In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa

From the stands

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Start, Spa-Francorchamps, 2011

Two F1 Fanatic readers had very different experiences at the Belgian Grand Prix this year.

Gert Paumen lived it up in the exclusive Paddock Club after winning a competition posted by Jerome d’Ambrosio on Twitter.

Meanwhile Girts Strazds got to experience the vagaries of “Spa weather” out on the track.

In the Paddock Club with Gert

As a Belgian and a dedicated F1 Fanatic I try to go to the Belgian Grand Prix every year.

Traditionally I always go on Fridays and Saturdays. As an amateur photographer my favourite spot is at Rivage. It’s the perfect spot for some great pictures and you have a big screen to follow all the action.

I usually prefer to watch the race at home from the comfort of my couch. But this year it didn’t look like I was going as I was low on funds and had to work on Friday and Saturday.

That changed dramatically at short notice late on Thursday night when Jerome d’Ambrosio, our local hero, offered two pairs of Paddock Club tickets as a prize on Twitter.

I was the fastest to answer the question correctly and immediately afterwards I called to arrange a day off at work. Happily I was able to impress upon my boss this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was free to go.

I took a friend with me and, told to arrive at the La Source hotel at 10am, we turned up a good hour early, eager not to miss our opportunity.

Three bars and a massage lounge

We killed time in the hotel bar where we spotted Nick Heidfeld, Martin Brundle and David Coulthard. A pretty cool start to the day.

On arrival at the Paddock Club we were handed goodie bags, official race programmes and earplugs. The nice girls from Virgin then showed us the places where we could enjoy all the action. First they showed us where we could have lunch, and our private lounge with a bar, a champagne bar and – best of all – an ice cream bar! We were also offered free massages.

With free practice one beginning we found a spot with a great view of the start/finish straight.

It was a wet session so it took some time to see any action, but when they hit the track it was great fun for me as an amateur photographer as the spray gives a great extra. We switched views a few times and enjoyed the beginning of the day.

It may be called the Paddock Club, but you need a different pass to get down into the paddock and see the motorhomes and the drivers at close quarters. Aside from that, it was hard to fault the experience.

A dream day

The food was sublime: Fish, pasta, rice, steak – I must admit I tried a bit of everything while I had the chance.

It was an absolutely brilliant day and a dream come true for an F1 Fanatic like myself thanks to Jerome and Virgin.

Paddock Club tickets are very dear. The 2011 Paddock Club price list (PDF link) reveals a three-day ticket for this weekend’s race at Monza will set you back ??3,360 (2,940).

If you ever get the opportunity to go, don’t hesitate. Have a look at my pictures from the Paddock Club here.

In the Stands with Girts

Jerome D'Ambrosio, Virgin, Spa-Francorchamps, 2011

I sat in the Gold 6 area at the chicane and I think it was the perfect choice. From there you can see the pit entry, the last corner and the long straight leading to it is visible too.

The track is very close to the stands with a large video wall in front. But we saw some overtaking moves live as well, mainly thanks to Jenson Button.

The atmosphere in the stands was fantastic. It was wonderful to see so many fans representing a lot of different nationalities. You could hear cheers from different places of the grandstands every time when Alonso, Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel or Button did something impressive.

As we visited the F1 Village, I couldn’t resist buying a Lotus cap and earplugs. Curiously, Lotus were one of the few teams that had their own shops.

I rented a portable FanVision TV device, too. It’s a really useful tool that allows one to understand what’s going on and can be used for the support races as well.

What has always seemed interesting to me is the food that’s offered to the F1 spectators on-site. It’s a bit strange that people who have paid 400 or more Euros for a ticket are expected to eat cheap junk food. But the Belgian waffles with sugar are as delicious as you’d expect.

Spa weather

On Saturday I came to understand what the phrase “Spa weather” means. To say it is inconsistent and unpredictable would be an understatement.

The rain came and went and came again, the intensity of it changed all the time and there were moments when you could see a piece of blue sky while standing in the rain. As not every path was covered with asphalt, my boots and jeans were heavy with mud at the end of each day.

There were no traffic jams on Saturday but I made a mistake by not getting to the track early on Sunday morning. Happily, despite a fraught journey into the track, we didn’t miss any of the F1 action.

There were two particularly outstanding moments over the weekend. The first one was on Saturday morning. It felt very special to first hear the sound of engines from a distance, then enter the circuit area and finally see the F1 cars going around the first corner.

The second great moment was on Sunday. As the race seemed to be over and we had already stood up, Vitaly Petrov obviously decided that the spectators had not been enough entertained and span right in front of our eyes.

A minute or so after that, the track was open to the spectators. Our grandstands were very close to the podium and I ran quick enough to see the podium ceremony as close as it gets. It was a slightly surreal feeling to stand there looking at my heroes from such a close distance.

After that, we finished our Belgian Grand Prix visit with a tour of the circuit on foot. It’s a long, 7km walk which reveals just how steep Spa’s crests really are.

Going to Grand Prix

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Image © Red Bull/Getty images

Author information

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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24 comments on “In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa”

  1. Sounds great guys. Love the pictures Gert, think my favourite is one of the dark closeups of Rosberg in the pits. Are the paddock club members the people we always see poking out above the pits then? I always wondered what strings they had to pull to get up there.

    I’m not sure if it’s the same at F1 races, but whenever I go to a race or event in the UK it’s usually the same (rubbish) food vendors, and I certainly wouldn’t call them cheap :P.

    1. thx.

      The paddock club is above the pits yes.
      The white tents you always see (and branded paddock club :) ).
      You have to get a pass via a team or pay big bucks for them.
      The dinner was the best I ever had :)

      1. Another way to get access to the Paddock Club is to buy a McLaren Mercedes SLR supercar.

        Admittedly that’s not cheap either. ;)

      2. Must have been a really thrilling opportunity. Great pictures from that vantage point Gert

  2. Another very welcome article!

  3. I went too, would of been good to add my perspective from general admission….
    That said I’m an awful writer so maybe not :-)

  4. HounslowBusGarage
    5th September 2011, 20:23

    That sounds like a fantastic weekend, Girts. Maybe you should do the Lotto with luck like that!
    Smashing article and a great read, thanks.

  5. Pah! The paddock club, it’s the pits.

  6. Nice to see the race was enjoyed in both cases, even without the Paddock Club pass :)
    Although I’d like to be there a race is always exciting, from wherever you watch it.

  7. Girts, you need to walk around next to the track… it’s a challenge :)
    Very steep ups and downs. Every year at the 24hours of spa I do it twice (well I used to)
    It’s a hard hike :)

    1. I guess I experienced a bit of that on my way from the parking area to the circuit :) Will try that some other time, thanks for the hint!

      Sounds like you had an unforgettable weekend as well. And the pictures are really impressive.

  8. thanks, guys

  9. I too went to the Grand Prix as general admission. I was also lucky enough to be given a tour of the Lotus garage on the Thursday!

    It was my third visit to Spa and ranks right up there with when I went in 2008.

  10. What an amazing experience,congrats for all the fun you had & thanks for sharing it with us.

  11. Congratulations on winning, Girts! It sounds like a fantastic experience and i’m glad you enjoyed it. Really well constructed article, certainly set the bar high for my effort for Monza!

    I love your pictures. A great mix of action and personal shots.

    1. Oops, sorry Gert, that congratulations should have been aimed at you! That will teach me to skim read!

      Glad you both have a good time.

    2. I’m sure you will have a great time there. The atmosphere in Monza should be at least as fantastic as it was in Spa. The local fans’ support will probably be focused only on one particular team though :)

      1. Yeah, Toro Rosso are really popular ;)

  12. We killed time in the hotel bar where we spotted Nick Heidfeld, Martin Brundle and David Coulthard. A pretty cool start to the day.

    In the bar at 10am? Sounds like a proper Belgian start to the day, I approve!

    1. I could understand Nick being there, he’d probably want to drown his sorrows.

      1. I nearly edited in a reference to ‘three retired F1 drivers’ but thought better of it…

    2. Well to be complete, We where at the bar. They went to have breakfast. That was located next to the bar ;)

  13. Thanks guys two great articles. I was one of the many thousands spread around the circuit having opted again for general admission. Just so many places to get a great view of this race. You know when the tv cameras pan over the crowd and everyone waves? They weren’t waving they were hitting out at wasps! It was weird how many there were – must have been just the right weather for them. Will aways remember timing my beer to coincide with the rain whilst they all flew off to fetch their umbrellas.

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