Thursday, August 29, 2013

Formula Fun

Last weekend was our much-awaited pilgrimage to one of the temples of Formula One, the Spa Francorchamps circuit and, more specifically, the famous Eau Rouge corner.

A rather moody shot of a GP2 car going up Eau Rouge
"Pilgrimage" is an appropriate word, because it's a bit of a mission to get there and back. The journey started midday Thursday, when I managed to haul my hungover self (one quiet drink at the guinguette having turned into out-all-night with the girls) out of the house in time for my train/metro/train trip to Brussels, where I was reunited with my parents for the first time in a year and my sister.

We had time to settle into our lovely, central apartment and head out for a delicious dinner somewhere that the owner informed us was off the tourist trail. I was pleasantly surprised by the scrummy fish soup I had as an entree (Mum and I both headed into that one without high hopes, just picking the thing that seemed least bad on the fixed menu, but were agreeably surprised). I also made a total dick of myself and lost all pretensions I might have had about knowing anything about wine. We ordered a Sancerre rosé, the waiter duly brought it, presented it to us - I thought it strange that it was in a green bottle, but didn't actually click and I couldn't read the label. He poured it for me, the supposed Loire Valley expert. I held it up to the light, thinking it looked VERY pale, but my sister chipped in to say it was definitely pink. I smelled it, very floral and tasted it, likewise, but nodded approval since as we know, the point of tasting is to check it's not corked, not whether we like it or not... And perhaps also to check that it's actually a rosé. Because yeah, it was a white. Quelle embarassement! When he moved on to pour my sister's glass, she who had reassured me that it was pink piped up to ask the waiter if it was really a rosé. Nope! He fairly graciously brought us the correct wine (which was unmistakeably pink), but I think my face was quite red. I'm taking comfort in those wine studies that show that even experts can't tell the difference between a red and a white if they're dyed the same colour... d'oh!

Anyhow, after dinner it was time for bed, since I was understandably pretty tired and I needed to set the alarm for 5.45 am the next morning in order to get up and at 'em to cover the c. 150 km between Brussels and the Spa circuit. Mum and Jess stayed behind in Brussels, while Dad and I took a train to Verviers, followed by a bus to the circuit. Things were somewhat disorganised across the whole weekend, but I'm giving us props for our logistical skills. After the first day, when we had a nightmare hot, crowded bus ride back to Verviers despite crowd numbers for Friday practice being much lower than for Saturday and Sunday, we planned our movements with all the cunning of a whole bag full of weasels. From strategically sitting at the front of the train to Verviers in order to dash out first to the bus line (leading to us both being comfortably seated for the ride to the track on Saturday and Sunday) to investigating where the bus came from before it got to the main entrance for the trip home (again, meaning we got a seat for the Saturday trip), we executed our trips with panache. This didn't mean that we had late starts on Saturday and Sunday though - even with the race starting at 2 pm on Sunday and despite us staying Friday and Saturday night much closer to the track near Liège, we were up at 6.30 to make sure that the day went off without a hitch.

Here follows the boring F1 bit...

The first day (Friday), we arrived at the circuit conveniently right next to the pit-lane exit as free practice 1 began, and were able to hear the cars firing up and glimpse them heading out on to track. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's nothing quite like the noise and speed of an F1 car in the "flesh" - orders of magnitude greater than they seem on TV. We headed into the stands, where the rain poncho I'd borrowed for the weekend came in handy for the first session, while it turned pretty hot and sunny for the afternoon session.

Probably the highlight of the weekend was Saturday's qualifying session. Light rain showers were passing throughout the qualifying, which is always a magic formula for exciting racing. While it looked like Paul di Resta (one of my least favourite drivers) was going to take a surprise pole, the track dried up in the closing stages of qualifying and lovely Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to start his pole lap with 2 seconds to spare. Trackside, however, it's a bit hard to follow the action, and I didn't actually know he was still out on track, because the big screen was only showing Webber and Vettel's times, who were slightly on front of him on track (in that order). So it was a pretty magic moment when first Webber crossed the line to take pole position, drawing a small cheer from the crowd around us, then Vettel took pole off him a few seconds later (cue a much smaller cheer), and then, unexpectedly, Hamilton popped over the line out of nowhere, the final car to complete the lap and take pole position. Cue massive cheer from at least 80% of the crowd! While I didn't see a lot of Mercedes merch (and it seems very much the done thing to kit yourself out with as much merchandise as possible when attending a GP), it was very obvious who the crowd was getting behind, at least in a three-way Webber/Vettel/Hamilton battle.

Unfortunately, the race didn't quite go the same way. Vettel got ahead on the first lap, just after passing us at Eau Rouge, and he built a lead very quickly and just dominated from the front, as (if I'm being bitter) is the only way he knows how to win. It was a bit depressing seeing him flash by lap after lap, with the gap growing ever wider to the following car. Plus some guy behind me felt the need to clap every time Vettel went by, getting on my nerves hugely. To add insult to injury, Alonso got past Hamilton before too long as well, and from there on in the lead group of drivers didn't really change. I was sitting there hoping for rain or a safety car, but unusually for Spa, neither turned up during the race. That said, we got to see a couple of overtakes down the bottom of the hill, particularly Sutil overtaking (I think) Gutierrez, and it's still a great experience seeing the cars (and hearing those engines for the last time, since they're changing next year), checking out the famous circuit and witnessing the ambience and camaraderie in between the fans. It would have been great to see Hamilton win, of course, but we still got to see him put it on pole at least.

Moi with Eau Rouge in the background

In the stands on Friday

All my photos were pretty terrible, so I put my camera down during the race and just watched it. Here's a Toro Rosso climbing Eau Rouge - it does at least show the gradient a bit

I had to find a much better photo online to confirm this was Mark Webber in the drivers' parade

On the third attempt, I managed to get a shot of this shop advising you to "drink drive in Tiège"

Our trip back to Brussels went pretty smoothly and we arrived in time for a yummy dinner cooked by Jess and the chance to demolish a few of the bottles of wine I'd brought over from France. After Mum and Dad went to bed, Jess and I "snuck" out to see a little of what Brussels nightlife had to offer on a Sunday. We ended up in a small bar which was playing (mostly) classic 80s and 90s tunes and videos, condensed to about 90 seconds each, so we had great fun doing our own little karaoke session. It did ensure I bookended both sides of our Belgium trip with a bit of a hangover though...

On our last day, we mostly just wandered around a bit to see the Grand Place and stock up on Belgian chocolate, eat fries and waffles, etc. We did make a detour to the Librarium museum which I'd tried to see on my last trip to Brussels. I would have liked it if there had been a few more really old and precious books, illluminated manuscripts, etc., but there was still some interesting stuff.

All in all, a nice long weekend en famille, and I'm counting down the last day and a half of work before it's off to England and Italy for more family fun!

Me, Dad and Jess in the Grand Place, Brussels. Both my parents are terrible photographers, hence you can't actually see anything of the background. For some reason Mum thought it more important to include our shoes in the photo.

Me, mum and Jess. In this version, you can't even really see us either!

This was my go...


  1. The photo I took is the best one! M x

  2. What lovely summer memories with your family!

    The guy clapping behind me would have ticked me off as well. : )

    So I'm reading this with a major post-birthday hangover. I always feel irresponsible when I'm hungover but now reading your post, I feel better. It happens to the best of us. :) Oh and I love how one of the labels for this post is "drinking". Je t'adore.

    1. Seriously, I know he was winning, but every time for like 50 laps?!?

      I exist to make everyone feel better about their drinking chérie.

  3. Now I finally know what Bossi looks like!!

    1. Yes! Stay tuned for some close-ups from my Italy trip!

    2. Please note: I take a bad photo, hahahah! Bossi xx


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