Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Race day at Renault F1 (Part 1) // Watching a Grand Prix from the heart of the Enstone campaign

Published by Mr. C

Driving the narrow country lanes that eventually lead to the Renault F1 factory in Oxfordshire, you can't help but think this must be the most fantastic commute in the world. No hustle and bustle of the 7:20 to Paddington for these Formula 1 employees, just endless vistas before the rolling countryside vanishes behind a dry stone wall or tumble down thatch.

A missed turn here or there could see you pass the home of one Jeremey Clarkson - getting lost has never been so much fun. Getting lost is in fact what Sidepodcast does best, and my inept navigation skills on the Sunday morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix, saw us heading directly towards Enstone village centre, as if by chance someone had squeezed a Formula factory between the local post office and public house.

It turns out they hadn't, and a swift u-turn-come-donut on the gravel surface by the lady at the wheel finally had us pointing in the direction of Renault HQ. I must say, neither of us now envy the poor truckies who have to navigate these tiny farm tracks (or roads as the locals probably refer to them) in their massive F1 transporters.

As we pulled up at the gates we knew we were in the correct place, not for the large Renault diamond adorning the entrance, but because we were joined in the car by a bright yellow and black striped wasp - its timing was exceptional.

Nuclear bunker or teletubby house?
Nuclear bunker or teletubby house?Credit: Sidepodcast

Although our first port of call wasn't to be the underground Computational Aerodynamic Research Centre, you simply couldn't help but notice the semi- buried entrance beckoning you from across the car park.

First hand experience

Both Christine and I had been invited to visit the Renault factory to experience the Hungarian Grand Prix from the team's perspective. The outfit's marketing department had previously run events such as this before, but only for families of employees or sponsor associates. This year for the first time they are opening the doors for the public to experience F1 first hand.

Although primarily aimed at the corporate entertainment market, with a price tag of £175 (+VAT) per person it's not beyond the reach of a keen fan either. The facility can handle up to 60 visitors at any one time, and for the inaugural event a cross section of attendees were selected, including competition winners, paying fans and potential corporate entertainers. Where we fit into things I have no idea, but I'm very glad we were given the chance to have a look around.

Breakfast at Vitaly's

The morning began with coffee, croissants and the opportunity to do a little bit of mingling. The first part of the day saw us situated inside the Communication and Heritage centre, which featured historic Renault cars throughout the years, from one of the first Renault's - a Type A from 1899, up to Fernando Alonso's title winning R25. The cars were close enough to touch (or trip over) without the usual tensabarriers holding you back.

At one end of the building, telemetry screens from both cars recorded during the previous day's qualifying were streaming rolling updates, and there was the opportunity to try your hand at the incredibly loud pitstop competition should you be feeling particularly energetic. At the other, a driving simulator competition was in progress offering a chance to win Renault goodies. We didn't mange to take part in any of that though, with Christine spying some bright red front wing endplates on display in one corner.

You'll need your sunglasses at night with those endplates.
Credit: Sidepodcast

Whilst I've always loved the blue and white "team spirit" livery the team ran a few years back, I am quite partial to this seasons retro yellow and black look. I do however concede that the cars wing mirrors and end plates are rather... rouge.

Question time

Following breakfast, it was time for Sidepodcast's favourite professional MC, Stuart Codling, to take to the stage and give us a run down of events the previous day in qualifying. This was the first time we'd met Stuart in person and I can tell you that man was born to be on a stage. From impressions of Patrick Head to fabulous insight as to why Rosberg is quicker than his far more successful counterpart plus how Petrov beat Kubica, time slipped away far too quickly in Codling's company.

A live video link up with the team motorhome in Hungary was established and questions were put to Sporting Director Steve Nielsen. For me this was one of the only moments in the day when things didn't quite work so well. On paper, the chance to get interactive with somebody on the scene sounded like a perfect way to bring you closer to F1, but Steve was sat in front of a closed blind and may as well have been sat in the next room.

Stuart (right) chats to Steve live from the circuit
Stuart (right) chats to Steve live from the circuitCredit: Sidepodcast

The insight offered during the conversation was very good, but if he could have just moved the camera around the room a little or poked it out of the window, it would have likely brought us closer to action in Hungary.

There were a few technical issues that could be fixed for the next event (the room was a little too bright for the projector for example), but more importantly I think it's vital to get across the vibe of being at a racing circuit to the assembled crowd.

After the link up, MC Stu bowed out of the spotlight and brunch was served.

The Brady brunch

I am no connoisseur of food, but I'd argue the spread the chef put on for everyone,was worthy of the entrance price alone. If only we hadn't eaten so much delicious breakfast earlier.

A good hour or more was spent meeting and eating while talking F1 and technology with the other guests and in the process we managed to sell three iPads, plus five official F1 timing apps during the course of the meal. Soft Pauer simply must hook up with Renault for future events, their GPS timing application is the perfect companion for a day such as this.

We had brought the iPad and iPhone apps with us, because we can no longer watch Formula 1 without them, but it turns out that the portable pad is the world's best conversation starter and was duly passed around to almost everyone present in the space of an hour. It's hard to explain to anyone just what a game changer an interactive GPS map is to an F1 fan until you experience it first hand. Being at Renault allowed guests to do just that.

Lunch time ended far too soon and it was time to vacate the premises and head for the underground bunker. The two of us could have done with an extra four or five hours in the first building, time just flew by at a crazy pace. We didn't have chance to take a picture of a single chassis unobstructed by crowd control barriers, the surroundings and lighting were a photographers dream and the opportunity passed us right by in the blink of an eye. It was just that kind of day. Neither of us changed a wheel and neither of us set a lap time, and still there was more talking to be done, people to meet and food to be consumed.

That wraps up the first part of our day in Enstone, check out part 2 to hear how our afternoon panned out.