walk, I managed to get to my seat on time. On the way back, I opted to use public transport. I had with me a ‘Horizon +’ 3 day bus pass, so I could use a shuttle bus run by the area’s bus company to take me to Verviers, then bus number 138 to get to my hotel. This was quite time-consuming, and the journeys became progressively longer throughout the weekend due to increased crowd attendance. So my advice here would be to book this race as early as you can, and try to get a hotel closer to the track, or camp in the surrounding areas.
As for the circuit itself, it is very old school, but you can feel the tradition and history oozing from the place. It is a huge circuit, and I was lucky enough to be able to afford good seats at the ‘double left’ part of the circuit. It rained during Friday’s second practice session, so the walkways do get quite soggy and muddy. So if you are unfortunate to get caught up in the rain there, make sure you come prepared. I had a mac, but still got soaked.
On the Saturday, for qualifying, the weather was thankfully much better, with sunny spells. The circuit had a lot more people, which consequently increased the journey time to and from it. However, the increased numbers only added to the atmosphere. The crowd were mostly dressed in orange due to the majority supporting the Netherland’s Max Verstappen, which provided for a wonderful sight and atmosphere. I was in the minority here, and I had to contain myself when Hamilton won pole position and equalled the record number of poles set by the legendary Michael Schumacher.
On Sunday, the circuit was positively heaving, with even more people turning up, and even more orange about the place. We were blessed with wonderful weather once more. We were also treated to a historic sight when Michael Schumacher’s son drove his father’s old Benetton championship winning car around the track. The race itself was a classic. Lewis Hamilton led for the whole race, but with his main adversary Sebastian Vettel sticking to him each and every lap. Vettel had two chances to overtake, yet Hamilton masterfully defended his position to win.
My sunglasses masked my watery eyes, due to my sheer happiness at seeing him win once more. As for the orange part of the crowd, their hero Verstappen had to retire from the race on lap 8 due to engine problems, which dampened their spirits, but they all stayed until the end.
All in all, a pleasant experience for me. Generally though, I think the crowd control and traffic management could have been a lot better. Given that this race has been run dozens of times, you would have thought that Belgium would have had the experience to run such a large event, but it seems to fall short in this aspect compared to other races I have been to.
Yet, this trip has been a box well and truly ticked for me, and I am looking forward to my next race in 2018.
– by guest writer, Daniel Nankoo. (Electrical Engineer, techno-guru + high-speed enthusiast)