Confessions of an F1 virgin

June 30th, 2010 in European travel by Terry Lee 7
Spectators await the start as the cars line up

I’m a sports fan and love football so the World Cup’s had me in raptures, but I confess the F1 has never really sparked my interest. Worse still I used to live just seven miles from the home of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and didn’t attend once. I know, its scandalous.

So when the good people at Land of Valencia and the Spanish Tourist Office invited me on a bloggers’ trip which included a visit to the European Grand Prix I was amused. I couldn’t be bothered to nip up the road to see it but I’d happily fly all the way to Valencia to catch theirs. Still I’m delighted I did or I would have missed out on the greatest show in town.

An unexpected  bonus to my F1 experience occurred  on the eve of the Grand Prix when at dinner we bumped into Tony Fernandes, owner of the Lotus Team and Air Asia. He told us he had many reasons for hoping his team would do well at the race the next day. Late last year he’d struck a bet with Richard Branson owner of Virgin Racing. Whoever’s team finished lowest at the end of the F1 season would have to work on the winner’s airline for a day dressed as a stewardess. Currently Tony is losing and is set to don the Virgin Atlantic uniform – I could understand his anxiety!

As an F1 virgin I was looking forward to hitting the track but unsure of what to expect. As I heard the F1 cars practising from my hotel room at the Melia Valencia I felt a tingle of excitement at what lay ahead.

My first F1 experience may not be typical of the majority of fans as I’d been given a VIP ticket priced at €600, but few could deny it was a great introduction to the sport.  My seat was only eight rows from the grid and opposite the pit lane. In fact Michael Schumacher started the race right in front of me.

A is for Advertising

Taking my seat I was impressed by the size of the crowds and how colourful the whole scene was – national flags and team colours dazzled in the afternoon sunshine.

The Grand Prix is pretty overwhelming to the senses and one of the most assailing aspects is the onslaught of advertising. Sponsors’ logos adorned merchandising – with hats, scarves and shirts available for each of the F1 teams, then there were larger-than-life hoardings, placards and billboards shouting out the names of the world’s biggest brands. Not to mention all the sponsors’ badges on the cars, drivers’ and pit crews’ uniforms. Surely no other  sport is so heavily sponsored or branded.

B is for buzz

As the race got under way it sounded like the city had been invaded by a plague of mosquitoes. But it was just the intensely loud buzzing noise that each car made as it their mighty engines surged past our stretch of the track. The first rule of the Grand Prix – bring your ear-plugs. Even then the noise is explosive.

C is for cars (naturally)

Let’s be honest F1 is all about boys playing with big and extremely expensive toys. And one of the things that struck me most was the incredible attention to detail and state-of-the-art technology used in the race cars. These shiny, sleek motors are frankly visions of beauty that combine with powerful engines to demand your attention and impress upon your senses.

D is for danger

We were just a few laps into the race when suddenly the crowd stood up as one and let out a collective gasp as Red Bull’s Mark Webber flew into Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen. Webber’s car lifted into the air and somersaulted, landing upside down as it seemed to disintegrate, pieces flying in all directions. I found myself staring at the crash site, my hands firmly clasped to my mouth as the scene of horror unfolded before us. Fortunately he was able to walk away uninjured.

So what did I learn about Formula 1?  I must confess  – F1 is sexy. From the sexy lines of the cars, to the girls that stand on the grid before the race bearing drivers’ national flags. F1 is intoxicating – the atmosphere is charged with testosterone and the fans are passionate.

One of the things I loved most was the fact that the race was held against the backdrop of the beautiful city of Valencia. So would I come again? To Valencia, most certainly, to the Grand Prix – you betcha.

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