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The Unofficial F1 World Tour 2010 - Part 7 - A wet weekend at Spa, and the emotional racing in Monza

Published by Alex J Snell

Hello, welcome, we are here to recap another two races from the ground via Alex Snell, who has been travelling around the globe to take in each and every F1 weekend. Alex is pretty famous in the paddock now, and has made some good friends at Virgin Racing, but even so, he still watches and enjoys the races just like any other fan would. If you'd like to read more from Alex, visit his travel blog, or get up to the minute updates on his Twitter account. For now, it's over to Alex.

Race 13 - Belgium

The trip started at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning for yours truly, and while certain BBC presenters were swanning their way through Europe in a sumptuous convertible E-type, I had to settle for a train, then a coach, a hop on and off a ferry, and then back onto a coach for the final leg.

Looking back over the weekend now, every thought I have takes me back to the same common theme - my god what a track! It truly does deserve every ounce of its fearsome reputation. It scorches a path through the Ardennes like a tarmac leviathan. The cars tear round, shattering the tranquillity of the forest surrounds, and the spectator is left in no doubt of just how staggering this track is - it's an experience like no other.

A great view of the leafy Spa-Francorchamps
Credit: Alex J Snell

Arriving at the track for the first time on Friday morning I soon found myself completely disorientated. Now this isn’t something new, in fact it's happened to me quite a few times during the trip so far. After years of watching on the goggle box your mind builds up a sort of mental map of how you think the track will look, but it's not until you're actually there that you realise that your version is usually pretty skewed. So there I was standing at La Source struggling to recognise the plunging gradient that was before me when I was snapped back to attention by that sound... that glorious roar of the first engine being fired up. Seconds later and growling into view came the Virgin of Di Grassi, stopping momentarily before flooring it in a swirling vortex of spray & howling horsepower - fantastic!

Lucas di Grassi during a drier moment at Spa-Francorchamps
Credit: Alex J Snell

Strolling on down from La Source you soon find yourself in the F1 village, and as you take in the usual array of merchandising stands and fast food huts you get your first glimpse of it... it being Eau Rouge, arching skywards like an evil helter-skelter. I won’t bore you with endless words on how breathtaking it is, but trust me, everything you’ve read or heard is true!

Trekking up the side of Eau Rouge the gradient becomes even more evident, mercifully though the slope does eventually level out into what is the long run up to Les Combes. Walking along the track side here gives a great sense of speed as the cars hit flat out, and in the rain sodden conditions of Friday practice there were plenty of classic rooster tail moments to take in. One handy tip - once you’ve made it to Les Combes be sure to stand up on top of the picnic tables – you’ll get a great fence-free view for your troubles!

Rivage is also a great spot for the spectator, you can really get up close and personal to the cars, and I found myself spending a lot of time here over the weekend. A word of warning though, the banking here is seriously steep. And with the inevitable downpours it doesn’t take long until you find yourself sliding down the bank towards the ever-growing piles of strewn beer cans waiting for you at the bottom!

The less glamorous side of the Belgian Grand Prix
Credit: Alex J Snell

Continuing on round the track after this point became more and more treacherous as the weekend went on, and by Sunday the paths here were bordering on mud slides. But in my opinion that was just another one of the many elements that go together to make a classic Spa weekend, it just wouldn’t have been the definitive experience if I hadn’t been drenched by rain and caked in mud! Once you finally did manage to negotiate the hill though you were left in doubt that it had all been worth it. Here you found yourself high up on the ridge of the ’corner with no name’. Looking down from this spot the sheer scale of this track really hit home. You could see the descent down to Pouhon, then as the track swept round and disappeared into the trees, only to then re-appear in the distance at Blanchimont, through the bus stop chicane and onto the pit straight complex. Seeing the track snake its way through the sprawling forest, set against the dramatic rolling skies is an image I‘ll never forget.

Watching the bad weather roll in during Free Practice Friday
Credit: Alex J Snell

So completing the adventure around this circuit you’ll find yourself heading through one last tunnel which will take you directly under the bowels of Eau Rouge and then out into the F1 village once more. Following the route that I’ve described here will probably take you at least an entire Friday practice session, if not both of them if you’re stopping to take photos etc. But trust me when I say that it is such a rewarding experience, exploring this circuit is almost like a right of passage every F1 fan should take. There is no other track that I’ve been to so far that can compare with the epic scale and drama of Spa, and it’s completely reinforced everything that drew me to this great sport.

Race 14 - Italy

Wednesday 14:36

This weekend promises to be a little different. You see I'm somewhat of a 'marked man' these days. Virgin are running a little competition for their fans to win a team shirt, and all they have to do to win is to find me at a race and say the words: 'You are chalky White and I claim my free VirginRacing shirt". So as you can imagine I'm more than curious as to how this is going to unfold. At this time I've no idea how many people will be on the look-out for me, and whether this could well lead to me cowering in the bushes racked with paranoia! But it sounds like fun and I'm game, so the hunt is on!

The pedal car that Ferrari want to keep secret
Credit: Alex J Snell

Thursday 10:55

Just been told off by a sales assistant for taking photos in the Ferrari store. Now if they had a 2010 spec double diffuser in there then fair enough, but it was just a kids pedal car! Hardly bloody spy-gate now is it! Still, not his fault, no doubt he was " under orders"!

Friday 08:21

On the train for Monza now and it's brimming with Tifosi - now that's more like it. It's the first day of 'where's Alex' today, so virgin shirt on my back I'm heading out into the crowds to get lost in the sea of scarlet. How long will it take before I'm found? Maybe I won't be found at all.......?

Friday 09:54

It's now only a few minutes until FP1 begins, and the ferocious sound of the engines firing up is echoing through the main grandstand. As it's Friday you're free to sit in any grandstand, so the plan is to see the view from as many spots as possible. It's an absolutely glorious day here, and there's a fantastic view of the distant mountain range as I look down the main straight.

Renault make an appearance at the Parabolica
Credit: Alex J Snell

Friday 15:23

I've now shuffled round to the inside of Parabolica - thanks to Tracey for the top tip! It's a cracking place to stand as it let's you get seriously close to the car while they're really pushing the limit of adhesion. A fact proven so far as both Schuey and Massa has 'moments' that ended with them ploughing through the gravel trap. Massa's moment especially was pretty hairy, a fact he's just acknowledged with a comical wipe of his brow to the camera now he's safely back in the garage.

Saturday 09:45

Walking to my grandstand and I heard someone say 'hi alex' - looked up and it was Lee Mckenzie! This year just gets more and more surreal. I mean, c'mon, Lee Mckenzie knows who I am? Get outta town!

Saturday 15:49

Talk about giving the crowd what they want! It'll come as no surprise that the large majority of the crowd were pretty happy with Fernando on pole, although I'm still yet to see the true tifosi-mania I was expecting, maybe tomorrow?

Fernando Alonso pleases the home crowd by securing pole position at Monza
Credit: Alex J Snell

Saturday 15:59

Nobody has found me yet!

Sunday 10:53

I'm currently stuck on the platform at Milan central station, and stood between me and the train is a line of armed police! I'm not quite sure what they're doing, other than smoking and chatting, but I'm not arguing with a man with a gun! As you've probably noticed I'm a little on the drag this morning, and for that I've last night to blame! The gig was a belter, the band were on top form and tore through song after song with barely a pause between them. And it has to be said that Kelly's voice live was immaculate, you genuinely couldn't have told the difference between it and the records. Once the gig was over, obligatory encore and all, we headed on out to the smooth sound of Marvin Gaye's 'Let's get it on'.

Sunday 18:53

Everything is good in the world right now, I've just had one of those days that has re-affirmed exactly why I'm on this crazy journey (not that it was really needed though!). Monza as a track simply oozes history and atmosphere, and with a Ferrari win the tifosi didn't disappoint either. Taking to the track post-race was every bit as frenzied as I'd imagined it to be, and standing underneath the podium as the champagne was sprayed was a glorious moment.

Thinking this was as good as it gets I wandered down to the Virgin garage and peered over the wall in case there was anyone about that I recognised. Lo and behold there was, and 5 minutes later I was through the pit wall and in! Strolling back up towards parc ferme I hooked a leg up onto the wall to get a better view, and as I did I was spotted! In all honesty I'd kind of forgotten about the 'where's alex' competition with all the excitement of getting into the pit lane - So congratulations to Nathalie!

Getting up close and personal with Jenson Button
Credit: Alex J Snell

The rest of my afternoon was spent being completely starstruck as I wandered up and down the paddock. Driver-wise I saw pretty much the whole grid, and in celebrity stalking mode I managed to catch Hugh Grant, who quite frankly was an absolute miserable git! But that aside it was yet another fantastic experience, being so close to something I never thought I'd even get a sniff of is simply mind-blowing! Wandering back through the leafy paths that meander through Monza, the sun lancing through the cover, it all made sense to me, this was why I was here, this is F1, and this is what I love.

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