Wantage Student Eda Onay reports on the 2021 British Grand Prix

The British Grand Prix was the first Formula One race since the start of corona virus to welcome a full capacity crowd back to the stadium and Penny Post contributor and King Alfred’s student Eda Onay was lucky to be among the floods of fans, merchandise hats, t-shirts, flags that swarmed Silverstone 16 – 18 July 2021.

My love for Formula One began during lockdown when I stumbled upon the Netflix series Drive to Survive. It’s fair to say that programme got me through the stress of online A Level studies and the uncertainties of my own modern pentathlete career during Covid (see more here).

This Grand Prix was extra special as it was the first ever Grand Prix to include a Sprint race on Saturday afternoon. This meant the weekend format changed. Usually, a typical race weekend has three practice sessions – two on Friday after Thursday media day and one on Saturday morning, then one qualifying on Saturday afternoon which sets the grid for Sunday’s race. Instead of the this, Friday at Silverstone included one practice session and the evening qualifying (setting the grid for the Sprint race). Saturday included another practice session and then the Sprint race which set the grid for Sunday’s race which ran as normal.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to camp at Silverstone and watch the Grand Prix, F2 races and the W series race (the free-to-enter championship that helps women, who historically lack financial sponsorship, reach the upper echelons of motorsport).

It was the most tremendous weekend of my life.

Thursday – Media Day

Every Grand Prix weekend kicks off on Thursday with one-to-one drivers’ interviews and press conferences, sometimes even filming advertisements for the weekend ahead. My friend and I had the opportunity to watch Top Gear filming with F1 drivers Lando Norris, Sebastian Vettel and Antonio Giovinazzi out on the track Thursday morning. This filming was then used later on in the week to advertise the British Grand Prix and the new McLaren, Aston Martin, and Alfa Romeo cars.

This was then followed by vintage cars driving at extraordinary speed for an hour around the track, darting around corners, swerving, and leaving skid marks behind.

Media day rounded off late in the evening with the Sky Sports team’s live interviews with the drivers. We sat in the grandstands by the last corner on the track and watched George Russell, Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton and many more drivers chat with Sky Sports. Though they were answering questions and speculations, most of us in the grandstands could not hear a word as we chanted positive songs and shouts outs for the British drivers. The atmosphere was phenomenal.

Friday – qualifying races

Friday morning began with the W series, F2 and F1 practice sessions. This was a chill start to the morning, waking up to sounds of engines revving.

F1 qualifying left me shaking for a good hour afterwards. The intensity luring in the grandstands infected me. The competition between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton grew even closer. And with Max coming out on top for the majority of this year, it was Lewis who claimed pole – no better place for him to succeed.

Songs were chanted throughout the evening about Hamilton’s spectacular pole lap, Norris’ consistency and Russell’s Q3 appearance.

On our way back to the tent, Max Verstappen drove past in his car. It may seem impossible and absolutely insane, but Max and I, for a split second, made eye contact! This made my day.

Saturday – Sprint Race

Saturday morning begun with both F2 races and the W series race in between.

The first F2 race was extremely chaotic. The majority of the race was spent driving behind a yellow flag because of engine failures, crashes, and tyre mishaps happening in every direction. Consequently, I spent the race literally sat on the edge of my seat, pinching myself every minute just to make sure I was not dreaming!

Britain claimed a double podium in the W series race as Alice Powell stormed to victory and Jamie Chadwick managed to hold off the three cars battling behind her to claim third. Though the cars in the W series are significantly slower than the F1 cars, the adrenaline when watching is still fresh and no less stressful or exhilarating.

Finally, in the late afternoon, the Formula One teams made their way out onto the grid for their first ever Sprint race. They were to drive a 17-lap race (just over 100km), with no pit stops. This had never been done before in a Grand Prix weekend, so to have been in the grandstands, watching it live, was a privilege.

From lights out to the chequered flags, we shouted, sung, clapped, whooped, held our breaths, and prayed.

Verstappen was fastest off the line and going into turn 1 he breezed past Hamilton. Horror spread across people’s faces; Hamilton had to make up. But there was no use, Verstappen stood strong, pulling away from Hamilton and winning the race confidently after an unsteady qualifying. However, only half of the Red Bull team had managed to finish. Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez had locked up and spun off the track whilst he was battling the Brit, Lando Norris. One second he was there behind Lando, and the next he was off on the grass. This careless mistake cost Perez the chance to score some points and get a good place on the starting grid for Sunday. As well as this, Perez damaged the car which meant he had to retire from the Sprint race. A demoralising finish to a historic race for the Red Bull driver.

The evening was filled with live music, positive vibes, motorsports chants and the smell of BBQs.

Sunday – The Grand Prix

Sun burnt faces appeared in the stands for the last time at Silverstone on Sunday afternoon. ‘It’s Hammer time’ flags, McLaren merch and Williams fans packed the circuit.

The drivers parade brought many tears to fans eyes as the drivers waved to the crowds, fans panicking, saying, “Did you just see that?! Lewis Hamilton just waved at ME!”

3pm and it was lights out. Lewis Hamilton had a quicker start off the line this time and posed a threat to Verstappen going into turn 1. But Verstappen came out ahead. Lewis did not give up and drove fiercely into the apex. Along the straight and Hamilton tried another overtake, but again was unsuccessful. This battle continued up the Copse corner, the fastest and deadliest corner on the track. Hamilton, changing his moves up, went for an overtake on the inside. This did not end well. Verstappen gave room to Hamilton to drive to the chicane, but Hamilton missed it and ever so slightly turned his front tyres towards Verstappen as he drove the corner. Lewis hit Max’s tyre and the Red Bull went spinning, hitting the tyre wall at 51 g force. A red flag was issued which stopped the race – not even a lap into the 52-lap race. Verstappen was wheezy and went to hospital to get checked out and Hamilton was given a 10 second penalty.

There is continued discussions around who was at fault, whether it was just a racing incident and if Hamilton should have been given a more serious penalty.

Being there in the stands, watching it on the big screen, feeling the anxiety of everyone around me, I could only imagine what Verstappen’s friends and family must have been thinking. The red flag felt everlasting, but really it was over very quickly. And sure enough, for the final time at Silverstone, it was lights out.

Despite his 10 second penalty, Hamilton victoriously brought it home. He drove around the circuit whilst waving the British flag to crowds who gave him a standing ovation. It was beautiful. There are some moments in life where a picture cannot be taken to remember a memory so pure, and this was one of those moments.

The motorsports love has intoxicated me, and I now more than ever want a job in motorsports. The British Grand Prix has inspired me. I am sure it has done the same to many others. All I can think about now is Hungary – the next race and battle between Red Bull and Mercedes.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale