A day at Silverstone

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Race winner Roger Stanford moments before I pounced with my microphone
Race winner Roger Stanford moments before I pounced with my microphone

I spent today at Silverstone doing pit lane reports for the circuit commentary on the PA system.

After days of reading and writing reams about the rancorous division in Formula 1, going to a circuit and watching some action-packed, unpretentious racing was like coming up for air.

The action on offer was a world away from Formula 1: a British Automobile Race Club meeting with a mixture of touring cars, unusual front-engined ‘clubman’ sports cars, and even pickup trucks. Today’s bill packed in ten races in rapid succession.

It began in the kind of heavy rain we saw at last year’s Grand Prix. “The amount of spray those F1 cars kicked up was amazing,” a marshal told me. “You could only see a few metres through it.”

British springtime being what it is, the weather toyed with us all day. Having been there an hour I’d glumly resigned myself to getting soaked to the skin. By lunch time I was peeling off layers and soaking up the sun. But not for long…

Manning the microphone

In my pit lane reporter role I was basically Lee McKenzie/Louise Goodman for a day. Sticking a microphone under a driver’s nose and asking him how his race went may not strike you as the most challenging job in the world, but doing it all day made me appreciate it’s not as simple as the professionals make it look.

I thought I did a reasonable job, and would have done rather better had I been covering a championship I have some prior knowledge of. As it was I spent a lot of time memorising drivers’ names, numbers and past results.

After the Spanish Grand Prix I noticed McKenzie had gone up to Lewis Hamilton and pressed him for his reaction to being lapped by Jenson Button. She must have been hoping for a more effusive response than Hamilton’s curt “nothing” – this was exactly the sort of thing I was trying to avoid. Thankfully, the BARC racers talked a good show as well as providing one on the track.

Rain doesn’t stop play

Today’s Guardian claims Bernie Ecclestone is planning to buy Silverstone. I wasn’t able to get an official reaction to this, but it got me thinking. Ecclestone’s low opinion of the people who run Silverstone is well-known but he should take note of how the race organisers took care not to repeat one of his errors from earlier this year.

With two races left to run I noticed the event was ahead of schedule by around 20 minutes. Another marshal explained: “The weather radar says there’s a huge band of rain coming in about 45 minutes.”

The organisers did everything they could to get the final two races turned around as quickly as possible. As the final Track & Race Pre-93 Touring Care Championship round drew to a close thick clouds had rolled in, casting a gloomy pall across the track.

As I drove back from Silverstone, windscreen wipers at full pelt, tyres cutting tramline tracks through the deep water, I reflected that if Ecclestone could learn a thing or two from the BARC. They might not have the Paddock Club, KERS and nine-figure budgets, but unlike the Malaysian Grand Prix, at least they got their races finished on time.

We’re arranging a ‘meet and greet’ for F1 Fanatic reader at the British Grand Prix this year. If you’re coming to Silverstone and want to meet up read this post in the forum.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 22 comments on “A day at Silverstone”

    1. Bernie putting his hands into his pocket, wow! I wonder how Donnington feel about this and their F1 hopes.

      Incidentally, how did you get the Silverstone gig…?

      1. Ben, who writes for this site occasionally, was doing the circuit commentary.

    2. Sounds like you had a fun day.

      This Silverstone rumour is very similar to all the gossip that surrounded the French GP & Bernie`s use of Paul Ricard.
      Gut instinct tells me it`s unlikely but all things are possible, I suppose.
      I can`t see Bernie putting his own money into Silverstone when he knows the British Government are backward at coming forward with financial help for the place.

    3. Sorry Keith, but you’ll never fill Lee McKenzie’s shoes (or race suit).

    4. oh for some heavy rain here where i am living now. As a Brit now living in Phoenix Arizona i could do with some cooling rain. i am suffering with the 100 plus heat.
      I bet it was a fun day for you Keith. We’re all gonna be so jealous, i know i am. Maybe when i get properly settled in here i can get to some race meetings and do a report for F1fanatic to show the difference in american local racing compared to the english.

    5. Terry Fabulous
      18th May 2009, 1:14

      Keith without getting too personal, is this the sort of thing you want to build a career out of? If so, good luck, I hope you had a good day.

      The only ever advice I got about being on radio was from an ABC broadcaster David Morrow who said that when he was learning, he would record and listen painstakingly to every broadcast he did with a friend who knew radio and was completely tactless. It allowed him to firstly, improve his delivery, and secondly, develop a thick skin from the haters (Poor old James Allen and John Leggard, both hated for not being Murray Walker).

      Having said that if your interviews and commentary are anything like your blog (informative, topical, humorous and most importantly principled) then you will be fine!

      1. It’s a very difficult thing to build a career out of and, to be honest, I think my skills are better suited to writing. That said, I’ve only dabbled with it so far and I’m really keen to take advantage of any opportunity to do more in the future.

    6. keith, are you really serious about motorsport journalism? but there is cut-throat competition in this field, particularly in europe. do you know any other european languages? if not i suggest u to shift base to asia. asia for example dosen’t possess quality motorsport journalists. the country which i come from absolutely dosen’t pay any attention to motorsports, which is really a shame. countries such as mine provides really good opportunities if the sport is marketed well. i saw one of your interviews to skysports on youtube. but the anchor did not give you sufficient time to express your point of view, maybe he dosen’t understand the sport too well. in asia you’ll not have such competition, u’ll get more air time. most of the people who do commentary here in asia are ex-drivers like alex young,chindoouk or something like that. they are really appalling. your blog itself will serve as your CV. i dont think you’ll have any problems getting a job at star sports. we are in need of good motorsport journalists & commentators here in asia.


      1. Thankyou for the link to the video Mp4 – 19. I thought it was going to be his latest interview. I still enjoyed it.

        Keith you look even younger on the video than you do on your pic, Maybe because i’m an old git of 42 but who knows lol.

      2. thats maybe because his hair is not completely visible in that small photograph. maybe its time for a change of photo keith?

      3. Yeah I have got a better one I just need to get off my lazy backside and upload it!

    7. It’s a pity that sky news couldn’t release copies of Keith’s interviews so he could show them on the site. I would have thought it would have been normal practice in cases like this.

    8. Keith did a great job yesterday, as commentating at Silverstone is uniquely challenging as from the main commentary box you can see woodcote and thats it.

      Keith in the pits could see even less and didn’t have the benefits of headphones to hear what was going on, having to formulate his questions from the timing screens

      Circuit commentary is very challenging as most weekends there are up to 15 categories racing sometimes with as many as 30 cars in each race so trying to learn all those cars and drivers is really tough. My discipline is to commentate on qualifying so I learn all the cars and drivers than way so that when the race is on the recognition of who’s who is metronomic and I can devote a bit more time to setting the wallpaper of the event and describing the race.

      Television commentary on the other hand is a fine balance between describing what’s on screen (without being too literal) and adding to what everyone can see. When commentating on a single category then it is essential to recognise every car/driver instantly and know a bit about every one.

      1. why dont you people come over to asia. you’ll make a fortune here. as i mentioned in my previous post there aren’t a lot of decent commentators here in asia. only ex-drivers & an idiotic female who thinks she’s a princess. we need people who know their stuff. at the present i dont think u’ll be able to make a name for yourselves( keith & ben)in the U.K, as long as we have characters like james allen, eddie jordan, johnathan legard etc etc. asia is the best place. just ask about chris goodwin(bless him) to any of the star-sports viewer, he was to us what james hunt was to you people in the UK. success mantra to any budding motorsport journalist now is ” HERE WE COME ASIA ” pls we desperately are in need of one or two good people.

      2. I am in (desperate) agreement with MP4-19. :D

      3. Thanks Ben! The solution to not being able to see anything was running between the monitor in one garage where I could hear Ben and the pit gantry where I could see the cars go past. Plus the occasional sprint down the pits when a car came in (fortunately there were no races long enough for proper pit stops so there wasn’t too much of that!)

        I should say I’ve done two of these events with Ben now and he’s seriously impressive. I cannot begin to approach the depth of knowledge he has about British national racing and he does an excellent job (but then we go a way back so I knew that already!)

    9. Bigbadderboom
      18th May 2009, 10:38

      Good for you Keith!! I’m sure you and Ben done a brilliant job!!

    10. One thing that it’s easy to underestimate about working at racing circuits is their sheer scale. When you’re on foot everything is so far away. Getting from the paddock to scrutineering to the assembly area to the grid and finally the pitlane can be exhausting, especially if you have equipment to lug around.

      Being lucky enough to get a pit garage at Silverstone is the lap of luxury. Less so is Cadwell Park, where the cars assemble at the top of the very steep hill but the grid and pitlane (little more than an area for signalling) are at the bottom.

      The BARC has recently become very slick with its raceday operations. Even at the BARC’s home circuit of Thruxton, it used to be that races would start late, run late and get dangerously close to the track’s noise curfew. Not anymore though.

    11. Yes the BARC did a great job yesterday, we finished well ahead of schedule, which was just as well as the mother of all rainstorms came in five minutes after the final chequered flag

      Race meetings at Thruxton always have me looking nervously at the watch. Due to the extremely limited days of running most meetings are crammed into one day and with the church break racing can start well into the afternoon. However it is worth it because Thruxton is awesome to both drive on and spectate at.

    12. I would not want to sound offensive to you Keith, and i have not obviously heard you commentate or interview. But i wouldn’t want you to turn out to be another James Allen.

      You seem to be a really good journalist with years ahead of you and with time to become one of the most respected of your field.

      You certainly run the best Formula one/Motorsport blog sites i have seen.

      I think it is well understood that James Allen is disliked for his commentary but well respected as a journalist, especially if you read comments about him on your site.

      I wouldn’t want the same to happen to you Keith.

      1. Seeing the reaction of some people to Jonathan Legard – who I think does a perfectly decent job – I wonder if being an F1 TV commentators isn’t something of a poisoned chalice!

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