Bring on the alarm…
It began with a 6am alarm call (which was slightly more bearable that the 4:45am one I had for my jaunt to the Red Bull factory last year) and as I headed towards the train I used the promise of an F1 engine tearing through the streets of Manchester as an incentive to stay awake. Then with that singular thought sitting pretty behind my eyes I got comfortable for the three hour journey with a pile of podcasts downloaded to keep me comfortable. However, no matter how much Formula One goodness I pumped into my ears, nothing could distract me from the experience I was heading towards. Last year I got to see a Red Bull car up close, but they were parked and silent and this is not what any F1 car was designed to be, they’re engineered to be ignited and driven to the limits. Thanks to McLaren I would taking a step closer to seeing a Formula One car driven in anger (next year, I promise myself) by the days end.
The biggest question of the day for everyone is where to position yourself to get the best view of Jenson Button tearing up the soaking wet streets of Manchester, the route provided several options depending on what you wanted to see. Get along Deansgate and have a spectacular view of the car along the longest straight, heading towards the two corners bookending John Dalton Street gave spectators the opportunity to see Button slow the car down. Finally, if the idea of watching Button spin a car on purpose gets you going then you had to pitch up in the ‘car turning area’, although one was highlighted, the start/finish line provided the moment of the day regarding ‘spinning’. But before we reach the end we must first consider the start.
Bring on the noise…
The first glimpse of the man from McLaren was during a sighter lap in the safety car, cap on he showed his appreciation for the crowds before heading back to give the competition winners the ride of their lives. Suited and booted in McLaren overalls the two winners were treated to a ride in an exceptionally shiny MP4-12C, Button pushed the car hard through the damp streets as I spied one of the lucky two grasp at the door. But it would be another lap in the safety car and half an hour before the main event took place. This was it, I was finally going to hear a Formula One car live, the sound not pushed out the back of my television, the volume not controlled by a remote and thanks to guys crouching in front of me, nothing but fresh air between me and the car.
I could sense the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the anticipation crept up and overtook me. Sparking up the engine Button finally got his McLaren onto the street, playing with the throttle the roar reverberated off the man-made valley as he threaded his way through the temporary track. Then it came. That moment. Punchy on the throttle as he swept around the corner, wave after wave of Formula One heaven crashed against my eardrums, one final push onto the straight and it hit me square in the chest. The throaty growl of a car begging to go faster produced a wall of noise that can only be associated with this type of machine, a mixture of the higher pitch with the lower rumble sat behind my sternum for the rest of the day.
It was clear that Jenson Button was having fun as only two runs were prescribed, but as they came to a close those in front departed and taking advantage of the early retirement I moved forward. Just as it was announced JB was about to do another run, three hours on a train and a thorough soaking…this was totally worth the wait. I swear I couldn’t smile any wider as I witnessed the ‘naughty’ third run. The noise, the sensation and the visual took my breath away. Perhaps my words can’t offer it the justice it richly deserves, but to me it was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard, expertly engineered classical music tuned to excite and exalt any motor fan’s heart.
Bring on Button…
With my ears still rigning, my nose filled with burnt fuel I headed on to the Fanzone with my Vodafone phone in tow, and if you’re a McLaren fan then it’s worth getting hold a sim card to give yourself a chance to get involved with events like this. Filled with McLaren related treats such as a pit stop challenge and a chance to show off your best podium celebration, it was a great opportunity for fans (McLarenistas, McLarenaldos, McLareners?) to get close to the team they love. And talking of love, there was an abundance of it so I did feel a touch out of place when we were encouraged to cheer for a McLaren win in Monza. I’ll admit I was seriously impressed by the day, to the point where the sharp edges of animosity were sanded down, but I couldn’t quite betray Red Bull. Although I have nothing against Jenson, he fights it out with Nico Rosberg for P2 for me.
I was already inside the Fanzone when we were told Button wasn’t done with taming the streets of Manchester, setting himself up to do another run a deluge of water fell which provided the day’s most unexpected turn. The irony of the bank holiday wasn’t lost on many, but after getting a peachy picture (by happy accident) of Jenson sliding into position, I got to watch the entire run on the big screen. Doing this put the day into perspective, that there was a Formula One car driving on public streets, which made me wonder who out of the crowds would be throwing in a few extra revs down Deansgate the next day. The rain played havoc with his second set of laps, he needed a couple of helping hands to turn around and managed to stall the car as he spun to start his third run. The drenched tarmac failing to give the necessary grip gifted those near the start an unexpected chance to high-five Jenson as he put his triathlon training to good use.
Finally wrangled by the waiting car he was escorted towards his Q & A session inside the Fanzone (tip: try and stand near a pram, then no one car stand directly in front of you). Questions were submitted by fans and answered by the affable chap in a leisurely fashion (tip: if it’s only spitting and you have a hat on, put your umbrella down).
- Revealed this was the first time he’s driven in the UK since the season began.
- He’s left the playboy lifestyle behind and is more likely to be found in bed early after a race.
- Joked that he doesn’t need to buy a car as he’s got a pretty good one on lease from work.
- Garnered much love for saying Manchester was his favourite circuit (Silverstone and Suzuka from current races), and that there should be an Olympic F1 race.
- Getting the call to say he was joining F1 has been the best moment in his career.
- Favourite food is Japanese, which is a blessing as McLaren keep making heavy cars. But he can make a ‘mean’ spaghetti bolognese and chilli.
Bring on the bed…
Bringing four days of Formula One to a close, the trip to Manchester cemented my intentions to see a race next year (Silverstone or Spa?). No more than a couple of yards in front of me a McLaren streaked past in unmistakable chrome and rocket red, and I can finally say I’ve seen a Formula One car driven live. It may not have been driven in anger, or with 23 other cars in pursuit for a podium, but it stopped my heart and took my breath away. Made me smile in the rain and caught me cheering for McLaren (alright, just a little bit).
Awesome, exhilarating, epic. And isn’t that exactly what Formula One is?