A1GP threw open the doors of its Silverstone test to all comers earlier this week and there was plenty on offer for the dedicated fans who made the week-day trip to Northamptonshire.
Many teams unveiled new liveries, most tried out new drivers or showcased established names, and all were keen to demonstrate competitiveness in the run-in to the new season.
But perhaps the best bit – at least as far as the Brits on Pole team were concerned – was the chance to potter around a great swathe of the Silverstone circuit without having to worry about crowds, queues, prices or any of the other perils of a busy race day.
The test was conducted on the 2.249 mile national track – a fair proportion of the full grand prix track – and most of the stretch from Bridge to Copse corners was easily accessible to fans (and their cameras, from semi-professional long-lensed jobs to Brits on Pole’s low-res quickie).
Spectators gathered in small huddles at all the interesting corners, and also in the seats opposite the pit straight, where we could attempt to peer over into the gloomy depths of the garages and eat doughnuts while making ill-informed judgments about the stress levels of the mechanics.
It was interesting to note that teams GBR and Portugal, which had earlier announced a technical partnership where the Brits would lend support to the Portuguese, had bagged a couple of garages next door to each other and away from anyone else. Alarmingly, the first fruit of the alliance appeared to be that both nations were flying their flags upside-down on the pitwall.
With all the elbow room in the world, there was time to assess who seemed to be pushing hardest, even though the ear-splitting roar of the engines and explosive braking sounds drowned out the commentary that would have confirmed it.
It was our impression that Neel Jani, for Switzerland, was consistently the most aggressive in attacking the kerbs while GB’s Oliver Jarvis came out of Bridge and up towards Priory as if he’d been fired from a cannon: the contrast with rookie Oliver Turvey earlier in the day was quite marked.
In contrast Germany, which actually set the fastest time, did not particularly seem to stand out from the pack – although everyone seemed faster than Indonesia and Mexico, which pootled round merrily as if just happy to be there.
Late in the day part of the paddock opened to the public, but this struck us as a rather underwhelming part of the day: some half-hearted attempts at glamour and a tyre-change challenge that (perhaps inevitably) did not involve a real car were all that differentiated the scene from the service area behind a particularly dull parade of shops.
All the teams had the interesting areas of their garages shielded off and were (understandably) so focused on what was happening on the circuit and in the pitlane that they barely spared a glance back into the paddock. Team GBR scored goodwill points for setting up a fake pitwall with headphones and data screens (and a couple of dollybirds to help kids into the high seats), while we can also report that Italian driver Edoardo Piscopo looks about 12 years old and has hair so perfect he makes his bouffant countryman Jarno Trulli look like Worzel Gummidge.
All in all, an interesting and – at times – exciting day that is unlikely to have made A1GP any new fans (if only for being inaccessibly midweekish) but will have helped cement existing fans’ loyalties by giving them an experience the bigger, brasher, more highly-packaged F1 is unlikely to offer in such a laid-back, non-commercial manner any time soon.
Here’s some video we shot:
And here are our photos of the day: