Frantic F1 journals Silverstone

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Andrew Middlemore

Shells Silverstone Surprise (for me)

Its around 10.20am Saturday morning and out of Copse screams past Sebastian Vettel his car looks planted, perfection the V8 pushing towards its 18’000 rpm limit singing “catch me if you can” to its rivals. Im not sure if this is the one he calls “Kates dirty little sister” or maybe its “Kates 2nd cousin” or even “Kates friend from last year who don’t speak now because you know, stuff happened” What ever “Der Seb” has called his car it looks fast it looks like the winner pure and simple. Saying that every damn car right now looks planted from the Red Bulls to the Force India’s as the cars head towards the Becketts look planted from the outside at this little section im in.

And what a place I am in. Its special being at Silverstone but to be invited by Shell is a complete honour and to get a tour around the Shell track lab which I never thought I’d get near let alone get in after a series of well… Frantic emails arranging this and making sure that it will happen (the biggest problem being me) but I am here, not slept since… Thursday but who needs sleep eh? I am here, Silverstone, Saturday, Qualifying, guest of Shell V-Power that work with Ferrari. Pinch me.

I have to admit until I met Anna who was the brilliant one who took care of us for the day I was sceptical about this. It all just seemed too good to be true. Little me here now. But as we headed to the inside of copse where the hospitality sweet was you go out of the tunnel and you can see the pit lane exit just before it leaves to connect with the track. The practice session had not long started and there was if just for a glimpse a rear wig of a Ferrari gearing up for a practice start, was it Kimi? Felipe? I have no idea as the rear wing disappeared in a scream of tyre squeal and V8 blasting its way to set a lap, find that missing tenth maybe or simply just check the whole car has not seized up over night and wont go bang, even though going “bang” is pretty rare these days.

Certainty for Ferrari there is no doubt that whilst yes there has been the occasional blip in the record but since Shell joined Ferrari’s F1 operation back in 1997 working together there is no doubt Ferrari have improved, with an engine freeze squeezing an extra few bhp out of the fuel has become more crucial than ever which Shell and its track lab with Ferrari work to perfect the fuel that goes into the car. Standing in the lab seeing the process of how they check the fuel to make sure the fuel complies to the samples the FIA collected at the start of the season the fuel has to be exactly the same otherwise its disqualifications and that good old route of FIA related fun. Over the weekend more than 40 checks will be done checking the oil each time.

Being crammed into the track lab as yes it is small but size isn’t everything as the importance of the work in the track lab and what it can do is pretty impressive. After qualifying the Shell V power guys take samples from the engine and gearbox and analyse it to see how hard the teams can run the engine during the race (or if it needs to be changed in extreme circumstances) also is the fact that with a mix of 200 components that makes up Shell V power fuel it is “volumetrically efficient” meaning takes up less space and has “Friction Modification Technology” (FMT) in it that reduces the wear of the engine and is now available for everyone on the road at its fuel courts which is proof that F1 technology does still make its way to the everyday driver.

Once I got all the science bits in my head sorted then here comes the fun bit, The Ferrari Pit garage itself. Through the back of the garage we go past stacks of tires all ready in tire blankets each labeled which set is for which driver, Massa, Raikkonen, I have to take this in that they are really in front of me, this is for real and I am about to be close to the Ferrari’s themselves. We reach the front of the pit lane which is a buzz of activity in the garage next to Ferrari I spot the BBC crew about to go live for qualifying build up, Coulthard, Jordan and… Mansell! Anyone who knows me knows im a Mansell fan so I ask to slip off for 30 seconds and come back with Autographs of all of them. Rule No.1 I have – always get a little star struck from time to time.

Just before that though here are the Ferrari’s right in front of me! Well, Massa’s is. Only one Ferrari as Raikkonen’s is pushed past me after being checked in parc ferme, just missing me. Now I want a T shirt that says “I almost got hit by Kimi Raikkonen and all I got was this lousy T shirt” Wonder if Sutil has one of them?

Time is pushing on and it feels all to brief being there but that’s simply because I could of spent the rest of my life hanging around that close to the garage. But its time for lunch and then qualifying and lunch is not just a hotdog costing £5 the shell hospitality put on a very nice spread but my mind is now thinking of qualifying and when it begins the V8s sound glories as ever. Each driver putting the maximum into his effort as the cars scream past each one pushed to its limits. Some cars were not that happy to be pushed as Sutil showed when his brakes decided they had enough and they pitched driver and machine heavily into the barrier.

Once the qualifying had completed we had a quick guest appearance from Massa who spoke a few words and was gone quicker than a speeding bullet after that. I went to check out the GP2 race which was quiet compared to the F1 machines that had just blasted past.

After this race I realized something. I had hardly slept for 3 days and with the buzz of going to the Paddock, Shell lab and Ferrari garage I was now burning out. So I said my goodbyes to the Shell staff who had been great and made my way home.

On the train back though I felt ever grateful to shell for the opportunity not just for giving me this chance of fulfilling a dream but to also boost my faith back in F1 again. I have to admit that since the politics have gone into full swing my passion for the sport had taken a huge blow. Was that all three is to this? Endless bickering between teams and the FIA? Lets not forget the Saturday I was there the night before FOTA had announced they were breaking away form F1 and the letters and statements back and forth from teams blaming the FIA the FIA suing the teams ENOUGH ALREADY! A small glimpse into the Shell lab and to see the drivers was proof that behind all the politics there are people dedicated to going faster, making a car go round a circuit quicker than anyone else. To push the limits and go for the crown. And that’s what F1 was founded on back in 1950 when Ferrari joined and that’s what Shell and the mechanics at Ferrari aim to do now. To beat the rest.

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