Alastair ClementsSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Alastair Clements
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Have you ever watched the Formula 1 footage on the BBC or Sky of grand prix drivers heading back to their palatial ‘Recreational Vee-hicles’ after an early retirement from the race? And have you ever fancied that kind of lifestyle? Well, as a lifelong F1 fan, not to mention a passionate motorcaravanner, I have always longed to play the part of a Hamilton or Button and, while I might not ever have the chance to get onto the track (or, let’s face it, fit into an F1 car), I can at least now say that I have stayed in a motorhome for a grand prix weekend!
Last Friday I was lucky enough to be rolling into Whittlebury Park golf course, which every year is turned into the F1 Racing Fan Village, a vast campsite for the readers of F1 Racing and Autosport magazines. Like the racers, colleague Tim Bulley and I wanted to stay in the lap of luxury and Marquis Motorhomes generously obliged by lending us a new Bessacarr 494, a high-spec version of the Swift Esprit 494 we tested late last year, in return for tagging along for the weekend.
Ours certainly wasn’t the only posh motorhome on show: the site was packed with colossal Yankee RVs (most of them rentals, admittedly) along with some top-spec UK 'vans such as our neighbour’s rather swanky new IH 630RL.
Once we were pitched alongside the lads from Marquis, who had brought a gaggle of the firm’s dealer-special Swift Lifestyles, Tim and I got settled into our home for the weekend. I took the make-up double in the lounge area, leaving Tim to the plush transverse island bed in the rear (well, he is my boss) and, once unpacked, we went to explore our surroundings.
Not only does the Whittlebury team do a super job of turning the golf club's land into a pretty convincing impression of a touring park, with discreet generators providing plenty of hook-up points and lots of Portaloos to supplement the clubhouse washrooms, but the campsite is also sponsored by Yas Marina. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix organisers lay on free coffees and pastries in the morning, plus free ice-creams in the heat of the afternoon, as well as creating an R&R area complete with massage, henna tattoos and games for the kids!
After the long drive up, we headed straight for the on-site bar for a beer and the F1 Racing quiz night, hosted by Sky Sports broadcaster David Croft. ‘Crofty’ soon exposed our lack of grand prix knowledge, so we adjourned to the big screen outside – an ideal place to watch the GP practice – to catch up on Andy Murray’s progress at Wimbledon before turning in for the night.
Sharing a motorhome with your boss might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it turned out to have its advantages as I was awoken on Saturday morning by the sound of sizzling sausages and the smell of a full English breakfast being cooked by chef Bulley – all of it prepared, rather impressively, in a single frying pan. Just the thing to build the strength you need for a day of marching around Silverstone.
The best thing about the Whittlebury site is not the facilities, nor even that it’s the very best place from which to watch the Red Arrows’ spectacular air display, but the fact that it’s just a seven-minute walk from the track at the exciting vantage point of Becketts corner. We were in buoyant mood as qualifying began because local hero Lewis Hamilton was back on track after a disappointing day on Friday, and looking good for the fight for pole position.
And so it proved, as even a last-gasp attack from Mercedes-Benz teammate Nico Rosberg couldn’t prevent Lewis from snatching the first spot on the grid. A fantastic day was topped off by a hilarious evening with ‘Rockaoke’ – the band that lets you be the lead singer. Or, to be more precise, the band that lets Tim be the lead singer for the majority of the evening...
For a petrolhead, there really is no substitute for being woken up by the sound of racing cars taking to the track so, after another Bulley breakfast, we were out early to get trackside on race day, taking our seats in the grandstand between Stowe and Vale to watch these modern-day warriors do battle. And we weren’t to be disappointed, as we settled in to enjoy a race that had everything: spins, overtakes, breakdowns, crashes – even a spot of rain to make things a bit more interesting. We were there to see Lewis flash into the pits for the defining moment of the race, as he switched to intermediate tyres in time to leave his rivals trailing in his rooster-tails, and cheered as he raised aloft the winner’s trophy.
As the rest of the 100,000-odd spectators began to overheat as much as their cars in the epic queue to leave the circuit, we returned to our 'van for a cup of tea. Sitting sipping a brew beside the Bessy, while countless helicopters flew overhead shuttling their moneyed VIPs off to the next corporate event – or perhaps back to the office for the next big deal – we concluded that this isn’t just a good way of seeing a grand prix, but for us the only way from now on.
I was surprised to discover that most drivers now stay in local hotels, and almost felt sorry for poor old Hamilton as he and his big bottle of champagne were chauffeured back to his room – so much so that I considered knocking on his window to offer him a cuppa. Next time, Lewis, why not try bringing your motorhome for a more authentic experience?