The Silverstone Trio

The Old Afro

As the unnoticed figure turned away from the Lotus Renault GP truck, I track his movements and push through the crowd. Against the flow of movement, people are moving towards the revving F1 engine, I continue into the current chasing this ignored man. He’s behind the barrier; at the lucky side with freedom to roam, but he’s heading for the corner barrier to escape past a burly security bloke I quizzed earlier. The waves of people are holding me back but a fan asks for an autograph as my target edges closer to the crowd. In this moment people begin to notice him, not quite understanding why this request was made of a man in denim and converse. He’s past the security guard and I’m upon him, matching his stride pace for pace.

“Romain, Hello..”
“Hi there..” After a brief introduction he knows I’m not press and he lets me join him on his journey to the paddock.
“Ricciardo is here today, but is racing with HRT. What’s the best way to get into a top F1 team these days? Through your route of a third driver role, or his route of being on the track with a smaller team?”
“If I knew that it would be too easy.”

Serve and return, he bats my question aside with seeming ease, but undeterred I try again;
“These 3.5s have a lot of power…” I’d read this, more power even than Romain’s GP2 series car, from the credible MotorSport Magazine, “..would you like to have a go? Maybe show these guys how it’s really done?”
I see the beginning of a smile, maybe even a hint of light hearted laughter as he replies;
“No, I’m quite happy in GP2 and F1.”

With these deft answers I call it a day, wish him luck in Spa and leave him to pound along at a pace that honestly has me out of breath now entering the paddock. Our brief chat has covered nearly 500 yards. I tweet his replies as to remember them and begin to ponder his answers as I stroll through the paddock, open to all.

Romain showed true calm in a surprise situation, the sign of a seasoned pro and intelligent young man suddenly I have respect for him, he’s obviously handled far greater challenges than myself in ‘chat’ mode and I feel I did get some crumbs of knowledge out of the two lines I put to him.

Maybe I’m paying too much attention to the wording, but Grosjean left me with the impression that Formula Renault lacks credibility within the hierarchy of F1 when compared with GP2; which is odd given the amount of power and downforce the series spec chassis and engine combination provides.

What I do know is that GP2 shadows F1 around the world, often sharing the same pit and paddock all year long. Therefore Romain’s racing is in direct view of every F1 team boss first hand, not via a TV feed or recommendation. This combined with the odd demo and test day would be enough to stick in the mind of a team boss on the lookout for a new driver.

So on this same basis, Ricciardo has done well in Formula Renault 3.5, but has always been in a different country, therefore running him in a HRT is not only a test of his racecraft but puts him in direct view of Christian Horner and other teams.

The Magic of Twitter

Off the back of my musings with Romain’s comments I continue my stroll into the paddock and browse twitter to see if anyone of note has an interest in the weekend.

@PeterDWindsor: Amazing Atmosphere at WSR Silverstone. Posted 20 minutes ago.

I cheekily reply in hope that the great man may wave whilst on the big screen but I’m interrupted by noise from a nearby tented garage. The noise isn’t excessive but noticeable, like a party beginning to get into its stride. As it turns out its a few old friends; after having caught up bidding a fond farewell again, until next time. The man leaving is slim and lean, with a weighty looking sports bag in one hand he bounds down between the two cars now in parts flanking him.

His face is that of pure joy, his mind still reliving memories just discussed, but a man who is enjoying where he is and what he is doing, like a school boy fresh from the summer break eager to catch up with friends and tell tales, bright eyed and bushy tailed, with a brand new blazer. A SpeedTV jacket to be precise.

After a brief double take and rub of my eyes, I’ve found my second catch of the day, I clear my throat and lock eyes, thrusting my arm forward for a handshake before I’ve even begun a conversation.
“Peter? Peter Windsor?! Wow, Sorry, Hi…”

With a look of alarm Peter knew he wasn’t going to dodge me as Romain had managed, but as I introduced myself, he relaxed and his charming, enlightening and engaging conversation engulfed the next 5 minutes as the highlight of my weekend. We discussed the upcoming Speed.com programmes (available worldwide), the action happening round us, the hot shoes tipped for future stardom and the growing credibility Formula Renault 3.5 is gaining as a cost-effective, alternative route to F1 for young chargers!

I’m sure Peter made little hints at wanting to get on with his job, and I’m pretty sure i missed them all and held him up far too long (And if you read this Peter, I’m very sorry) but meeting such an open free-talking expert made my birthday trip to Silverstone well worthwhile.

Foot in Mouth over Hill.

Formula Renault 2.0 UK book ended the days and a portion of fans hadn’t arrived or had gone home early and therefore missed some great races and character building charges. Of note I was watching Oliver Rowland who is attached to McLaren but a certain helmet caught my eye as it flashed past. Hill, car 3. Very apt for the third generation of the Hill family, young Josh.

My talk with Josh was brief, I began by asking how his year had gone, Silverstone is third from last on the calendar and Josh seemed downbeat about the rest of the year. He was mature enough to itemise his weaknesses from the year and expressed that an improvement in qualifying was needed for next year along with general building of experience.

I was impressed with his maturity still further as I watched his races on Sunday. Unfortunately Josh had a string of bad luck, being pushed to the rear of the field on lap 1 of both races, but he had the grit and tenacity to pull back over 15 seconds (from my rough calculations with a wristwatch) to climb back up the grid and circulate the 6th fastest lap time.

If he can improve his qualifying and stay out of trouble on lap 1, Josh would be Top 5 material very quickly and with experience podiums would be more and more likely, definitely my one to watch from the weekend.

Unfortunately I end on a bit of a balls up. I was trying to convey to Josh that with Lewis and Button around doing so well, along with competition from fellow Brits doing well in the lower formula, he needn’t feel the pressure to graduate to F1 and emulate his forefathers success.

On a weekend that wasn’t going well, I really should have left that subject alone, and yet again in the aftermath of excitement should you bother to glance at this one day, Josh, I’m sorry, I do hope your silence was out of bemusement with my line of questioning and not me affecting your mindset.

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Formula Renault Silverstone

The weekend for starters is free access to all.Just ask for tickets and they will be sent to you, then all you need to do is fill up your car, and your wallet, because by the time you return home, they’ll both be empty.

As a weekend of sport goes, with 6 series running on track there is little time to get away from your seat to wonder round the Renault Roadshow of new, classic, trucks, vans, rally and sport cars. However if you can peel yourself away from the constant barrage of noise, the Renault circus awaiting you does not disappoint. Driving Demo’s, driving experiences, full size simulators of F1-2011, Clio Cup simulators, Photo’s in an F1 car, free posters, merchandise stands, beer stands, ice-cream vans.

When the silence does eventually dull down for an hour each day, the pit lane gates crash open and throngs of people invade the hallowed ground. Pit wall are abandoned and barriers are erected to hold back the hordes of autograph and memento hunters. Several drivers are happy to sit and sign endless autographs for countless fans including young stars such as Ricciardo, Vergne, Hartley, Rossi, and Wickens.

As weekends go, this beats 3 hours of F1 and an hour of interviews on my 19” TV; from 9 am to gone 6pm on Sunday, the great Silverstone track was alive with noise, action and burning rubber.

Clio Cup/Cross Channel Challenge
Dutch Clio’s crossed the channel to race their British counterparts and where found wanting as the Brits held two of the top three podium positions as fierce wheel to wheel battles raged up and down the field.

Formula Renault 2.0 UK
Hosting a young dozen of Drivers, both male and female, majoritively British, a national series that allows young chargers the chance to hone skills; before graduating to the Euro series.

Formula Renault 2.0 Euro
With use of the same car and engine as the UK series this larger grid has a representative from most competitive nations across the globe, but was lost in amongst the running of a UK series and its big-brother 3.5 series running more established drivers. Given that, the racing; if you cared to watch, showed drivers of sublime skill and consistency with only 2 years of full size racing behind them.

Formula Renault 3.5
By far the Jewel in the crown of the weekend. The Dallara chassis and Renault engine equalises the entire grid allowing true skill and knowledge of set up to shine. It’s no surprise that Wickens’ and the Red Bull duo are consistently ahead of the field, the big surprise of 2011 is Alex Rossi, who as a rookie to the series is constantly hounding and mixing it with these leading three.

Megane Trophy
The surprise of the weekend. How such a lumbering crate of a car, built more for off road rallying can become sleeked down fitted with a 3.5 series engine and tune into a true blue hot hatch complete with rear wing and began to look like the most exciting car on track, and best looking car off track.

The Complete F1 Season 1961

Last week there was discussion about the greatest ever racing year in history. Of course anyone under ten loves 2008 and Hamilton. Teenagers tend to like Kimi Raikkonnen and therefore are ignoring F1 for the next few years. Girls coo over retro images of James Hunt and men will argue about Moss, Clark, Senna, Prost and a few select others until the bar is drank dry. So naively and with no real insight, I’m bucking the trend; The most Complete season ever, 1961, the year of Phil Hill, the first American World Champion.

Phil; I feel, wouldn’t be at home in the modern day F1 where drivers can barely breathe for interviewers and engineers quiziing them out of the car. The last I heard of him visiting a GP was at Monza in ’06 as a guest of Ferrari. Hill quietly arrived watched the race and Schumacher’s [first] retirement, talked with Jean Todt then of Ferrari and walked away, never to return. A quiet dignified man, who’s battle with illness in his last few years robbed the world of a true gentleman, a true racer.

1961 then was possibly the year of his career, not only winning both Drivers and Constructors titles with Ferrari but also sparing time to win Ferrari the 24hr Le Mans aswell, a feat that will not be mimicked by Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa.

So ends the limited knowledge of 1961 I have. Why do I love 1961? Because Hill let his racing do the talking, even Senna couldn’t manage that.

So let’s delve deeper. The story of the season is a three way battle. Hills competition consisted of Count Wolfgang Von Trips, his team-mate at a 3 car Ferrari, & Stirling Moss, now a Knight and then driving a woefully underpowered but comically named Coventry Climax.

Even at the opening season race in Monaco which Moss won, Ferrari where clearly fastest. Von Trips and Hill then traded the top spot until Stirling Moss again used exquisite skill and flair to beat a massive 40hp deficit in a dry/wet race at the old full Nurburgring. (Which sadly proved to be Moss’ last but possibly greatest victory in a F1 car.)

Within this Title battle, which as we all know ended in the most cruel circumstances at Monza, Ferrari’s home GP with the death of Von Trips and several spectators. Within this year nests two tales to show the brilliance and humanity of F1 even in these desperate and dark times.

The French GP was the one race that gave the also-rans of 1961 some hope. In France each of the three supremo’s had issues, including Hill and Moss colliding. And so, on his F1 championship debut driving the supreme Ferrari of a private entry, Italy no doubt went wild for the then young Italian, Giancarlo Baghetti who remains to this day, 50 years on, the only man to have won his very first F1 Grand Prix.

The season ended a race early for Ferrari. Supported by the fact both titles were decidedbut mainly out of respect for Von Trips and the crowd members Ferrari withdrew from the final round held in the USA. A deeply honourable gesture, and I can only remember one other gesture to match it. Again Ferrari, this time at the 2001 Monza GP, where they removed all sponsors and ran with black nose cones in respect of the Twin Towers disaster in America.

This respect and passion not only for racing but for life too is why the Italian still hold Gilles Villeneuve as a Prince of their hearts, but its also why when any driver receives a phonecall from the Scuderia, they don’t say ‘No, thanks’.

So 1961 had it all it seems. Drives of a lifetime from Moss. Records set by Baghetti. The Honourable Ferrari. Sadness and despair, not only with Von Trips but with others I’m shamefully remise to mention. And the glory of the victors, and lmost overlook that first humble American F1 Champion of the World.