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Williams F1 race day - Brazilian Grand Prix - Watching the race at the Williams Conference Centre in Grove

Published by Neil Denham

When, on Saturday 6th November, Nico Hülkenberg put his Williams on pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix the living room went mad with excitement. Not only was this an unexpected spanner being thrown into a very tense championship battle, and not only was it a great result for a team which has always been popular in our family, but also that two of the three of us knew that this time tomorrow we would be at the Williams F1 site in Grove watching the race with Williams staff and fans.

Just two of the three of us knew where we were going on race day, as the Williams race day experience was a surprise retirement present for my dad. So as we headed off for the drive from Hampshire to Oxfordshire my Dad was mentally trying to guess what was going on. He had been assured we would not miss the race, that he should dress smart casual, and that he would not need a crash helmet. Perhaps something at Silverstone? No that would be too far away, we passed the junction that would have taken us to Thruxton, another option ruled out. It was only as we hit the roundabout entering Grove did he see the signpost - Williams F1 Conference Centre.

Even the Williams hedges do their bit for the team
Even the Williams hedges do their bit for the teamCredit: Neil Denham

You may have read reports of F1 teams doing race days experiences, in fact just a few months ago the hosts of this site were at Renault F1 for a similar event, but this one was perfect for us as my Dad has been a lifelong fan of the Williams team. As we parked up and walked in the main conference centre entrance he was still in a state of shock. We collected our passes and were ushered upstairs to our table. We had a quick look around the teams trophy rooms, and an exhibition about the technology behind the cars before realising we would need some sustenance before tackling the rest of the museum! We headed back to our table for dinner, which was excellent (if not a touch on the small side, pudding and a coffee. Our table took a while to warm up socially, but by the time coffee was served we were chatting about qualifying, Jenson's frightening car-jacking experience and predicting the results of the race in a sweepstake organised for the days event.

After we had dined we headed to the museum area of the facility, surely the best part of the whole day and worth the money and travelling in itself. Williams have one of almost every car they have ever raced, and even some that never raced! From the beautiful and historic Saudia cars of Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni, to an unusual 6 wheeler from the early 80's that never saw one of its six wheels hit a competitive race track due to a regulations change. (The Williams had the pair of wheels at the back, unlike the Tyrrell from a few seasons before who had theirs at the front, both designs look mad to me).

The FW16 lights up the Williams museum
The FW16 lights up the Williams museumCredit: Neil Denham

Then moving onto some of the cars that, to me, are the most iconic. The cars of Mansell and Patrese that I would have been cheering on when I first started watching the sport, and then moving on to the cars of Damon Hill, that are so familiar to me, just amazing to see so close up. The modern era Williams cars are perhaps the most beautiful to look at, and although year after year we complain that F1 cars are getting uglier in fact close up the opposite is true. The curves and the details is what makes them stunning to look at, and detail is what, in the past, has separated Williams F1 from the other teams. This is reflected in the conference centre which is spotlessly clean, and everything has been placed with precision and thought.

The organisers of the day had got one detail wrong though, as they failed to take the previous weekends clock change into account, and this meant that the published schedule had to be amended so we could get into the auditorium to get some build up to the race. A flashy video charting the history of the team kicked things off, a very slick, uplifting presentation with a downbeat break to mark the death of Ayrton Senna. Williams seem to have a curious relationship with Senna, on the one hand rooms are named after him, and his picture is featured throughout the centre, on the other hand very little is actually said about him, which may just be a reflection of the short time he spent with the team, or may be a deeper embarrassment and awkwardness about what happened.

Riccardo Patrese sits sandwiched between Ayrton Senna wins
Riccardo Patrese sits sandwiched between Ayrton Senna winsCredit: Neil Denham

The very competent team member presenting from the stage then went on to talk about the season so far, how much this pole position meant to the whole team and what might happen in the race ahead (they were hoping for a top 6 finish). There was then a live phone link up from the circuit with Sir Jackie Stewart, who is linked with the team through RBS sponsorship. Although he said nothing ground breaking he is always interesting to listen to, and never short of words.

I learned some things about the team which I never knew before. I didn't realise that the team spend every penny they get each season, so they end every season with a zero balance. This is a team which exists only to race, so every penny goes into that. There was then a short question and answer session where topics such as engines, sponsorship, the future of the drivers and strategy for the race were discussed. The BBC coverage of the race was then shown on the big screen, with the live timings on another screen and additional data on another screen. The projection and sound was very good, but I missed the fact it was not widescreen which I have become very used to.

The people around us seemed very varied in their support of teams and drivers, I was sat next to Alonso fans, the row in front seemed to be Red Bull supporters, and quite a large chunk of the auditorium were joining me in cheering Hamilton on. Although Williams fans would obviously rather see the team doing well, they are happy to cheer real racing, and even some moves on Hülkenberg were cheered when they were classy overtakes.

The Williams Conference Centre provides multiple screens
The Williams Conference Centre provides multiple screensCredit: Neil Denham

Although the race did not pan out quite as Williams would have hoped they seemed pleased enough with the 8th place Nico gained them, and the fact this put them just above Force India in the championship standings, which could gain them over a million pounds in prize money for next season. After a short debrief the day was over, it was dark outside and we were actually exhausted but happy.

If you love the History of F1, and have always had an affinity with Frank and his team then I would recommend the day to you, the museum of cars brings the history alive, and although you never leave the conference centre you still get a real impression of how the Williams F1 team works and is run.