Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

On track with Mat - Silverstone, back in the day - Driving tests, karting fun and a trip around the F1 track

Published by Mat Fox

I won a place on a Silverstone driving day through Top Gear magazine back in around '97/98. Although it wasn't totally free, it gave you the chance to participate for £50 instead of the full rate of £500, so a bit of a no-brainer. The day was sponsored by Peugeot, and around twenty of us took part in several driving disciplines over the course of a very long day.

The Silverstone grandstands overlook the racing track
The Silverstone grandstands overlook the racing trackCredit: Sidepodcast

We did an auto test (around the cones forwards and backwards, that sort of thing - dull), karting (much more exciting), a drive around the F1 circuit ourselves (not bad but speed limit 50mph, so it felt like an empathy exercise for the elderly drivers on the motorway who do 25 mph), quad bikes off-road (no Ozzy Osbourne-style catastrophes there), high speed passenger rides with -wait for it- Tiff 'Dorian Gray' Needell (very exciting, that guy really doesn't like using brakes on corners), but surprisingly I initially thought that the best thing about the day and something I thought I would be indifferent to was driving a rally car on a special stage.

What an incredible driving experience that was, to have a car operate totally different from what you're used to when you accelerate, brake and steer was totally mad and the noise - wow. It sounded like you were being machine gunned with frozen peas all the way around the course. Now, I thought that was the best bit, but a totally unrelated surprise actually knocked rallying off the top step of the podium. McLaren decided to do a couple of hours testing and we climbed up onto the top of the grassy banks that surround the circuit to watch and THAT really was something special - the speed, the smell and the noise of an F1 car is totally unlike nothing else I'd ever seen before or since.

These days, the Silverstone experience is £800 but the cars are much faster and more exciting than a Peugeot 306 GTI-6, so if you have the cash to do it, don't even think twice. It's a great day and who knows, maybe you'll get a free F1 fix to top it all off.

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