SILVERSTONE 18.08.1999

My first visit to a F1-test!

Click on any of the underlined words (links) to see the corresponding photos...

I planned my holidays for the year 1999 quite soon, so I already knew in the beginning of the year, that I will visit the Silverstone GP in July and that I will go to the United States from 1st August to 15th August 1999... But shortly after my return home from the British GP in July, I got a letter from Sauber Supporters Club (I'm a member of this club). They wrote, that the members could go to the F1-Tests in Silverstone on 18th August 1999 and visit the pits and paddocks... I was not really sure what exactly I could expect of this as I knew, that it's nearly impossible to come into F1-pits normally and you have to pay thousands of Dollars if you want to go into the paddocks during a F1 race-weekend. But for me it was clear that I want to go there, as it was just one day of holidays I would have to take for this special day...

So, after asking my chief at work if it's possible, I wrote an e-mail to Lucky7, the official travelling agency of Red Bull Sauber Petronas, who organised this trip. I wrote that it was urgent as I would go to the United States in the beginning of August and just return right 2 days before the trip to Silverstone... I received the invoice the day before I left to America and I expected to have the tickets and additional information by the time I returned. But I was quite surprised that there was just a small letter from Lucky7 in my pile of letters from penpals. So I read, that the flight tickets will be given at the airport. All I had to do was to stand under the big information screen in terminal B in Zurich airport at 6.45 a.m. on 18th August 1999... When I was reading this I was just hoping that everything would work o.k., as I had similar things during my trip to Australian GP in 1993 and there we had quite big problems getting the tickets... Well, this time it was in Switzerland, so I was confident it would work very well, as I know the airport of Zurich a little bit in the meantime. I was just asking myself if there was only ONE big screen in terminal B, I was quite sure, that there were more, and I was not sure what would be considered as "big"... Well, so I had to get up early that day to be at the airport at the right time. At 6.15 a.m. I was in terminal B and found two big screens and was not sure if those would be the right ones but guessed so... I just didn't know, which one would be the right one, but as they were just next to the other, it was no problem... So, I still had half an hour and so I thought I could sit down close to the screens. I wore my Williams driver replica jacket just that other people travelling to the F1-tests would see me. It worked very well so far, as somebody with a Sauber t-shirt came right to me some seconds later...

We started to talk and I said to him that I was surprised he had such a big sport bag with him, as I just had a small backbag with me (remember we just went there for one day and were supposed to return in the evening). He said, that he has a helmet in there he wants to get signed. I asked: "Of which driver?". And, believe it or not, he said: "an old one of Alain Prost!"... I nearly fell from my chair! I was like: "Prost?!? Alain!?! An original one??? Wow!!! Really!?! Can I see?!?"... Of course he showed it to me. He said, that he bought it many years ago (it was Alain's original helmet of 1985) at an auction for some 5'500 Swiss Francs!! So very cheap!! I paid more than twice as much for mine, so... I was a little bit jealous of course... But very happy to see an old original Prost helmet!! I made some offers, but he didn't want to sell it... That's somehow good to know, it seems that the helmet has found a good home and it's the third original Prost-helmet of which I know that it is in Switzerland (except the ones Alain himself has here in Switzerland too, of course)... I told him I was a Prost-fan and we agreed, that we would just say hello to Peter Sauber and than run to Alain Prost, ha, ha!

Well, first we had to get the tickets and as we saw some people in Sauber t-shirts and jackets under the big screens, we went over to join them. There we met the people from Lucky7 and got our tickets. Well, I had some problems, as there were no tickets for me. I already thought: "Oh, no, what's happening to me again?", when we found out, that the name on my tickets and everything was "O. Schulz"... Fortunately, this didn't give me any problems at passport control or whatever, I was a little bit scared of that, but everything went OK... By the way: we were 31 people, which was more than I expected on a Wednesday (and the price was 890 Swiss Francs, not really that cheap for one day)... After checking in for the flight, we waited for boarding...

The flight to London-Heathrow went well. The weather was quite the same in England as it was in Switzerland that day, which means it was very cloudy, sometimes raining slightly, but never really hard and sometimes even a little bit of sun coming through the clouds... After we arrived in London we had to wait for the bus for quite a long time. Which was bad of course, as I knew from my trip to the race in July that it would take at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the race track. When the bus finally arrived, we hopped in and couldn't wait to go to Silverstone. The bus driver was called Peter, I was quite sure he drove us to the race once during the race-weekend back in July... Then everybody received a Sauber-t-shirt, a Lucky7-t-shirt and a Lucky7-cap. Then they wanted to show us some videotapes in the bus during the drive to Silverstone, but it didn't work. So the bus driver stopped on the shoulder of the highway to solve the problem with the VCR... I was like: "Hey come on!! We're here to see the testings and not to watch tapes!! I want to go to Silverstone! I got a little bit angry and nervous about that as I knew I would like every minute in Silverstone and didn't want to lose a second because of this stupid VCR!! Of course, I was not the only one thinking like that. After 15 minutes or so he continued driving, without having the problem solved and I was silently going on about this: "Well done! Now we have lost 15 minutes because of this stupid thing and it doesn't work anyway!!" I just saw the worthful time going by very quickly without seeing F1!

However, we didn't need much more than 1 hour 15 minutes, it worked quite well and the bus was driving right into the paddock area of the Silverstone racetrack! Which was crazy for me as during the race weekend some weeks before we were not even able to walk to this place and now we drove in there! That was great. So, we met a woman of the Sauber-crew who told us that we would have to split up, as only half of the people are allowed in the Sauber-pits at the same time (as there wasn't enough place for 31 people) and she told us some rules we have to follow in the pits. So, I decided to search Alain Prost to take some hundred pictures, but when I asked somebody of team Prost, I learned that Alain wouldn't be there for the whole day! These were sad news but I decided to make the best out of it anyway. First, I wanted to take some pictures of the original Prost helmet. Perhaps I can one day use them for my homepage, who knows? After I made the pictures, we were walking around a little bit and some seconds later I saw Pedro Diniz who was eating a Banana. I asked him, if he would pose for a photo, but he said: "You wear the wrong jacket!" (for next time, I will buy a Sauber replica jacket or wear something neutral, I think!) Anyway, he posed for some photos with the Banana he ate, like Johnny Herbert did some seconds later. The same morning I also saw Olivier Panis and Alessandro Zanardi, but I missed drivers like Villeneuve, Häkkinen, Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher and some others... When I tried to go into the Prost-pits, the Williams-pits and the Stewart-pits, they told me I'm not allowed in there... I hoped I could stay in the Prost-pits (as I'm a member of Prost Le Club), but unfortunately I had to leave it after a few seconds. Before we met again to go eating lunch at 13:15, we walked for 15 minutes through the pitstraight, where I could make some more pictures of some pits... Then we drove to a restaurant near the racetrack. To make it short: The knifes, forks and spoons were very dirty, I never got my ordered drink, they served so slowly that we decided to not eat the dessert, and... well, it was just the way English restaurants are told to be... At least I can say, I never was in such a bad restaurant in England or anywhere else before...

We went back to the race track and saw Alexander Wurz giving an interview. I made some photos there. Then I saw Olivier Panis again before I went into the Sauber-pits where Pedro Diniz was sitting in his car. Alesi didn't drive, as he wasn't motivated to do so... (Officially there have been other reasons, but I know that this was the real main reason). Next to us was the pit of Arrows, so I also could make some pictures of Toranosuke Takagi... Pedro Diniz made some nice wheel-spinning starts right in front of me and I have to say, that the speed looks a lot different when you are so very close to the cars... I was also able to take some pictures of some cars driving through the pitstraight, for example: Jacques Villeneuve on BAR, Olivier Panis in his Prost or Nick Heidfeld on McLaren-Mercedes (He had an accident just some minutes after I took that picture, changed to the Prost-team to continue with the tests and signed a contract with Team Prost later).

I had the impression, that we returned to London-Heathrow quite late, as I thought there would be some traffic-jams in London at 18:00 (it was a wednesday) because of rush hour... My impression wasn't wrong... We were missing the flight... Just by some minutes, but British Airways didn't want to wait just because of 31 people!!! The rest of the day was a little bit crazy, some people could go home, for the rest (about 17 people including me), they found hotel-rooms in a first-class hotel, while we were drinking something in an airport restaurant. I made five pictures of the people who were waiting there with me:
- No. 1
- No. 2
- No. 3
- No. 4
- No. 5
Of course, most of us were not really happy about all this, but for me it was quite okay... The only really bad thing for me was, that I would have to get up at 5:15 in the morning! During my holidays! I didn't sleep a lot that night. The next day started with some more waiting, but we arrived savely back home where the weather was still quite the same. There we said good-bye. I promised to some people, that they could read the story and find some pictures on my website, and here you are...

To Prost Racenews-page! (links to other stories)

To Alain Prost Infopage!

To! © by Oskar Schuler, Switzerland