Malaysia F1 Grand Prix, Sunday 1st October 2017, 3pm

I’ve a mild interest in F1. Mild in comparison to, say, football, cricket or rugby. I know the main drivers and I could probably tell you which of them was leading the championship at any given time. I also quite like the ebb and flow of the driver’s championship over the course of a season.

My mild interest means that I’ll watch it on the telly if I’m in the house, or at least I’ll watch the pit lane interviews in the ten minutes or so before the start and then the first three or four laps. After that it will usually stay on, but I’ll be researching scantly-clad ladies on my ipad or reading the paper rather than watching the tv screen. Every now and then the commentator will raise his voice and I’ll glance up to see what he’s got excited about. It’s a stark contrast to, say, cycling where despite a similar level of ignorance as to the identity of the majority of the participants or the nuances of the sport, I can happily watch an entire stage just to see the countryside and confirm to myself that I’d be content to live in any of the villages along the route.

I went to Silverstone with my son in 2009. We had a great weekend, camping, drinking and eating roast pig, but I felt attending the race itself was a bit dull. We had starting grid tickets that if I remember rightly cost more than two hundred and fifty quid a pop. However,  without the benefit of the tv coverage I had very little idea what was going on once the cars spread out and the front-runners caught up to the back markers. What’s more, the cars made such a racket that if you wanted to communicate with your companions then you were limited to hand gestures. I only know a couple of hand gestures and I tend to reserve them for when I spot someone like Boris Johnson. I concluded that, just like American football with its frequent breaks for studio analysis that you don’t get to see at the stadium, F1 is a sport that is better watched on the telly rather than live.

Jen and I were in Malaysia last year at the time of the Grand Prix and I didn’t bother going, despite us living no more than twenty odd miles from the Sepang circuit. I’d learned my lesson from 2009, you see.

So, what changed? Well, we were supposed to have been three hours away at a football game, but a few days beforehand someone brought it forward forty-eight hours. Bastards. And we think Sky are bad. Matches over here seemed to just disappear or be brought forward at a whim.

It was also billed as the final Malaysian Grand Prix. Final I imagine until such time as a local promoter gambles that he can make the event pay. It’s fine not bothering with something when you know you can probably go next year. However, if it may be your last chance, that’s slightly different I suppose.

I think my ‘collectors’ mentality played a part too. What happens if in a few years time I start ‘collecting’ F1 Circuits? I’d no doubt regret not having bothered with Sepang whilst it was available and far easier to attend than most.

So, on the Friday afternoon I checked for tickets. There were plenty available and so I selected two in the C2 Covered Hillside Stand for fifteen quid each. That covered the Saturday and Sunday with admission to the Friday session being free to everyone. Silverstone could learn something from those prices, hog roast or not. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a grassy bank with a roof covering just the back ten yards or so, but as it described itself as having panoramic views of seventy percent of the circuit I doubt I’d have paid the higher prices for the stands that came with actual seats.

My other concern had been the traffic and with that in mind, we rocked up at noon, three hours before the main event. We’d approached from the quiet side of the circuit but still ended up having to enter in the same gate as the people coming from KL. With a mile or two to go to the entrance it was so quiet that I wondered if the same fella who moves my football matches  had stuck his neb into this event as well.

It got a little busier once we were inside and it took a while to find a car park with spaces where it wasn’t necessary to pre-book. As luck would have it the first available area was no more than a hundred yards walk from our entrance gate. There was minimal security and my careful hiding of prohibited food and drink turned out to be unnecessary.

We’d taken cushions and found a spot on the grass in the shade at the top of the hill. Whilst parking would have been difficult if someone had turned up later, there was always plenty of room for sitting under cover. That was just as well really as we got a torrential downpour a couple of hours before the race and just as a supporting event involving, I think, Porsches racing other Porsches took place. One fella in that race was so far off the pace that I half wondered if he’d turned up for one of those track days and they’d indulgently let him join in.

The main race was preceded by a procession of the drivers in old cars. That was more interesting than the Porsches. Possibly more interesting than the main race too. Certainly more varied.

So, how does Sepang compare to Silverstone? For a start, there wasn’t a hog roast, just a hundred yard long queue for burgers. The viewing experience was better though in that we had a big screen ahead of us that regularly updated the positions and we could see a lot more of the track than was possible my starting grid position at Silverstone.

The main difference was the noise. We had brought ear plugs. In fact, in a rare moment of sensibleness I’d actually turned the car around to get them after forgetting them. However, with the exception of a cameraman up in a gantry who had great big jobbies on, we must have been the only people wearing them. F1 cars are evidently part milk float these days as it was perfectly possible to have a conversation during the race. I kept the ear plugs in though as I quite like shutting a lot of the world out. I might start wearing them for meetings at work.

It wasn’t much of a race, more of a procession really. As I said though, I don’t mind that. I take the view that it’s a season long event and this was just a small part of it. A bit like when a spinner ties an end up for a while in cricket.

For no good reason I’d backed Ricciardo each way  and so my interest was in gauging the distance, as he passed us, that he was behind second-placed Hamilton each lap. Initially there were about four or five seconds between me being in the money, which increased to about eight or nine seconds after his pit stop. Although I am aware that my “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” counting probably doesn’t meet F1 timekeeping standards.

Ricciardo spent most of the race in third place and finished up that way, behind Hamilton and easy winner Max Verstappen. Apparently Verstappen celebrated his twentieth birthday the previous day. I wonder how much his regular car insurance costs and if there is even an option to select racing driver as occupation?

We stayed until the end and left as Vettel did his getting back to the pits lap sat on someone elses car stunt. Leaving was a doddle and within ten minutes we were outside of the circuit and less than an hour after the chequered flag we were back in the house. That’s a whole lot less fuss than Silverstone.

It was a better day than I’d anticipated. I still think it’s a sport that is best watched on the telly as you see much more that way, in contrast to say, football, where you can’t see the play unfolding properly on the box.

Nevertheless, I doubled my collection of F1 circuits.

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