It's always easy to tell when you're in Silverstone: it's generally cold and wet, and even if it's not the French contingent will be complaining either way. Raining? Complaints. Too sunny? Complaints. Too many people in the paddock? Complaints. Not enough people? You know the rest. And the thing is, it is ridiculously easy to complain about Silverstone – it is always the most difficult weekend to get through, from a work perspective – but the Brits hate it when the French moan about the place, mostly because they see it as their birthright to whinge about the place. Want to complain about a race? Go moan about Magny Cours.
Yeah, that's right.
So the traffic was awful this morning, as usual – actually, it was much worse than usual, but let's keep that between us. We were sitting on the main road to the circuit going nowhere when Al and Drew, our photographers, rang up to say they couldn't get into the office to get their cameras: how can we get in there? We're sitting in traffic: what do you want us to do? Cue two grumpy photographers.
We have the old pitlane this weekend, shared between the GP2 and GP3 teams, and our office is in the old Race Control building. When we finally arrived, just as another shower started, I assumed I'd see the pair sitting on the front steps looking depressed and half-drowned, but they were upstairs and working away as we walked in.
I wandered over to find out what had happened, and one of the guys who work here noted: “They got in without any help from us: you should give them a bonus, just for showing initiative!” But how did they get in? “He climbed through the window.” Oh well, they've probably done you a favour: now you can let security know about the problem. “Oh no, we like it that way, just in case we need to get in that way...” I take my computer back to the hotel every night, just in case you were wondering.
Silverstone always does things differently to every other race: it's part of their ... well, charm is probably the wrong word, but it's what they do. Normally we have silver Mercedes Benz people carriers to get us back and forth to the pitlane if we're not out the back (and we're definitely not here: it is about a half hour walk to get there). Here we have local buses.
I can't help but wonder if there is a little old lady standing at the bus stop in Towcester, staring down the road and getting absolutely livid. I know how she feels: after free practice I sat around for ages, waiting for the bus to turn up. I put the time to good use by writing the session report at the bus stop, but still. And when it finally turned up, I automatically reached for my Oyster card (bus ticket) before catching myself. I guess I should be happy that they're not charging me for the journey. Yet.
We got back to the paddock just in time for another huge downpour, and the inevitable moan from the French contingent: I wasn't so fussed as I was already in hospitality eating lunch, but Sam Bird was clearly more annoyed as he was looking out, weighing up whether to dash back for his briefing or to stay inside.
There wasn't any choice: if you're a driver, you go when your team want you. Heading out into the torrential downpour, he was polite enough to hold the door open behind him for a couple of marshals, who recognised him and wanted to congratulate him on topping the session. Standing there getting soaked, his dilemma was etched across his face: be rude and head back to the truck, or be polite and hold the door while getting wet for a couple of motor racing fans?
Of course he stayed, holding the door open. Because his mother brought him up well.
Then it was time for the teams to make the long, long trek back to the (other) pitlane for qualifying: the truckies and mechanics on the quad bikes towing everything round, the engineers jumping onto a bus to get out of the rain. I saw a spot and jumped onto the Arden convoy, hanging onto the pole holding the tyres in place as we went round.
It's one of my favourite things to do in the paddock: it's just fun hanging on as we wind our way slowly around to the pits, trundling past all the fans (Silverstone has way more fans than any other track, even on a sodden Friday afternoon) as they take photos of the procession. And we were held just outside the pits until the F1 session finished: as I walked in I overheard the security guy's radio crackle: “We've got a woman here asking to be let through. She's on crutches. What do I do?”
Alexa was soon hobbling up from the other end of the paddock, and sat next to me just before the rain started up again. It stopped for two laps, and then absolutely bucketed down. And that was qualifying over.
. “I don't really care,” Luca Filippi noted back in hospitality, “I'm really here to entertain the crowd anyway, so maybe it's better that I'm at the back: I can give them a real show from there!” It was a shame though, as he'd shown good speed in free practice, but he was hardly the only one to get screwed over by the weather. And he was thinking about the bigger picture, anyway.
“I've come up with the solution for here, and I am going to talk to Bernie about it. Have you seen that movie The Truman Show? I think we have to do something like that, and build a big roof over the whole circuit: Bernie is very rich, I'm sure it won't be a problem for him. And they could make it sunny here all the time!”
It sounded like a brilliant plan to me, but we were in the middle of the sixth storm of the day at the time. I'm sure the French would still find something wrong with the place though, even if The Filippi Show was brought to life. And maybe that's what the locals like about Silverstone: sure, it might be a rubbish weekend, but the French hate it way more than the rest of us.
And anything that winds up the French that much can't be all bad.