MG at the F1

21st December 2020

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By Richard Martin. Photos Jakob Ebrey

The second weekend in July 2019 was being heralded as the biggest sporting weekend of the year or, possibly longer or indeed wider than just Britain, depending on which headlines you read! With the men’s Wimbledon final, the final of the cricket World Cup and the British F1 Grand Prix all taking place on the Sunday, sports fans were spoilt for choice.

With England reaching the cricket final at Lords and, for tennis fans, the mouth-watering prospect of a Djokovic v Federer contest at Wimbledon, plus Lewis Hamilton trying for a record-breaking sixth British Grand Prix win at Silverstone it promised to be a sporting Sunday to remember and the MG Car Club was part of it!

Three weeks before that weekend, Kimber House received a request from Formula 1 inviting the Club to have a display of 30 cars at Silverstone over the Grand Prix weekend and for 20 of these to carry the F1 drivers on a parade lap around the GP Circuit on the Sunday morning, ahead of the race in the afternoon. With a huge world-wide TV audience and the prospect of having the Club in front of the many thousands who visit Silverstone over the weekend, it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

So began a fraught, frustrating period for Lauran at Kimber House as she sought answers and clarification to the numerous questions and issues which arose. Dealing with not just F1, but Silverstone as well, it was very much a case of shifting sands, with Lauran working extremely long hours as she tried to get to grips with the conditions, amendments and changes being issued from Northamptonshire. One of these was the MG models required for the parade.

Since it was necessary for the drivers to be visible during the parade, understandably, open-topped cars were needed with Midgets, As, Bs and Cs specified, but less clear were issues regarding the displaying of the Club logo, whether on the cars, their drivers or on the small gazebo permitted! One thing which was established quite early on in proceedings was that the cars needed to be in place in the National Paddock on Thursday morning, 11th, and remain there until close of play on Sunday 14th, although picking them up on the Monday morning could be arranged.

It was also felt beneficial for the owners to be there, if not over the whole three days of the event, at least for some of the days in order to support the Kimber House staff present, field questions, as well as keep a watchful eye on the display cars!

With such a short time frame in which to arrange everything, contacting owners of cars meeting the criteria during the height of the summer holiday period was often frustrating, as responses were needed quickly. The relevant Registers were consulted, but with such a small number of cars specified there would undoubtedly be some disappointed owners. In order to enhance the display, it was decided to include a few models outside the specified range with a J2, K3 Magnette, TD and TF added to the later models. Once available cars and owners had been established, photos of each of them had to be submitted to Silverstone/F1 for approval.

Whilst permission had been granted for a gazebo, all those of the MG Car Club prominently displayed the name and one of the stipulations was about no brand advertising – is the MG Car Club a brand? Well, British Motor Heritage offered their smart, blank, dark blue gazebo for the weekend, along with transporting it there and back. So many thanks to BMH for their support.

Thursday morning saw the cars arriving and the gazebo being erected, so by lunchtime we were pretty much all set for the next three days. Most of the owners lived within 60-90 minutes of Silverstone, on a normal weekend, but the F1 weekend wasn’t a normal weekend!

So, we all ‘looked forward’ to a weekend of early starts and late returns – in my case 6.30am followed by a 12-hour day. With record attendance figures of 88,000 (Friday), 105,000 (Saturday) and 122,000 (Sunday) there was considerable interest in the display and I lost count of the number of times I heard “I/my father/mother/brother had one of these” including the General Manager of the Bentley Drivers’ Club who had a presence opposite!

One of the cars which did attract considerable interest was the 1966 Midget which had been converted to hand controls to enable its disabled driver to use and enjoy it. Another was the MGC of Lewis Hamilton’s father, Anthony, who, along with Lewis’s enthusiastic brother Nic, spent time around the display on the Saturday evening chatting to the other owners. Anthony owns a number of MGs, including the MGC used in the parade, and became a member of the Club a number of years ago.

9.00am on the Sunday and we were all summoned to a drivers’ briefing. Well, it was scheduled for 9.00am, but then it was originally scheduled for 6.00pm Saturday so I suppose 9.20am was pretty much on schedule! One of the many ‘alterations’ encountered during the preparations for the weekend. The drivers were all told which F1 driver they’d been allocated and that we would be lining up on the starting grid in the order that the drivers had qualified; odd numbers to the left of the red carpet and even ones to the right.

We were also told that we would be following the Alfa Romeo 159 “Alfetta” which was the winner of the first F1 World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950. Back then it was driven by Nino Farina, today it would be Kimi Raikkonen. We were also advised that once started, the Alfa could not be stopped and it would only operate at certain speeds – no numbers were mentioned! Since the car was on display in the garages opposite the MG display, we’d witnessed the starting issues, with the car becoming enveloped in an ever-thickening blue haze! But what a wonderful sound and smell, so evocative of a bygone age.

The drivers’ parade lap was in the programme for 12.30pm ahead of the actual race at 2.10pm and we were told to be with our cars at 11.45am. All the cars had their allocated F1 driver’s name affixed across the windscreen and at noon we were assembled, in qualifying order, ready to be led into the pit lane. Once in the pit lane, Chief Pit Lane Marshal, Marion Quarrington, told us to remain in our cars ensuring that we were parked clear of the actual pit lane as the cars from the previous race crossed our bows – most under their own steam, but others being towed or pushed.

We were then told we could get out of our cars, but remain behind them; time to take a few photos! The next instruction was that we’d be on our way at 12.23pm so “please return to your cars and when the Alfa comes down the pit lane pull out behind it in order.” The red Alfa roared across our bonnets and we were away with only a hint of blue coming from the Alfa. Once on the track, I was reminded of the words of the briefing “the Alfa can only operate at certain speeds” and we weren’t going slowly!

Around the track we went, until we approached the starting grid with its red carpet when the Alfa left us and we were halted, positioning ourselves as previously instructed either to the left or the right of the carpet. There were many media and photographers milling around the entrance to our right, awaiting the appearance of the drivers.

After what seemed quite a time the drivers appeared and made their way to their allotted cars weaving through microphones and camera lenses en route. Much of the media attention surrounded Lewis Hamilton as he made the short journey to join, to his great surprise, his father and brother in dad’s MGC for their family jaunt around the track! One of the questions asked at the briefing was: “Where are the drivers going to sit?” with the answer being “that’s up to them!”

In my case, Pierre Gasly asked where I’d like him to sit – perhaps he wanted to drive! – I replied, wherever he felt comfortable. He started sitting up on the back exchanging wise-cracks in French with Charles Leclerc who was sitting similarly on the MGA in front. Now, all lined up behind the car driven by David Coulthard with Frank Williams in the passenger seat, we were away with the F1 drivers waving to the cheering crowds who lined the track or crowded into the stands and on the balconies of the hospitality units.

Pierre decided being exposed up on the back was too cold so slid into the passenger’s seat as we made our way around the track. Those members who were driving the British F1 drivers (Lando Norris, George Russell and Alexander Albon) stopped midway round the track, allowing those drivers to have an interview in front of the home fans and give away some merchandise. All too soon, we were back at the start and it was time to bid farewell to our charges, wishing them good luck in the race. What a great experience for us all.

The message received from Silverstone and F1 the following day was that they were “over the moon with how it went” and “very impressed with the professionalism” of the Club. So congratulations to everyone involved for ensuring it went smoothly. Without Lauran’s patience, perseverance, stamina and long hours this would not have happened, so many thanks to her for her efforts. Many thanks also to the ladies of Kimber House, Cherina, Ineke and Liz, who kept us company over the long weekend and Colin who was there on the Thursday helping set it up.