Last Minute Trips: F1 Live London

 

On Wednesday, London hosted the first ever Formula One Live event, a last minute organisation to promote the British Grand Prix. Trafalgar Square and Whitehall were closed off to the usual London traffic, to make way for a parade of famous cars and famous faces. Beginning at 6pm, entry was absolutely free, to those who knew about it of course. I work until at least 3pm every day, and Dan starts work at 10pm, so post (or pre) work adventures tend not to happen, but this one was far too good to miss. With Grand Prix tickets so expensive, was I realistically going to have another opportunity to be this close to such notable figures and recognisable motors?

An hour on the train from our home in Essex and we reached Westminster by about 20 past 5. It was plenty of time before the event started, but Whitehall was already rammed with excited Formula One fans, wearing Ferarri caps, Red Bull polo shirts and Mercedes t-shirts. Lots of parents had brought their children, balancing them on shoulders in the hope of seeing the action. Men balanced precariously on railings and buildings, more than 10 feet above the pavement. Dan and I ended up standing opposite the Field Marshal statue, beside the Horse Guards Parade, which was almost the best spot to see the cars exit their makeshift pits in Whitehall Place, unbeknown to us. We were there only a few minutes before something exciting happened.

On the other side of the road, a driver emerged. Romain Grosjean, of Haas, marched along the road away from Trafalgar Square, followed by a few other drivers I vaguely recognised. The men behind us got extremely excited to see Fernado Alonso, and I felt quite proud of myself to recognise Valtteri Bottas in his grey and teal jumpsuit. The crowds on the other side of the road were surprisingly quiet as they passed: I was expecting cheers and calls, and I thought perhaps we had missed something. It was only on their return, when the drivers started to sign a few autographs and Daniel Riciarrdo (the real reason I went) started taking selfies with people’s phones, that they started to liven up.

It wasn’t the drivers the people had flocked to see.

After an eternity of waiting in anticipation, with everyone’s head snapping to Whitehall Place at the revving of an engine, we got some movement. Spectators whooped as the safety car, complete with flashing yellow lights, zipped out of the garage and made a lap of the track. It sped past so quickly I could hardly see it, and I thought there’s a one hundred percent chance the cars are going to go faster than that.

Out came the Renault, the McClaren, the Torro Rosso, the old style Ferrari. Almost every single person’s phone lifted to catch them go past. The roars of engines pounding and rubber scraping tarmac were deafening, so far from the white noise drone that sends me to sleep for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. Heat radiated onto us as they tore past and I was thankful we were standing in the shade. I was fascinated and impressed at the same time, and a sense of sheer luck lingered throughout my mind the whole time.

Yet nothing could prepare us for the sublime form of the Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, and Mercedes cars or the incredible skill of their drivers. I can’t fathom how people can do a doughnut in a normal car, let alone an F1 car. Bottas picked the spot right in front of us to show off, sending a thick fog of smoke to coat us. Burning rubber smells potent and it set a number of us off coughing and howling simultaneously. I am pretty sure Vettel waved at me.

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An event like this can’t go without its hiccups. Jensen Button, driving a F1 Experience car, managed to stall it on a bend, causing the rescue team to run on, supported by a soundtrack of cheers and applause. They all took it in good spirits.

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Although the parade was thrilling, it wasn’t the only aspect of the event. As the drivers exited their cars and returned to the pits, Dan and I marched up towards Trafalgar Square and ended up joining a phantom queue, with no clear direction. It was then that I noticed the unmistakable notes of Little Mix performing on a stage beside Nelson’s column and realised that it wasn’t over.

Trafalgar Square had become a main stage, and the platform outside the National Gallery became the display shelf for all the cars of the Formula One teams. I don’t think I have seen colours so bold, curves so sleek and cars so expensive. The glimmers of excitement started to spring onto Dan’s face as the camera came out and he clicked away. We had a front row spot to admire the machines for only a handful of people seemed to have been let in, but in the blink of an eye, we were swarmed by fans, so at near enough half 8, after watching an interview with Nico Rosberg on stage, we decided it was time to call it a night.

 

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This is the second time Dan has spotted a last-minute event on Twitter. I loathe to say ‘watch social media’ but without it we would have missed a concert a couple of weeks ago and we would have missed such a extraordinary opportunity. Sometimes you can’t plan for cool things, so when you get the chance, take it, otherwise you’ll never know just what you are missing.

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All photos property of D. Clark.

Categories: UK Tripper

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