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The varied hazards of spectating at Silverstone

Maurice Hamilton July 4, 2012
Jim Clark showing off his skills during his last British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1967 © Sutton Images
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What is it they say? If Wimbledon is Strawberries and Cream, then Silverstone is Bacon and Eggs.

That is an abiding memory following my first visit with my mates in 1967. Not that we had anything so sophisticated as a stove and a frying pan. Our only possession each morning seemed to be a huge hangover, made marginally worse by the smell of Full English in sizzling progress as we emerged from a tacky tent and made our way through the campsite opposite the main gates.

Our means of departure was usually more subdued than our method of entry late the previous night. Operating on the basis that we would somehow get by with nothing but a tent, sleeping bag and plenty of enthusiasm, the usual plan of attack each evening was to repair to the Saracen's Head in Towcester and decide what to do next - once we'd ordered a drink. Or two.

Funny, but the four of us found we could spend a whole evening deciding on not very much at all, other than agreeing that Jim Clark was the best driver on the planet, Jackie Stewart deserved a medal for hefting that H-16 BRM through Copse with power slides to kill the understeer, and Jochen Rindt was an absolute hero for using opposite lock at the merest hint of a corner while wrestling with the cumbersome Cooper-Maserati.

Before continuing, I should remind you that, in 1967, the drink-driving laws were more relaxed than they are now and what follows should not be tried at home - or anywhere else. Saying that, our designated driver for the evening would have kept himself under reasonable control as the non-decision making process saw us move through quite a few rounds to accompany the steak dinner. It was just as well he was in control, given the circumstances prevailing when we returned to the camp site.

Having originally parked our VW Beetle alongside the tent, we foolishly thought the space would have been reserved on a common-sense basis. Fortunately at the last second our driver spotted two occupied sleeping bags filling our parking space. That potentially serious incident avoided, we then embarked on another that threatened Anglo-Irish relationships in this rural corner of Northamptonshire.

The Beetle had an air horn; a fashionable accessory that didn't necessarily make the car go any faster but scared the living daylights out of cyclists and innocent pedestrians. The front seat occupants evacuated the car okay but, unfortunately, one of the back-seat passengers lost his balance - must have been the seat belt and nothing to do with the evening refreshment - while trying to clamber across the folded-down front seat and exit through the right-hand door.

Falling forwards and sticking out his left-hand in a bid to steady himself, our man hit the chrome ring that activated the air horn. And once slumped in that position, he couldn't get himself off, the strident alpine sound barely drowning out either his volley of Irish curses or the hysterical laughter that had overtaken his fellow passengers.

Flash lights were suddenly beaming from all directions and tent flaps torn open as campers voiced their complaints about this unseemly Celtic racket. By now, of course, the former occupants of our parking space had fled the scene, fearing for their well-being.

Eyes down: Jochen Rindt focuses on the job at hand in his V12 Cooper-Maserati, unaware of his Irish fanbase © Sutton Images
The tent was not a pretty place to be at daylight. Bathroom facilities amounted to a rattling and wheezing cold water tap attached to the side of an abandoned cow shed which, some say, was to form the foundation of the factory Eddie Jordan was to build on this very site just over two decades later.

It cost £2 to get through the entrance gate - and this included a seat in the Woodcote grandstand. This, you might have gathered, was '1967 BE' (Before Ecclestone). For another £1.50 (also brilliant value) we could get into the paddock, where breakfast was secured in the cafe and, with a bit of luck, you might actually see a F1 driver tucking into his bacon and eggs.

On race morning, while following this now familiar path, we could have sworn we heard a Maserati V12 engine on the Club Straight (which acted as the support race paddock). It wasn't an illusion created by too much drink the night before. There, to our amazement, we found Rindt blasting his Cooper-Maser up and down the straight in an attempt to check if a misfire had been sorted. When he came to a halt for a chat with Roy Salvadori, it was a cosy little gathering with our Austrian hero, the Cooper team manager and one or two fans.

None of us had the bottle to engage him in conversation - which was fortunate for Jochen because a) he wouldn't have understood a word of our Ulster accents and b) he would have been overcome by Guinness and curry fumes. But it was a close call. That's the trouble with F1 drivers these days; they don't realise how lucky they are to avoid potentially nasty international incidents such as this.