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Hide and seek - With testing being opened up, what good is it hiding away?

Published by Lukeh

This past week I took the drive up to Silverstone to experience this esteemed circuit for the first time. It’s a bit strange having watched Formula 1 for 15 years or so and never actually having the chance to go up, so it was really exciting for me. It’s also quite amusing how in the past I’ve said to people how I could just go, sit down all day and watch cars do nothing but go round and they’ve laughed off such a suggestion. Funnily enough, it’s actually quite fun.

Red Bull F1 car, Silvertstone, July

During this round of testing I only attended Silverstone on the third and final day of the planned three day test and it was a good way to spend a Friday no doubt. I believe around 7,000 people attended on that final day and there certainly seemed to be a fair amount of people walking about, enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing, much like myself, with the sights and sounds of an F1 test. All in all, I really enjoyed it.

However, there’s something I wanted to point out and that refers to the pit walk session that takes up the last hour of access to the circuit once testing has finished. The pit walk access was an extra £10 fee that I, honestly, thought was fair enough and a minor expense when you consider in total you got access to testing and the pitlane at the end of the day for £25/£30 at the most. I always applaud initiative being taken to get the fans more involved in the workings of Formula 1 and to break down the barrier between ‘them and us’ but there were still a few things worth highlighting about this pit walk.

A paddock divided

Once testing had finished and we were allowed into the pitlane (the marshalling was pretty spot on too, I must say), it seemed like there was a divide in what there was actually being offered to the fans up and down the pitlane. On the one hand, you had the big teams who were hidden away behind their screens, not showing anything and simply leaving a display car outside their garage with no fan interaction at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that was a real kick in the face.

On the other hand, you had the smaller teams who were more than happy to interact with the fans, have a chat with those who had actually paid money to come in and take a brief glimpse up close and even going as far in Caterham’s case as to have public pit stop practise within the surrounding fans watching on. Whilst all the teams did have a display car out on show except for Sauber and Marussia, pretty much all the teams minus Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull had their garages wide open with nothing restricting the view of the engineers getting on with their job.

I suppose the argument is there that the top teams need to hide their current machinery whilst they evaluate the results from testing, working on the car and so forth and generally feed the paranoia that exists with the ever progressing technological race that is Formula 1. I found it very self-absorbed that these teams didn’t even bother to really interact minus Red Bull eventually coming out and letting fans sit on a tyre and putting on their loud music in an obnoxious reminder that, yes, they are the party team.

It’s a slap in the face to not give them a bit of a thank you

Let’s put it this way; if it were free access for anyone still around after testing I would understand if the teams didn’t have much interest in offering a bit of a glimpse to fans waltzing back and forth. It just doesn’t help the image if you have paying fans being ignored by the bigger names in the sport and just throwing a car out the front of the garage and leaving it at that. It was nice to see Lotus or Red Bull perhaps letting people sit with a photo next to the car but it felt like there could’ve been more effort from these bigger teams. I’m sure they have plenty to get on with but it’s not like this is winding down from a race weekend; this is winding down from a test and there was no reason for these fans to be there. They’re there for their love of Formula 1 and it’s a slap in the face to not give them a bit of a thank you for their efforts as far as I’m concerned.

Caterham F1 pit stop, Silvertstone, July

Yet as much as I can complain at all of these teams at the top simply hiding away, I have to applaud everyone else for just getting on with their job but not hiding away from thousands of fans who had actually paid for this privilege. Caterham spent a good amount of time out with the fans practising pit stops and it was actually quite exhilarating not only seeing how quickly in person a pit stop lasts but those sudden rushes of sounds, shouts and squeals from both machine and man during the whole process. It was actually brilliant stuff and even such a huge amount of fun to hear the banter as someone made a little mistake, or the on-looking gaze of a senior member of the pit crew giving out advice and just seeing these guys going about their daily business but still having a laugh with the fans too. This is precisely what fan access should be all about.

Up close and personal

A few teams barely had any traffic going around their pit garage which I felt a bit bad about. At the end of the pitlane was a quiet Marussia team getting on with things and having a sparse amount of attention without a car sitting out the front. Force India had a car out and were pleasantly handing out flyers from their drivers with the Di Resta ones signed and the Sutil ones not. Again the engineers didn’t mind the attention at all from outside watching in and this was just as much the case with Williams, Sauber and Lotus too. It was only Toro Rosso who wasn’t a top team to hide away, much like their sister team alongside them.

In no means at all do I think the pitwalk was a bad thing as I very, very much enjoyed it. Part of the reason it appealed to me so much was just to be so close to these cars and actually see what was going on; it’s still going to be a while until I get to go to another race and these little moments at Goodwood or at testing have a considerable sentimental value to myself and I’m sure many others when it’s such a difficult sport to get close to. Paying money to have some teams ignore you when you are essentially what allows F1 to grow is incredibly harsh and I’m amazed nothing much else has been said about the hiding away of these teams after a paid bit of access.

Still, I feel that the Silverstone tests have been a big success and I really hope we get more opportunities in the future. It’s a very minor fee to attend compared to that of the Grand Prix weekend and it’s just nice to have a day out at a track and relax with the sound of engines, which I’m sure is what Julie Andrews actually meant in the Sound of Music. Next time F1 comes to town (well, country) for testing, give it a whirl and give yourself a good day out. Just don’t expect the big teams to want to play ball at the end.

If anyone’s interested, I did take a few snaps throughout the day including this final pit walk.

See more of Lukeh's photographs