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The Unofficial F1 World Tour 2010 - Part 5 // Alex Snell takes his Formula One journey to double figures

Published by Alex J Snell

Hello and welcome back to Alex Snell's epic F1 World Tour. So far, we've had a peek at Alex's travels through eight Grand Prix weekends in countries all around the globe. This time, he gets to come home, taking in the British GP at Silverstone. If you want more information you can head on over to his travel blog or stay tuned to Twitter for up to the minute information. For now, though, it's on with the journey.

Race 9 - Europe (Valencia)

Once I'd got through the airport the first destination was Beach Park. This is a cool little area just outside the gates of the circuit, down by the beachfront. It's got a couple of outdoor bars, a go-kart track, a cool Scalextric version of the Valencia track, along with the usual variety of merchandising stalls and promo tents. The reason I made a bee-line straight here was to get my voucher for the pit lane walk this afternoon. They've limited the numbers to 2000 and in order to get a voucher you've got to show your race ticket at the official merchandising stand. At first I thought this was all a bit of an unnecessary faff, but thinking about it now, and remembering the pit lane crush from Catalunya (where it was a literal free for all), it's actually not such a bad idea.

Michael Schumacher pauses for photos and autographs during the pit lane walk at Valencia
Credit: Alex J Snell

Limiting the numbers made a huge difference - you could really get close to the drivers. I managed to bag autographs from the Renault guys, the Force India guys, the Virgin guys (again I know!), plus I managed to get up close to Schumacher, which usually is pretty impossible, but seeing as we're in 'Fernando-Land' he wasn't paid anywhere near as much attention as usual!

The best thing about this place though has to be the location itself. It really is slap bang on the waterfront, the entrance gate to my grandstand, for example, is literally on the beach! This was just too good an opportunity to miss, so once FP1 had finished I strolled down to the waters edge and dipped a toe. With the track in such close proximity I had the GP2 cars providing the soundtrack as the waves rolled on in around me - I mean, come on, where else can you do that? Magic!

The beach, with an F1 grandstand visible in the background
Credit: Alex J Snell

This evening I met up with another Alex, aka @f1photos for a few beers, and he turned out to be an absolute top chap! He's been shooting F1 for 20 years, so you can imagine the great stories he's got from years gone by. The one that tickled me the most was his Schumacher 'Godfather' one. Apparently once it had been announced that Schuey was making his comeback he got his PA to arrange meetings with everyone whom he'd had 'disagreements' with over the years. Alex (being someone who fell into that category - he didn't say why though!) described it as like being summoned by the Godfather. The story goes that his presence was requested to meet the man himself. Alex dutifully went and Schuey proceeded to explain to him that he was keen to clear the air and that all was forgotten, this time around he was just here for the fun of it, so no bad feeling or grudges etc....

This is strange enough as it is, however the alarming thing was that someone had obviously done their homework, as Schuey knew Alex's son's name, his age, even the fact that he was starting school! All details that he shouldn't have had any way of knowing and very 'Godfather-esque!'

The Williams team prepare for the Grand Prix with a stack of fresh tyres
Credit: Alex J Snell

In all seriousness, I've watched the last two snore-fests from Valencia and as such came expecting very little. So to be completely wrong with my preconceptions was a great surprise. Valencia itself was lovely, the weather gorgeous (the people equally so too!), and the location of the track excellent. And to top it all off we actually had an interesting race! Yes, I know the stewards ruined it a bit, but it was at least entertaining, which as fans is what we all want to see.

So I sit here now with my perception of this event completely altered, another race down and another collection of great memories.

See you at Silverstone!

Race 10 - Britain

I thought I'd better pop something on here before I leave for Silverstone tomorrow, just to apologise in advance for the lack of updates over the forthcoming weekend. Much like most of the race-goers this weekend I'll be camping it up, so understandably I won't be taking the laptop etc.. with me. Campsites, tents, and the British weather don't really mix well with computers!

Virgin Racing chose the rather grand Stowe School as their campsite for the weekend
Credit: Alex J Snell

Our destination was Stowe School, where we were to be guests of the Virgin Racing team for the weekend. Arriving at the gates, we immediately realised that this was no ordinary campsite. The driveway was longer than the average high street, and to our right as we rode the crest of the ornate stone bridge was the magnificent sight of the school itself - wow! Apparently it was Richard Branson's old school, and yes, it was every bit as impressive as you're thinking!

Pulling into the car park the Virgin team were on hand straight away making sure that we were looked after, this was to be the start of our five-star treatment. The campsite itself was perfect, there was a bowling green-esque flat area for the tents to be pitched, and despite it being 11 at night it was still light thanks to the floodlights they’d installed. Pitching up the tents was mercifully simple, it’d been a long day already so after a quick shower (yep, they had showers, with hot running water all day long, and enough toilets to practically have one just for yourself) we had a quick welcome drink and called it a night.

Vettel speeds down the Hangar Straight on Free Practice Friday
Credit: Alex J Snell

Given that it was free roaming we decided to walk the track perimeter. This turned out to be an inspired choice as the track offered so many great vantage points. Starting at Copse we strolled down to the Maggots & Becketts complex, sitting in the grandstand here gave you a great view of the cars not only in front of you, but also across to the newly built Arena section. The only downside though was that the stand itself is set back from the track, so in search of something a little more close up we continued around to Chapel. Here we found that you could look back up to Maggots & Becketts as the cars swept right, left, right, & left again, all the time getting ever closer until there was literally nothing but a fence & a few metres between you and the howling engines. Tracing the circuit along Hangar Straight, you got a great sense of the sheer speed as the drivers hit flat out as they tore past, then flowing into Stowe corner where there’s a superb view of the track at eye-level as the cars cling on to the edge of the grip. We continued on and by the end of the day we’d managed to watch the action from every spot around the track, including the new arena section. Not bad going!

Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso is town away after his British Grand Prix comes to an early end
Credit: Alex J Snell

Race Day was absolutely packed, the two preceding days had been busy, but not on this kind of scale. The fans had turned out in force, obviously they were mainly only interested in two people - Jenson & Lewis - but a bit of local bias in the stands always makes for a better race atmosphere! Sitting in Luffied A, I was lucky to catch my fair share of action. Massa narrowly avoiding spinning into the pit wall, Alguersuari dropping it into the gravel trap, and several nice overtaking moves which the crowd met with hollers and cheers every time!

Alex and Timo (and other) pose for a photo at the Virgin Racing campsite
Credit: Alex J Snell

This being the mid-point of the season I couldn't help but spend a few minutes looking back on everything that's happened so far. It really has eclipsed every expectation and dream I had before setting off in March - and believe me I had plenty of time to think about what it might actually be like! Thanks to everyone I've met on my travels so far, and obviously thanks to Virgin Racing for bringing me closer to the sport than I could have ever hoped to get!

Stay tuned for the next chapter in Alex's adventure, and check out more great pictures on his Flickr account.

All content in the series The Unofficial F1 World Tour 2010