Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Living the dream - A single seater experience at the Silverstone circuit

Published by RCC

It’s 10.55am on Saturday, Jenson Button has just put the Brawn on pole in Malaysia, and within the hour it will be my turn to get behind the wheel of a single seater for a chance to see if I have what it takes to be a speed demon. After a quick sprint up the A43 past Brackley and the home of Brawn GP, I arrive at the hallowed, sacred ground that is Silverstone. The circuit evokes many strong memories for me, there’s something about the place I just don’t feel anywhere else. This is the home of British racing. It’s more than just a track, this is history.

I’d been given a Single Seater Experience as a Christmas gift from the family; it came with a six month expiry so I was determined to hold out until the good weather arrived. I couldn’t have picked a better weekend and was thrilled to see not a cloud in the sky and a strong dose of sunshine which I would hope could only improve track temperature and thus make me quicker. Upon arrival at the centre I handed over my driving licence as proof I could drive and was handed back a rather complicated looking circuit map with numerous dots and markings over it. As I read on it dawned on me all these little dots were braking points and apex points. The enormity of what I could be letting myself in for slightly unnerved me but in true racing driver style I hid any anxiety from my accompanying chaperone with a cursory shrug and a ‘looks cool’. After a brief wait a group of us were called into the drivers' briefing room and so the fun began.

Into the briefing room

The instructor couldn’t stress enough how powerful and different a single seater is to drive but he gave us excellent advice on how to get the most out of the car and ourselves in the session. He explained driving techniques, the car, rules, safety, and what to expect. Today we were driving the Stowe circuit (yes I was a little annoyed it wasn’t the GP circuit) which is just under 1 mile and contains two long straights leading into tight corners, chicanes, and a great driving challenge. A 20 min session behind a pace car then 25 mins free lapping was the itinerary. After being suited up and fitted with a helmet we were led out to the cars and strapped in. I could barely contain my excitement of being strapped into a single seater and immediately appreciated just how hard it is to ease one's frame into the cockpit. The familiar smell of petrol wafted over me as the cars in front started and it was time to get my game face on.

The cars look like an F3 car, beautiful looking machines, and the sort of curves men kill for! 0-60mph in 5.4 secs, 4 speed manual transmission with a 1600cc engine. I remember the instructor quoting they were five times more powerful then a VW Golf with the same engine capacity due to weight to power ratio. The gears are different to normal, no neutral as such and you have to be very positive to enforce the gear changes. Once sat on the grid waiting to go, all nerves I had dissipated and I was desperate to get going, so desperate in fact I didn’t realise the previous driver had left the car in gear so when I got the order to start up my car lurched forward and I nearly tapped the car in front. I felt like Fisichella in Malaysia or Hamilton in Canada, I couldn’t believe I’d made such a ‘rookie’ error!! Fortunately for me there was ample room to the car in front so my blushes were spared. Starting the car requires flicking down a switch and then pressing a big fat button to engage the starter motor, for someone who drives a standard road car each day it was a great novelty to start without keys.

Number 14

The safety car pulled out and the cars in front filtered away slowly in an orderly fashion, pulling away requires 3,000+ revs and slow off the clutch. I lunged forward in a style Richard Hammond would be proud of and at last was cruising out the pits onto the track. The noise immediately hit me as we gently opened our throttles and powered down the back straight, the vibrations rendered the mirrors instantly useless and I braced myself for some heavy braking and getting it into turn 2 safely. The safety car built us gradually up to speed, highlighting all the braking points (like it’s hard to miss a big board saying BRAKE! on it) and showing us the best lines to take through the corners. After 20 minutes I was signalled into the pits for a 5 min break, in no time at all I was released back onto track for the final free lapping period.

Over the next 25 minutes I was out alone on track living the dream. I deliberately dropped back off the pack (instructors advice) and let them zoom away for 1/3 lap. This freed up the circuit for me so I could literally drive flat out and not get stuck behind traffic. With every lap the tyre and brake temps came to the car which, coupled with a rapidly growing self confidence, made me push harder and harder with every single lap. Towards the end of the session I started to catch other cars up and the satisfaction of being waved through under blue flags was immense. I was Senna hunting down the pack (well in my head I was) and I duly dispatched every driver but one (12 of us). I can’t convey how good it feels following a car though a corner then burning past them on the main straight. On one lap I took two people in one move and felt thoroughly satisfied, all that homework had paid off. The best experience was storming down the straight at easily 120mph, then slamming the brakes down hard to get into the corner. I never appreciated how hard it is to control the car in that state. It’s rocking from side to side and you're half expecting to go straight on into the ever increasingly looming crash barrier. The noise, the vibrations and all this coupled with looking out of a little Perspex visor makes it an incomparable experience. After the fastest (literally) drive of my life it was nearly all over as I could see the chequered flag waving away. I buried the throttle and raced through the last few corners and couldn’t resist the temptation to raise my arm as I took the chequered flag. Sad I know but when do you ever get a chance to be a racing driver?

Getting racey

We all pulled in happy, with huge beaming smiles, and some very sweaty looking faces. A quick presentation followed with me getting second fastest time of the day - 45 second lap. I was 0.8secs off the best time of the session and 10 secs clear of the slowest driver, I was delighted (especially beating a police ‘driver’). We all received a nice looking certificate and telemetry print outs showing every lap time, performance increase, speed, average lap time etc. With that, we signed out, with the option of purchasing pictures taken of us on track (onboard footage £40). I got back in my shed of a car and raced off down the A43 back home, satisfied that for that brief hour I was Senna.

For reference I did the Single Seater Experience which is the more expensive of the two options on offer from Silverstone, it cost approx £120 and worth easily double that. You can view an onboard lap here, which shows it is simply worth every penny. Where else do you get to drive on the limit in a race car?