Team McLaren Fan Blog: Simon Gee
I have been an F1 fan for 25 years now, which makes me feel as old as it sounds!
The first ever F1 race I actually attended was at a damp Silverstone in 1995, and it is something I will never forget, as hearing an F1 car at the track literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. My friends and I stood on the banking at Club corner, long before there was a grandstand there, and from then on I promised myself that when time and money allowed, I would go to as many races as I could. Mainly I visit the European races at the "old" circuits, as for me they have so much atmosphere. Whether it is standing on the old banking at Monza, or at Eau Rouge or other historic places, when you imagine some of the great drivers that have raced on that patch of tarmac, it can't fail to stir a true petrolheads heart.
Having had the privilege of meeting Jenson Button a few times, I am so impressed by his friendliness and by how so down to earth he is despite his success in the sport, so for the last few years you will have found me proudly wearing my McLaren gear whilst at the different circuits I attend.
I decided to visit the Bahrain GP as my first ever non-European F1 race (excluding Turkey, which was only JUST out of Europe technically!) as it is a relatively short flight time from the UK, and the ticket prices were a lot more reasonable compared to some others. I also thought that going to a race with a virtual zero chance of rain would be a real novelty for me! Those of us who have shivered in the wet in our seats whilst cheering on our favourite drivers will no doubt know how that feels!
A friend of mine had also visited Bahrain for last years Grand Prix, and had recommended it as a place to consider visiting. When I also found out it was to be Jenson's 250th race, I thought that was a good a reason as any to go. Flying out from Heathrow direct to Bahrain was nice and easy, and it was great to get to see "Rush" again on the in-flight movie, no better way to get in the F1 mood.
If you lived in Bahrain and said you didn't know about the race, I would refuse to believe you as everywhere there were a staggering amount of banners, flags, billboards all advertising the race. After visiting such European classics as Monza, Spa, Nurburgring and (of course) Silverstone, it still seems strange to come to a new build circuit with only a very recent history. On the flip side, all the facilities are new and very well planned with easy access by car, decent car parks next to the entry gates, and even shuttle buses to take you from the furthest car parks, which are about as far away as some of the closest car parks at the traditional circuits!
Thursday typically is pit walk day for those who hold 3 day race tickets. Normally at the European races I don't bother, as when I have been before I have seen the thousands of people wanting to get an up close glimpse. I hoped that the Bahrain race may not have so many choosing to do this, and was thankfully right, as when I arrived there were only around a hundred diehard fans queuing. I walked straight to the McLaren pit, where the boys were setting up both cars which were sat there minus most of the bodywork and the wheels with the guys working away.
Even though they had their minds on the job, they still took the time to answer any spectators' questions, which I thought was a nice touch. You could also see the attention to detail that the McLaren crew have, even when the tyres were laid out all of the Pirelli logos were correctly lined up! The devil is in the detail, something Ron Dennis is rightly famous (or should that be infamous?) for.
As well as my seat in the grandstand, I also stood by the pit lane exit at different times throughout the weekend,as although I consider myself to be distinctly amateur when it comes to taking photographs, it got you so close to the cars so it helped me capture some of the action. You could also look down the pitlane, seeing the cars coming in and out of the garages, which is not possible at most circuits for most fans. There has been much said about the sound of the new cars, most of it negative, but I quite liked it. Granted, it wasn't as intense as some of the previous years, but I don't think that TV footage really does it justice.
On Saturday I took my seat in the Oasis grandstand, which is situated just behind the paddock area. It stands a little away from the track as they also have a drag strip at the Bahrain International Circuit, but it affords the best view of the circuit and the seating is quite raised to get you a better look. There was unfortunately no tannoy system working, but a large TV screen on the other side of the track allowed you to keep up with the on track action. Qualifying didn't go quite to plan, but F1 is never easy at times, for drivers and fans alike. There was some consolation as McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne won the first GP2 race in incredible style, leading most of the race to claim the first victory of the GP2 season. It looks like the McLaren legacy is in very safe hands. Saturday night there was the drivers autograph session, and naturally I waited in line for JB and Kevin and got my new McLaren cap signed by Jenson and my new T-shirt signed by Kevin. A nice memento of the weekend. As the queue for the boys stretched on, they sat there signing autographs and interacting with the fans, which is always nice to see, especially when you see young kids meeting their heroes.
Race day arrived, and it was great to see so many in McLaren gear. I was proudly wearing my Jenson 250th race T-shirt, which I decided was the only thing to wear to celebrate such a milestone event. Speaking to a few that were there in their Team McLaren gear, it seemed a lot were British Ex-pats who lived in the Middle East area, and were here at the Bahrain circuit in order to enjoy the race and to support the boys. I spoke to another McLaren fan who had travelled from Edinburgh, flying via both Amsterdam AND Abu Dhabi to visit Bahrain for the race! I was thankful I only had one flight to get there, and not three. Dedication to the cause for sure.
The sun was out on race day itself, but thankfully it wasn't scorching heat, and there was a nice cooling breeze if you sat in some of the many shaded areas provided where you could take a seat and enjoy something to eat or drink from the many vendors there, which thankfully were all at quite reasonable prices, which can't be said for some other circuits! The atmosphere in the fan village was great with a real festival atmosphere, with lots of different performers wandering around keeping everyone entertained. As the sun set, the spotlights fired up and illuminated the whole track as the drivers took up their grid positions. Although it wasn't the end result that I really wished for, it was a great race to be a spectator at, with lots of action on the track. It was gutting for me to see Jenson retire so close to the end of the race, but this is how things go sometimes. My heart went out to him that his 250th ended this way, but I thought all he would be doing is focusing on the next race, so that's what I decided to do myself. Now I just have to plan my next Grand Prix trip to support the McLaren team to their next victory!