Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years

From the stands

Nigel Mansell, Williams, Brands Hatch, 1986

Steven saw F1's last race at Brands Hatch

The 1986 British Grand Prix marked Steven Smith’s first visit to an F1 race.

In the 25 years since then he’s been to 50 more races from Monaco to Montreal and Imola to Abu Dhabi.

Which circuit does he rate as the best for spectators? And which would he not bother going to again? Read on to find out.

Race one: 13th July 1986

My very first Grand Prix, which I watched back in 1986 as a 20-year-old, was one of the best weekends of my life.

I left home at one o’clock heading for Brands Hatch one hour after having returned from seeing Queen performing at Wembley on their Kind Of Magic tour. Weekends simply do not get much better than that one!

The race is best for the a duel between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. Mansell eventually was victorious.

But it was also the 176th and last race for Jacques Laffite who broke both legs when he crashed approaching turn one during the first start. He never drove in F1 again.

Since then I have been to every British Grand Prix. I also saw the one European Grand Prix held in the UK during that time, at Donington Park. I got frozen and soaking wet watching Ayrton Senna show everyone how to drive in the wet.

How I managed to be present on the wet Friday and Sunday, yet miss the dry Saturday I do not remember. However I still rank that race as one of the top races that I have seen in person, despite the weather.

I?ve travelled to British races by car, bike, and helicopter. These days, with a teenage son, I drive in on Friday and pitch the tent up along with 20 thousand others for two nights.

When it comes to atmosphere and fan enjoyment the British Grand Prix is top of the list. The millions spent in the last few years really have put the place up there with some of the others I have seen.

First foreign race: Monaco

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Monaco, 2006

Fantastic, but restrictive, views at Monaco

A few years after my Brands Hatch trip I went to Monaco for my first overseas race.

I took early flight from Luton to Nice , a quick jump into a coach for an hour’s drive along the coast. From there it was a short hop across the harbour on a boat to get to the grandstand – access on foot not being possible because you would have to cross the track.

I sat overlooking the chicane at the end of the tunnel where Sergio Perez crashed this year. It was not a great place for viewing, but as I’ve discovered for all its spectacle Monaco does not have many really good vantage points. I returned home around midnight after a 19-hour round trip.

The next time I went to Monaco I sat with my back to the Swimming Pool watching the cars come head-on towards me which was better. It was 1990, when Mansell and Alain Prost were Ferrari team mates.

Over a decade later I sat in grandstand K (the big one looking at the harbour) and watched Juan Pablo Montoya win For Williams. Staying in Nice and just hopping on the train is a brilliant way of accessing Monaco.

Off the calendar

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Imola, 2006

Gone but not forgotten: Imola

Among the former F1 venues I’ve been to is Estoril in Portugal. I remember it mostly for being freezing cold – the race I saw was in October.

About the only other thing I remember was realising that the small space in the grandstand where my feet were, was in fact another row of seats. We really were crammed in tightly.

Two more tracks no longer in F1 use are Magny Cours and Imola, both of which I went to twice.

I was at Magny-Cours the first time it held the French Grand Prix in 1991. As it often said, it is in the absolute middle of nowhere. It?s not a circuit that offers much to spectators, and not one I would like to see back on the F1 calender.

Imola, on the other hand, is one I would like to see back. It had great atmosphere and being in parkland makes it quite pleasant when the sun is beating down and you want some shade for lunch time.

But despite disappearing from the calendar just five years ago it would probably need many millions spending on it to bring it up to moderns standard.

The Italian fans are famously fanatical, and must have spent ages building their own grandstands so that they have a better view of the circuit. When I first went there Mansell was driving for them, although he never won at Imola while at the team. I went there both before and after the Senna crash, but I was not there in 1994.

The Osterreichring, or A1-Ring, or Red Bull Ring as it is called today, was a great track. The viewing from turn one is one of the best I have seen. So much of this bowl of a circuit is visible. It?s a long way from any major town or city. But I?d love to go back. The facilities were a bit basic, but maybe that has improved with Red Bull money.

Mika Hakkinen gave the travelling Finns plenty to cheer about when I went there in 2000. Schumacher was bumped off at the first corner and tried to park his car on the track to stop the race. But the prompt deployment of the safety car thwarted his efforts.

Grand old tracks

Jos Verstappen, Stewart, Nurburgring, 1999

Good atmosphere at the Nurburgring...

The Nurburgring, like Magny Cours, is a long way from anywhere. But it is a track that has a good atmosphere and a circuit I recommend visiting. The locals really make a noise and put on a show cheering on their heroes.

I first went here on an overnight coach from London and stayed at Aachen – not a trip I would want to do nowadays. I sat high up in the grandstand opposite the pits. The fog hung heavily in the morning and the warm-up session (remember them?) had to be delayed.

On a later visit to the track I saw an unfortunate mechanic knocked to the ground by a departing car after a pit stop.

Its close neighbour is the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps. Unfortunately for me getting away from work in August for the Belgian Grand Prix is very difficult.

But I have managed one trip to Spa: another early morning start with a drive to Southend Airport, a hop over the North Sea to Maastricht, and an hour’s drive over the border.

I sat under what was the only covered grandstand at the time, halfway down the hill by La Source.

I liked Spa, and the grandstand was so close to the side of the track we could actually feel the air being moved by the cars as they flashed past. The view wasn?t great but the experience was worth it.

I have a grainy 35mm photograph tucked away somewhere showing Gerhard Berger coming around the first corner and climbing his Benetton over the back of his team mate’s car.

Cold Turkey

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Istanbul, 2008

...but sparse stands at Istanbul in 2008

I went to Turkey in May 2008 and it was so cold. Not just the weather, but the atmosphere too. It was almost empty on the Saturday, and not much better on the Sunday.

The facility was new and shiny, but lacking in every other respect, with poor catering and trade stands. Some grandstands were covered over with green sheeting to try to disguise the fact that they were empty.

Getting there and back from Istanbul was horrific. The traffic is so bad in this huge city.

I sat in the grandstand overlooking the final three corners and the pit lane entry. Nothing of great note happened with the exception of Bruno Senna coming past in the GP2 sprint race with no nose cone having just hit a dog which had run on the straight just out of my sight.

One track not well-liked by some is the Circuit de Catalunya. I’ve been there three times and it’s not a bad place to watch a race, although I feel it?s a bit sparse.

Barcelona is a great city for a warm sporting weekend away, drinking ice cold beers on Las Ramblas in the evenings watching the world go past. Last time I went I was able to watch FC Barcelona play football at the Nou Camp on the Saturday evening – an experience not to be missed.

Valencia is another very pleasant city. I wrote about my experience at that track on F1 Fanatic last month:

Long haul

I made a single trip to Indianapolis. It is an enormous venue and the seats offer great viewing. But I found it to be a strangely quiet city. But the football World Cup was taking place at the same time so some pubs got pretty busy at times with European football fans.

Coming home on the Monday evening meant a short flight to Chicago on a small 40-seat jet. Most people on the plane had been to the race. I notcied the chap sat next to me was reading a book printed in German. His name was Nico Rosberg. Scott Speed was also on the same flight during.

The longest trip I’ve made to see a race was for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Schumacher won at the fantastic Sepang International Circuit.

It?s quite a journey (over an hour) from the wonderful city of Kuala Lumpur, but a fine facility.

I rarely go to Friday practice, choosing instead to explore my surroundings wherever I am. One of the laziest lunches I have had was spent in Kuala Lumpur on the Friday in the revolving restaurant in the KL Tower next to the Petronas Towers.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India, Shanghai, 2009

Shanghai is built to a completely different scale

Shanghai is a jaw-dropping city. Time restrictions meant my trip here lasted just four days. But they were well worth it.

Again here I didn?t bother going to the circuit on the Friday and went for another lazy lunch in another revolving restaurant.

The Oriental Pearl Tower is the building often shown in photos of the modern Pudong district of Shanghai. The food is best described as… different.

The circuit is again miles from the city, and the traffic is horrendous, particularly on Sunday evening. The track, grandstands and the facilities are great.

Regular readers may remember my piece on going to last year’s season finale at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi:

All I would add to that is: wow, what a set-up. Great organisation, fantastic people. Free earplugs for the fans as often as they need them.

There was even an “unmarked” beer tent (??7/pint) set up for foreign visitors. Being a country with restricted alcohol laws, providing this cooling facility was a welcome bonus for us overseas race fans.

My favourite F1 track

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Montreal, 2007

Steven saw his favourite race at Montreal

My first long haul trip was to Montreal in 1996 for the Canadian Grand Prix, won by Damon Hill.

Montreal is without doubt my favourite venue. You only need to ask anyone who has been there: fans, drivers and team members alike will tell you how highly they rate it too. It is brilliant.

The city absolutely buzzes for the whole weekend. Both down in the harbour area, but far more so in the centre in Crescent Street.

Great city centre hotels and a simple Metro system to take you to and from the circuit make things so easy. Getting off the island at the end of the race can be a bit of a crush at the Metro station.

I had a spare ticket with me the first time I went here, and sold it to a Canadian F1 fan at face value. He was expecting to pay a premium, so as his way of saying thanks he kept me in beer at the circuit all weekend. We sat opposite the pits, not far from the Wall of Champions.

When I returned in 1999 I sat overlooking turns one, two and three. I saw Frentzen crash exiting turn 3. I also got burnt by the seriously hot weather.

It was at this race I was queuing for a portaloo when the door opened and out stepped Murray Walker. I was able to congratulate him on the OBE he had been awarded the day before in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. That was a strange moment.

My last trip to Montreal in 2007 was to witness perhaps the most amazing F1 race I have ever seen.

We had the joy of watching Lewis Hamilton secure his first pole position on the Saturday. Then he followed it up with his first win on the Sunday. The national anthem rang out across the circuit, a long way from home.

That race is also remembered for other things like four deployments of the safety car and the horrendous sight of Robert Kubica being launched into the barriers at the hairpin corner.

I was sitting at this corner, and saw the accident happen in front of me. I seriously thought, like many others perhaps, that I had just seen a driver killed. It was a huge relief, later that evening in the hotel bar, to hear he was alright.

51 races since 1986

I?ve been lucky to be able to go to 27 British races and 24 overseas ones and hope to go to many more. But I?m not quite as fortunate as one man I met in Turkey.

He was going to every race that year – and he was in the Paddock Club! He could obviously afford it, so good luck to him. Plus being a generous sort, he was even taking his wife to a couple of races as well.

My wife is yet to accompany me to a race, but she says that if I ever go to Melbourne or Brazil then she?s coming too.

Are you going to an F1 race this year? Find other F1 Fanatics who are here:

Can you top 51 races in 25 years? If so, and you’d like to write about your experiences, please get in touch via the contact form.

This is a guest article by Steven Smith. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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Images ?? Williams/LAT, Renault/LAT, BMW ag, Ford.com, Ferrari spa, Force India F1 Team, McLaren

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62 comments on Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years

  1. Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 18th August 2011, 13:44

    I’ve seen a couple of hundred banger races if that counts, but this is just awesome. You’re a lucky chap and it’s a privilege to read about your experiences! I haven’t yet been to a race, but Monaco and Monza are my top two to go to. Montreal would also be brilliant, but I dont think I can quite afford that yet!

  2. moorey717 (@moorey717) said on 18th August 2011, 15:04

    That is a remarkable tally! What a font of knowledge about each venue you must have built up over that time.

    My first race Silverstone in ’94 which if I remember rightly is the one Damon Hill won and Schumacher got black-flagged. I then had a possibly record-breaking gap until Silverstone ’09 and now try to get to one race a year. Speaking of which, anyone travelled to Monza from the UK and have any do’s/do not’s (as I’m thinking of going next year)?

  3. HoHum (@hohum) said on 18th August 2011, 15:11

    In defence of Magny Cours it may be in ‘the middle of no-where” if driving from the UK, and is actually in the middle of France (literally about 35 miles E of exact centre) about 2.5 hours drive S of Paris on the N7, very close to Nevers and Moulins and not far from Bourges, Montlucon, St.Armand Montrond and literally hundreds of villages in beautiful countryside with many accommodation options from “campings” to grand chateau B & Bs.

  4. Amazing account and great to see. I was also at Brands in 1986 (yes, the Laffite stoppage, that was sad) and have never since seen anything like those turbo cars, which sort of shimmered and bucked in qualifying trim. But compared to you I took the next 25 years off! (Highlights for me were Suzuka in ’98, Monaco and of course Spa – otherwise just US and British races).

    The contrast between the TV experience (where, say, Turkey is an epic circuit and even Magny Cours wasn’t bad) and the actual going-to-the-track experience, is really clear from your accounts.

  5. Wow, that’s impressive. I’ve seen alot of different races including IndyCars, Le Mans, BTCC and DTM, but actually I’ve been to a Grand Prix only twice, at 2000 French GP (as a guest of former Arrows team) and at 2000 Italian GP (as a spectator).

    I’d be curious to know how much money Steven spent for those 50 races, but that’s really impressive !!

    • Steven said on 18th August 2011, 19:45

      A three night trip to say Nice, for the Monaco GP will cost something like eight hundred pounds for flights and a basic hotel. Another four hundred roughly for race tickets, and a couple of hundred for food and drink.

      Years ago it cost me roughly two hundred for the Monaco day trip flight, and about the same for the race ticket.

      My overnight coach trip to the first Magny Cours race was my cheapest at something like £80 and maybe £100 for the race ticket.

  6. JCost (@jcost) said on 18th August 2011, 16:13

    When I grow up I want to be like him. Have enough money and time to go to at least 4 GPs every year.

    But unlike him, I’ve beet to Interlagos to witness Vettel win on his way to 2010′s WDC. I’ve been to Montmeló (Catalonia) back in 2007 for the Spanish GP on that almost epic Lewis Hamilton rookie year, Massa won the GP from Lewis.

    My next venue will probably be Texas or Spa.

  7. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 18th August 2011, 16:32

    51!? Wow, that’s incredible. The 2 I’ve been to (Silverstone back-to-back in ’08/’09) were the 2 best days out I’ve ever had.

  8. Icemangrins said on 18th August 2011, 17:08

    Thank you Steve. Great to read the mega experiences you have had. May be one day I will travel to various circuits to watch the races.

    So far I been only to the Canadian Grand Prix twice…. this year and the last. I live in a city near Toronto where F1 isn’t that familar among the hockey loving blokes. But on a contrary, in Montreal, I was amazed … the entire city celberates F1 through the whole weekend. Beer, smoked meat, best poutine in the world….. would go there next year too.

    • Wooolfy said on 19th August 2011, 5:11

      I am new to F1(2-3yrs) and like you I did Montreal this year and last, my only 2 GP’s and I rate it very highly as a must every year. I live in Toronto, a 5 hrs drive, but I spend 4 days in Montreal to enjoy the atmosphere.

      I attended with a group of 13 family and friends and Montreal has been the best ever outing I’ve had. For everything, from the City, Street Festivals, Nightlife, friendly folks to the so well organised GP, I recommend the Canadian GP to all.

      As a Mclaren/Lewis fan, seeing a McLaren 1-2 in 2010 and a Button win this year, I admit it couldn’t be better.

  9. marsianwalrus (@einariliyev) said on 18th August 2011, 17:52

    Kindly jealous.

    Ive been a loyal F1 fan since 1996, when I was yet only 5 years old, and never yet been to a race. I wouldve loved to go to Silverstone but it so happens I’m never in UK during the summer! I wish they moved it (yeah I know I’m being selfish) to any other time than summer and I’d go at the first opportunity.

    In UAE now. Would’ve went to race, alas its in November :(

    Was in Brazil this June. Alas, the race is autumn-time too.

    Was in China a couple of years back in the Spring! Alas that was one year when Shanghai sat at the end of the calendar.

    *facepalm* and rant over

  10. Mild7nick (@mild7nick) said on 18th August 2011, 18:37

    Nice stories Steve!

    I’m about to clock up my 25th Grand Prix next weekend at Spa (Silverstone 96 was my first), it will be my fifth time there and is frankly and amazing track to visit.
    I have also been to Nurburgring this year and previously Monaco and Magny Cours.

    I really must stick up for Magny Cours though, it gets a lot of flack but when I went in 01 and 02 the facilities were very good, tickets were the cheapest of any European race and the views were fantastic as you could see most of the circuit due to the bowl style nature of the track. There was a good mix of nationalities so it actually had a very good atmosphere too, a shame in my view that F1 no longer races there.

  11. thestig84 (@thestig84) said on 18th August 2011, 19:43

    Great write up there, thanks for that.

    Mangy Cours was my first grand prix in 2007 and I loved the middle of nowhere aspect, quite surreal and camping was great. Since then I have done 3 x Silverstone, Spa, Monza and this year Montreal.

    I totally agree with you Montreal is absolutely fantastic!!!!

    I also dont necessarily agree with comments saying you need mega bucks to go to live F1 (ok a whole family would). It can be done quite cheaply if you are focused on keeping the money under control. You get 3 full days (3.5 if thursday pit walk is included) of entertainment. The £/per hour of entertainment its a total bargain if you compare it to 90mins of premiership football for example

  12. Alex White (@alex-white) said on 18th August 2011, 23:39

    I am thoroughly jealous of you Steven :)

  13. ScuderiaVincero (@scuderiavincero) said on 19th August 2011, 1:40

    You’ve certainly had some great times, Steven! Meeting, Nico Rosberg, Scott Speed and best of all, Murray Walker!!

    Also, I’m very glad you made your way all the way here to enjoy my home race. Have a great day!

  14. TribalTalker (@tribaltalker) said on 19th August 2011, 11:44

    Steven, thanks for sharing all that with us – quite humbling how much knowledge and commitment some F1Fanatics display.

    The closest I have been to a live F1 race was when I visited the (unfinished) Sepang circuit on a long lunch break when I should have been with clients… many years back.

    I’ve been to a few bike races (mostly BSB) and in all honesty prefer the TV coverage. Bad weather, incomprehensible tannoys and no rewind facility in real life. Okay, so I’m a wuss.

  15. Chris said on 19th August 2011, 16:07

    TribalTalker — I’m with you. I’ve been a fan since 1973, but I have no desire to go to a race. Don’t like the noise, the expense, lack of access, etc. There are lots of different kinds of fans out here.

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