Growing up around motorsport paddocks, you get used to caravans and motorhomes, so I’ve got lots of fond memories of them.
There was the time, for example, when it rained heavily before one of the practice sessions at the 1985 British GP weekend.
The then-Tyrrell-driver and now-Sky-commentator Martin Brundle vaulted a six-foot fence, ran into my godfather Bernard Cottrell’s ’van to gain shelter, and grabbed a bacon sandwich to boot. As a young fan, I sat there stunned by this turn of events.
I’ve even slept in a converted London bus one sunny Silverstone weekend, as the British motorsport public came to terms with Nigel Mansell’s first retirement from the sport.
Passing the feeling on
You might not be surprised to hear, then, that as a parent, I’ve been hoping to give my children a memorable experience staying in a ’van during the British Grand Prix.
So when the stars aligned and one became available this year, I jumped at the chance.
I was lucky enough to borrow Practical Motorhome’s long-term Marquis Majestic 196 and set sail on grand prix Thursday, with my family – my wife Alison, and two children Finlay and Evelyn – joining me the minute school was finished on the Friday.
We stayed at the F1 Racing Fan Village on Whittlebury Park’s temporarily converted golf course.
This meant we had a very useful electric hook-up, but no water. Given the layout of the site, it meant I had to ensure the 100-litre tank was both brimming on Thursday night, and then frugally accessed throughout the weekend because refilling it wasn’t possible.
Not easy, when my children think flushing a motorhome loo is both novel and fascinating.
This also ruled out showers, which is just as well, because the only fault with this particular motorhome proved to be a recalcitrant water heater that has since been repaired.
But the ’van was a resounding success.
It was the perfect solution to missing out on traffic, soaking up the electric atmosphere and living through that ‘grand prix weekend’ experience, while luxuriating in the knowledge that the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits.
It also meant that the kids could burn off the excitement of the day chasing each other around the site in the evenings. Bonus!
I felt that ‘our’ Marquis was perfect as a stop-over for one person, and for two adults it was easily manageable. But with four it became cramped, probably because the layout and the gangway width meant it could only really manage one-way traffic.
This was our second motorhome experience as a family, and, like the first time, we had a powered drop-down bed. Unlike last time though, this was the biggest bed in the ’van and the only one with anything close to a flat sleeping surface so, of course, the kids had that!
Safe and sound
However, the layout did allow for the lounge area underneath it to stay in use, which also meant that the kitchen remained functional as others slept. Well considered, we thought.
On the other hand, if your propensity for an excretion of any kind is best served from the seated position, we concluded that you either had to be three feet tall or related to Spiderman. The toilet was close to impossible to sit on, without supporting yourself against a wall. Less well thought out, perhaps.
Oddly, I love the cocooned and secure sense you get when you close off the rear quarter cabin to the world. That snug feeling you get when the wind is howling outside and you’re safe and dry.
Mansell used to say racing in front of his home crowd gave him a second-a-lap advantage. I think sleeping among the fans in a ’van gives you half-an-hour extra of slow wave sleep!
The full F1 fan experience
Looking out the windows in the morning and seeing the fans stream into the track helped galvanise us into action, and gave the kids that sense of belonging you only get at a great British sporting event. Within a morning they were hooked.
And for me, this social motorcaravanning experiment was a success. The first time had been a novelty, but this trip proved to me that I am suited to this pursuit and I’d like to investigate it further. Even if Alison remains stoically committed to sun, sand and Greek islands.
The Marquis Majestic 196 felt luxurious and well built. Nothing came away in my hand that shouldn’t have, and while it did rattle rather a lot when in motion, when stationary it felt sturdy and robust.
It wasn’t without its idiosyncrasies. The habitation door wouldn’t open without a Fonzie-style hand trick – and I was the only one that mastered that.
And because the handbrake is positioned to the right of the driver’s seat, around the same place as your bottom as you clamber out of the cab, this might explain why the handbrake sensor was confused about its role in life.
All in all, though, the trip proved a smash hit with the family.
The problem is, I may have set myself up for a fall when expectations start to rise in July next year. In the meantime, Lewis Hamilton has two more fans.
Saving water isn't easy when the children think flushing a motorhome loo is both novel and fascinating