Formula 1

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See also my Supercar driving experience in a Lamborghini Gallardo, Jaguar XK 4.2, Aston Martin DB9, Porsche 997 Carrera, and Ferrari 550 Maranello!

"Who do you think you are, Nigel Mansell?"

Someone
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Anybody see Top Gear in October 98 where Vicki Henderson-Wotsit drove a 1991 F1 in the South of France? Been there, done that, in May of that year about a week before the Monaco GP. As well as the F3 and F1 driving, we got to drive around the Monaco GP circuit (in a Clio, I hasten to add) with all its crash barriers, red and white curbs, grandstands, advertising hoardings etc in place - a real experience. Also, visited Cannes while the Film Festival was in full swing, and St Tropez where I just happened to, stumble onto a nudist beach while carrying a camera with a telephoto lens (purely in the interests of photographing St Tropez from across the Gulf, you understand).

The F1 drive all started with an ad in MG World - 25 laps in an F3 then 3 laps in an F1 for the basic price, with up to 15 laps in the F1 if you paid extra. A team from the early 90's, AGS (drivers Gabriel Tarquini and Stefan Johanssen), ran out of sponsorship and decided to, see if they could run 'day trips' rather than just fold and lose everything. Showed my wife, at breakfast one day who took one look and said "HOW MUCH!!!" so I said no more. Later that, day she rang me at work and said "Well, are we going then?". You see, she has always wanted, to visit Monaco etc but not to the extent of spending a full holiday there, so this was an, ideal opportunity.

The whole thing was very well organised by Nick Duncan of . Bussed to the track from the hotel, went into the, changing room, and each of us (10 drivers) had our own locker with helmet, balaclava, gloves, racing suit and boots. The suits had our names on the breast - nice touch. Half an hour, briefing on technique, braking points, gear change points etc (helluva lot to remember) and, into the F3 cars (180bhp), five at a time.

Sure enough, got onto the circuit for the first five laps and didn't know what corner I was, at and hence which gear I should be in. Also I found the down-shifts very awkward - we had, been asked to blip the throttle while braking and changing down (manual shift), but I found, the gap between brake and accelerator was so big that I was having to concentrate on right foot, positioning much more than I wanted to. The gear change was also awkward due to the many, rods and joints. Stop for a quick review while the other 5 had their first stint, during which time I studied the circuit map, now knowing what the corners on the map looked like, from the car.

Next string of seven laps and I knew what gear I should be in where, but still had trouble, with the pedals. Getting more out of the car now, particularly on the back straight that had a lovely kink taken flat out in top using the full width of the track, and really feeling the sideways G-force. Went into the last bend of the session - the slowest on the circuit - much too fast, realised I wasn't going to make it so straightened up, braked as hard as I could before I went on to the gravel run-off, then steered round in a graceful arc to miss the tyre wall. Stuck in the gravel but didn't hit anything, nothing hurt except pride. They promptly put me in the spare car waiting in the pits for the eight laps of the final session, where I concentrated more on technique, than outright speed. You see, if they didn't think you were capable, they wouldn't let you out in the F1, and no refund.

Lunchtime, and everyone is very subdued having found the F3 difficult to drive, and with the reputation of F1 being even more difficult (650bhp at 11,000rpm and only 50 kg heavier). Another briefing, different techniques, gears and change points - even more to remember. Into the cars - three running but only one on the track at a time, I was number 2. Little bit of training in the car with the engine off to practise the gear change and feel the clutch biting point then fire up the engine from a compressed air bottle "just like the real thing". Sitting in the number two car waiting to practice gears and clutch while number one fires up, and being right behind him was absolutely deafening - no ear plugs or helmet yet, and very hot under the boiling sun (no pretty girls with umbrellas for us). He had a bit of trouble controlling the very sensitive accelerator and clutch (5mm of travel from in to out) and stalled it twice before he got going. Also spun and stalled on his first lap so more delay while the car went out with the compressed air bottle to fire him up again. Finally my turn.

About a month before the event I was getting butterflies in my stomach every time I thought about it, but sitting in the car with the engine fired up I felt quite calm. A couple of slow depressions of the throttle to about 6000 rpm to check throttle control, then clutch in, engage second, 6000 rpm again then slowly engage clutch. Car starts to creep so hold clutch - almost pressing it back down a little - and throttle while it gets rolling, then a little more throttle and a little less clutch, and away smoothly. Within a few yards we are probably travelling at about 50mph, onto the track up to third, and the first corner looms.

The car is a joy to drive, so much better than the F3, the pedals and gear change are so much easier I can relegate them to a background task and put my full attention to what is going outside the car. A couple of laps to get used to things (I bought five) then really start to open it up on the two straights. The sensation is absolutely incredible. There seems to be no lag between moving the accelerator and reaching a given speed, the car is just thrust forward with an enormous force and I am pressed hard back into the seat, and with each change up more violent acceleration. Noticeably less air-buffeting on my helmet, a factor of the better aerodynamics. Even though I am travelling so much faster at the braking points at the end of the straights I seem to have much more time, I am sitting there, waiting for the change marker, then complete the down changes with time to spare for the corner. On the pits straight I am determined to put on a good show for my wife so floor it through third, fourth and fifth (sixth is reserved for the back straight) past the pits, right up to the braking point then hard on the brakes - less squirming than the F3 - then blip the throttle during the down changes. I felt so comfortable in the car that I knew which lap I was on all the way round, so wasn't surprised to see, rounding the tight bend before the pits entrance, 'Le Professeur' in the middle of the track on his moped pointing me in. You see, they used to put out a 'Last Lap' board but too many people put in that extra bit of effort - and went off! Expensive for AGS as they stand the cost of any repairs.

Into the pit lane, cut the engine and coast to a halt. Mechanic gives me a big grin and pats me on the shoulder and unbuckles me. Out of the car, helmet off, and I can feel my grin spreading right round my face. Wife comes over and I can see she is shaking like a leaf. "Goodness knows what the pictures will come out like", she said, "but it sounded absolutely fantastic when you came screaming past and then changed down". Everybody was the same - big grins and couldn't stop saying how fantastic it was. Ah, what a day.

One of the goodies given to us to mark the day was three bottles of Provencal wine with an interesting label - who says wine doesn't travel (fast!)?

Back to Earth.

Nigel Mansell was the one for me, he was the bravest and most exciting driver of his era, in an era that sported a number very talented drivers and several competitors for the World Title. Success in his era and before placed much more emphasis on driver skill than car and tyre technology as it does today, and the sport has suffered as a result. Numbers for Silverstone these days are a fraction of what they were in the 80s and 90s, indeed Goodwood knocks it into a cocked-hat for both content and numbers. I made my first visit to the Festival of Speed in 2006. I'd been planning on going for some years but Mansell's first visit was the final spur I needed and I got some good pictures of him in the paddock and many other cars and drivers over the weekend:

F1 collectors memorabilia.

My son Matthew is also into F1 and during his teenage years produced a number of pictures in ink and felt-tip, including these of Mansell and Senna:

Classic and modern motor racing prints, models, books, videos, memorabilia, autographs,

Some links:

Nigel Mansell
A tribute to Ayrton Senna
The Pitlane Club, a forum dedicated to discussion of Formula 1 and other motorsports
News, information and statistics
F1 World
10 Tenths - Includes the F1 GP Ring
Dennis David's Grand Prix History
Muddly Talker - The Murray Walker quotes page

The Motorsport Webring
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F1 GP Ring
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