Most of the motor racing world this past weekend was in Goodwood for the annual Festival of Speed. However, instead of watching the festival in person or via Sky Sports, this writer instead took a trip to Silverstone…
Despite having watched Formula 1 and other forms of motor sport for nearly two decades, I have never been near a live single-seater racing car to race in. The nearest I had ever come was through various go-karting outings for leisure, or sitting in the Jaguar R2 at the local factory many moons ago. So, Silverstone’s Single Seater Experience was a first for me, one day after my 25th birthday. I should note that this article is not a paid article, or an advertisement for that matter, but instead just somewhere for me to jot my musings.
Before the experience is a 30 minute debrief, which for the motor sport nut, is nothing of surprise, but instead it serves as a reminder about the inherent dangers that single-seater racing brings. The key terminology, such as understeer and oversteer, is described language that the layman can understand. It is fundamentally clear from the outset that any transgressions will be immediately dealt with: safety comes before enjoyment.
The experience around Silverstone’s Stowe Circuit is 30 minutes long: 10 minutes behind the pace car and 20 minutes without, with eleven other drivers alongside you. Sometimes you hear Formula 1 drivers’ say that after 10 minutes of testing, you know whether you have a good car underneath you. The same can be said here. The first lap out of the pits is frankly nerve wracking. Where are the braking points? Am I in the right gear? Do I feel comfortable? Am I too close to the pace car? It sometimes can look so easy from the outside, but from the inside it is like juggling multiple balls.
As the laps progress, you start to get a better understanding of the car and those around you. You take that line here, this line there. It gets easier, but concentration must remain throughout. The instructors do a brilliant job beforehand to prepare you for the experience, but on the track, it is you making the split-second decisions.
I required a helmet change to a smaller size half way through, mainly because the wind and fast speeds down the back straight was ‘lifting’ the helmet up. I could have soldiered on for a few more laps, but (as the above video shows) I did the right thing by changing helmets to a smaller size.
As the instructor said: safety before enjoyment, and in this case the helmet issues was slightly detracting from the overall enjoyment. As the laps progresed, the lap times decreased, confidence growing, although at one point the car underneath me did come perilously close to the gravel trap at the North hairpin!
I had a huge amount of respect for motor racing drivers before I completed the Single Seater Experience. No matter how many times you watch motor racing on television, nothing can prepare you for the real machinery. The likes of Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo make it look easy, when in reality it is completely the opposite, even when going down the one kilometre straight in Baku.
If anything, my experience at Silverstone solidifies the admiration I have for the drivers that race to entertain the viewing audience at home and in the grandstands. I would strongly recommend this (or any other Single Seater Experience) to other fans of the sport, it is seriously worth the price tag. Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience.