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Engines Running Hot: Hungarian Grand Prix 2012

July 29, 2012 - Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary

sunny 35 °C
View Hungarian Grand Prix 2012 on GregW's travel map.

Last weekend of July saw me in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The temperature was crazy. I landed on Friday, and the thermometer said it was 41C. It was hard not to start melting right away. I managed some site seeing on the Friday, and spent Saturday and Sunday at the track. There was the threat of rain all weekend, but we didn't see any until Sunday evening, long after the race had ended. So most of the weekend was spent in the heat and the sun.

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I had tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but because I only flew from London on the Friday, I missed the two practices and races on Friday.

Saturday was the first day at the track. I got up early, and headed up to the Árpád híd metro stop, where buses left every 10 minutes or so for the track. The bus was free, and took about 30 to 45 minutes to get there.

The Hungaroring is just outside the village of Mogyoród, Hungary. The bus dropped us in the village, and then there was a 10 to 15 minute walk to the track itself. You can bring food and drink into the track, so lots of people were lugging coolers and bags full of food, water and beer.

I was sitting in the Gold 2 section, along the main straight just by the finish line.

Saturday saw two sessions of Formula One, and races for Porsche, GP2 and GP3. First session for the F1 was free practice 3, and then later was the qualifying sessions.

Qualifying in F1 is split into 3 short sessions. After each session, a group of the slowest cars are eliminated. In the end, my favourite driver Lewis Hamilton took pole position, meaning he got to start at the front of the pack for the race the next day.

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Good atmosphere at the track, and for those who didn't bring a picnic lunch (like me), there are lots of food options. While more expensive than similar food options in Budapest, it was certainly reasonably priced as compared to some of the other sporting venues I have been to, including other F1 tracks.

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Sunday was race day. There were a few early races for the Porsche, GP2 and GP3 cars (including one of the cars coming sliding across the line scrapping the barriers after a last second crash), and then the F1 started.

After an initial restart due to one of the drivers lining up in the wrong position, the race was underway. Lewis Hamilton was first pressed by Romain Grosjean and then by Kimi Raikkonen, but in the end was able to take the checkered flag.

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I've put together a video of my view of the race. About 8 minutes, if you are so interested.

Headed back into Budapest by catching the bus. It was the same walk to get to the track in reverse, and after a full day in the sun, the 15 minute walk was making me a little faint. One of the girls who holds the flags of the drivers at the start of the race had fainted already in the heat, and arriving at the bus stop and seeing thousands of people waiting and slowly crushing together, I was concerned I might faint as well.

Luckily, I kept on my feet, though I did see another fan faint. His friends decided that they would grab a taxi instead of a waiting for a bus, and wandered off.

Trying to catch the bus was a nightmare. The crowds were thronged out onto the streets, and the buses kept having to stop well from the front of the line, where people would pile on. I eventually squeezed by way onto a bus, and made it back to Budapest.

Sweaty, hot, rammed on public transit for 45 minutes after spending the day in the sun on hard plastic seats I was beat. "There has to be a better way to see these races," I said to myself.

That evening, as I headed out to dinner after a lie down and a shower back at my hotel, I saw Bernie Eccelstone and Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner coming out of the fancy lounge bar of my hotel, and getting into the back of a black, tinted windowed Mercedes. They pulled closed the door, and the car roared off into the rainy Budapest night with a low throaty growl.

That's got to be a better way to travel to and from the race. Maybe next year...

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Posted by GregW 04:00 Archived in Hungary Tagged sports events formula_one Comments (0)

Formula One British Grand Prix 2011

July 10, 2011 at Silverstone

semi-overcast 20 °C

Time again from my quasi-annual trip to see some cars go round and round and round. This year, instead of the Eurostar to Belgium or the night sleeper to Monaco, I took the Clapham Junction to Milton Keynes Southern service to see the British Grand Prix held at Silverstone.

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The track is an almost 6 kilometre long circuit. It is mostly open, so from my seats I could grab a few peaks of the cars at the other side of the track. Mostly, though, I saw the cars coming out the Stowe corner and down a short straight to the Vale corner. I was also right by the pit entrance, so I could see when the cars went in.

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It was a good time, though I was a bit far from one of the screens so didn't actually follow much of the race as it was happening. The crowds were amazing, though. Very different than my time in Monaco a couple years ago. A lot more camping and muddy festival vibe than champagne and yachts. But Silverstone put on a great party.

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It wasn't all mud, though. There was a touch of glamour...
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Post race, there was a music festival / drivers interview session. The bands were famous, or especially great, but it was a lively atmosphere and was probably the closest I'll get to the experience of Glastonbury this year.

Can't see the video - go to Youtube to watch

Three tracks down. Now only another 17 or so to go!

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Posted by GregW 03:42 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged sports events formula_one Comments (0)

Glamour and Gasoline part III: Fast Cars in Rich Places

The Monaco Grand Prix

sunny 24 °C
View Monaco Grand Prix 2009 on GregW's travel map.

I made it an early night on Saturday so I could be up early to head to Monaco. I had checked the schedules of the trains from both San Remo and Ventimilla so I knew exactly what trains to catch, and scheduled the alarm to wake me up 1 hour before my San Remo train so I could get ready and go to the train station. The alarm ended up not being necessary, as the traffic at night and the birds at daybreak made sure I was awake with plenty of time to spare.

The train gained more and more passengers at each station towards Monaco, until it was as jammed as the Northern Line tube on a weekday afternoon. At Monaco, we all spilled out into the underground station before working our way out of the depths and into the light of what is arguably the most glamourous country in the entire world.

Finally, all the excitement that had been missing from the period before my trip came flooding to me, and I started to feel the anticipation. I was in Monaco for the Grand Prix.

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I have had an on and off relationship with car racing for many years, starting as a child. I would go through periods where I would watch for a few years, and then tune out before picking it up again later. Through all of that, though, the thought of going to the Monaco Grand Prix has always remained constant. For the Grand Prix of Monaco is about more than the car race. It is a celebration of outrageous levels of glamour, glitz and wealth.

Monaco itself is enough of a draw. This city state of a country is known for being a place where millionaires come to live, mostly because it has a very low personal tax rate. That does mean, though, that as you wander around you are likely to see tons of rich people and nice cars and beautiful women.

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The Grand Prix captures all that in one perfect day. If you’ve never seen the race on TV, it is visible stunning, with the cars racing past million dollar yachts moored in the harbour and along streets lined with luxury apartments. Prince Albert always attends and presents the trophy, adding a luxurious royal air to the proceedings. There are always shots of millionaires and beautiful women.

The stands I were in overlooked both the Marina, a corner and one half of the pits.

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On the TV they showed commercials when the racing action wasn't on. One was for the Monaco Yacht show, which ironically is carbon neutral. I doubt that includes the post-yacht show use of the yachts, though.

Walking through the pits were lots of beautiful women, and there were a bunch in the stands with me as well.

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The male fans were also out in full force. Not as pretty, but some were pretty fanatical.

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The race started, and I got a good look at the action, both on the track...

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...and in the pits.

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Heikki Kovalainen hit the wall just in front of us. Don't worry, he was okay. I was impressed with the guys who ran out and started picking up the pieces of the car while the cars were still cruising by at high speeds.

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It was very sunny and warm, so lots of folks were looking for ways to beat the heat.

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This lady made a hat of newspaper. Her boyfriend decided to embrace the heat, take off his shirt and get a tan.

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The race ended and Jensen Button won, the fifth win of the season out of six for him.

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Honda used to sponsor this team, but dropped out at the end of last year. I bet they are kicking themselves.

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Afterwards, I went out and checked out the booth. I bought myself and my father a hat emblazoned with Monaco Grand Prix on it. Then I headed to a pub called La Jazz, which turned out to be a British pub.

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I headed back to San Remo. Due to the sun, the lack of sleep over the past few nights and the few pints I had at La Jazz, I fell asleep on the train. I woke up in some place called Taggio-Alma, and panicked, I jumped off the train. Unfortunately, I left my hats on the train, so I lost my souvenir of the race!

Luckily, Taggio-Alma is only one stop past San Remo, and I was back to San Remo in decent time.

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I made it an early night, setting my alarm for 7:00 AM. I had to catch an 8:07 AM train to head back to London, and I didn't want to miss it.

Continued in Glamour and Gasoline part IV: The Wrong Train

Posted by GregW 11:46 Archived in Monaco Tagged sports events formula_one luxury_travel Comments (0)

Belgium Speed - Belgium Grand Prix

The 2008 Formula One Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps

rain 16 °C
View Belgium Grand Prix 2008 on GregW's travel map.

Visiting the Atomium, Mini Europe and Brugges was nice, but I really came to Belgium for two reasons.

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Beer and car racing.

September 7, 2008, at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit outside of Spa, Belgium, the Formula One held the Belgium Grand Prix. Formula One is a open-wheeled racing series with races held around the world every year, including the famous Monaco Grand Prix. However, one of the most popular races among drivers and fans alike is the Belgium Grand Prix.

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Formula One racing usually is associated with glamour and wealth. It brings to mind images of private jets to watch the race from the private boxes above the pit lane, having champagne and caviar with beautiful girls.

But GregWTravels is having none of that. No, instead GregWTravels does it the independent traveller way.

Instead of the private jet into the nearest airfield, I took the train from Brussels to Verviers.

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From Verviers, the rich fly by helicopter to the track. I took a bus. €5 return to stand for an hour and a half on a crowded bus as it slowly inches its way through traffic.

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The bus dumps us out about a kilometre and a half from the track, and we have to walk to the circuit.

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The rain started coming down, but luckily the line up to pick up the tickets wasn’t too long, and soon enough I had my pass to the track. A bronze pass to all the action.

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Once inside the track, it was time for the fancy nosh and champagne. Well, not for me. For me, sausage and beer.

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Bronze pass allows you general admission. For those of us (like me) who weren’t smart enough to bring their own seats, we have to find a place to lean against the fence, hopefully with a view of one of the big screens.

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And if some of that beer brings you a need to use the toilet, acres of facilities exist.

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Just joking around. The circuit is beautiful, set amongst the hills and pine forests of south-eastern Belgium. The course is very long at 7 kilometres, and has been the host of the Belgium Grand Prix more often than any other course in Belgium.

The most famous part of the circuit is the Eau Rouge corner. After coming out of the La Source hairpin after the starting line, the track runs downhill to cross the Eau Rouge stream, before flying uphill and heading through a quick set of turns over a blind hilltop.

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With 2 hours before the race, the rain was really coming down. Most of those without covered seating took cover in the shopping area. All the manufactures were out in full force.

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There were even a few of the hot grid girl spokesmodels that the teams hire to entertain the guests.

Walking up to the McLaren Mercedes booth, the girls were posing in tiny t-shirts, holding each other’s waists and smiling. I bounded up the steps, but the girls quit posing, quickly grabbing for their jackets with a look on their face that said, “I am not getting paid enough to stand outside in the cold and wind in this tiny t-shirt.”

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This Toyota girl said she would pose for a picture. I tried smiling to get her to smile, but she wouldn’t give me anything but this somewhat disdainful look. I assume that the happy, smiling girls were probably inside in the private viewing areas with caviar, champagne and heaters.

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The girls sour looks aside, the fans sure seemed to like it.

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I headed through the forest towards the other side of the track, near the Fagnes chicane. I wandered up and down until I could find a nice area to view the race, and settled in. Soon the cars came whizzing by in their formation lap, and a few minutes later, the race was on.

After watching the start of the race on the screen, I headed further down closer to the Fagnes chicane, where I couldn’t see a screen but I got some excellent views of the cars.

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The cars were loud as they ran down the straight into the chicane, and I captured it on video as I could. The video is not meant to be an explanation of the race, merely a few minutes of images to give you a feel what the sights and sounds of a F1 Grand Prix is like. I was near the Fagnes chicane for most of the race. Some of you may find this a little dull if you don't like cars going zippily past, so for you, pretty girls at 1:42.

The Fagnes chicane also provided the opportunity to view Nelson Piquet Jr. spin out into the barrier. I missed the spin out, but heard the crush of metal on concrete, and turned around to see smoke flowing up into the air.

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Having seen the start of the race, I knew that Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen was leading in his red Ferrari, with British McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in second and Brazilian Felipe Massa behind him in his Ferrari. I would see the Ferrari, McLaren, Ferrari one-two-three pass me, but I wanted to see the end on the screen to ensure that I got the whole story.

After an hour and bit, I figured I should try and find a screen. I figured the race was close to over, so moved back to an area with a video screen. I arrived back with 3 laps to go. It was an excellent choice, given the spectacular ending that was about to occur.

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It started to rain, the first rain we’d seen during the entire race. Folks broke out their umbrellas, and I am sure that the drivers and teams were cursing the weather. With so few laps, and slick tires on the cars, it was sure to be a slippery finish.

Hamilton had caught up to Raikkonen, and tried to pass him at the chicane near the start finish line. Hamilton couldn’t pass, and Raikkonen cut off Hamilton’s path (a completely legal move on Raikkonen’s part). Hamilton was forced to go off the track and cut through the chicane. Despite being off the track, Lewis Hamilton came out of the chicane ahead of Raikkonen.

The rules of F1 say that you can’t gain an advantage by going off-track, so Lewis had to back off and give the race lead back to Raikkonen. As soon as Lewis slotted back in behind the Ferrari, he attacked again. Raikkonen tried to defend his position by weaving, but Hamilton got the inside line and passed Raikkonen to gain the lead.

The next lap, as the track got wetter, some teams decided to pull into the pits for wet tires. The top 3 stayed out, though with the order being Hamilton in first and the two Ferrari’s of Raikkonen and Massa. The order changed again quickly, though when Hamilton ran wide in a corner, giving Raikkonen the lead again.

Hamilton and Raikkonen, battling hard for the lead, came up on the slower car of Nakajima. Raikkonen had to run off track to avoid Nakajima, allowing Hamilton to take the lead again. Raikkonen trying to catch Hamilton again, slide off the track and into the barrier, having to retire.

Hamilton was far enough ahead of Massa to carefully drive around the track, avoiding skidding off in the rain to first place. Massa finished second, and Nick Heidfeld, who had switched to wet tires, was able to pass two cars and take third place.

McLaren fans celebrated, while the Ferrari fans in their red jackets and hats hung their heads in disappointment.

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With the trophies presented, I left the Fagnes viewing area, and headed back towards the pit area, leaving behind the detritus of the bronze viewing area.

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After the race, the track is open to walk around, and fans flood out onto the track to check it out and experience a small bit of what the drivers get to see.

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Finally, though, it was time to head back to Brussels. A long walk to the bus stop, and then more than an hour standing on the bus back to Verviers.

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A little after I snapped this photo, a buzz went through the bus. Text messages were coming in, and phones were ringing. Lewis Hamilton had been penalized for cutting through the chicane, and had 25 seconds added to his race time. That dropped him from first to third, promoting Massa into the lead. The Hamilton fans at the front of the bus were depressed, but a bunch of Italians at the back broke out into cheers and song.

Despite the horror of standing on the bus for a couple hours in each direction and the rain before the race began, it was an excellent time. The cars were loud and powerful, the racing was excellent and the experience of being close to the fans was very cool.

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Next year, eh? Hmm, it was pretty cold and rainy. Maybe next year somewhere sunny and warm.

Rio? Spain? Oh... how about Monaco!

Posted by GregW 05:38 Archived in Belgium Tagged sports events formula_one Comments (4)

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