If you like it fast, furious and noisy then going to a Grand Prix should be on your serious to-do list.
The European Grand Prix calendar has been seriously eroded over the past ten years as the F1 circus now flies off to ever more distant and often more exotic locations. Today only 7 of the 19 Grand Prix are now held in Europe (excluding Russia) compared to over 10 a decade earlier.
So for the British spectator, and others who live in north-west Europe, there are now only two Grand Prix within easy reach:
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone (normally held in early July), and
The Belgium Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps (normally held in late August).
The question is therefore, especially for someone living in the UK, which one of these two is the better and if I was to go to just one Grand Prix in the year which one should it be?
The answer is not that simple because even though you will see the same cars, the same drivers and the same teams at both, Silverstone and Spa Grand Prix are very different in both nature and atmosphere.
So we have attempted to answer this question through a series of criteria in order to help you make your own mind up. We stress that this is all based upon the viewpoint (as we see it) of the paying spectator and not from the viewpoint of the racing teams, their sponsors, VIPs and entourage.
Ask the drivers and they will tell you that both are amongst their favourites as they provide great challenges in their own ways. If pushed, most would probably say Spa because of the lap length & speed, and especially as it includes arguably their favourite corner in motor racing, Eau Rouge.
That is, of course, from a driver’s point of view but does this create a better product for the spectator? Not necessarily as the action can be somewhat spread out. Conversely, at Silverstone the grandstands and other viewing points provide a much longer site of the cars each lap, and because the laps are shorter, there are more of them and you will see the cars more often! For example, from a seat in the Club Corner Grandstand you can watch the action from Stowe Corner, through the chicane at Vale, round Club Corner, up the Pit Straight and into the the entry of the corner at Abbey.
Best View of the Racing?
Probably the Spa circuit is more fun to drive but the sheer quantity and variety of all the different corners at Silverstone certainly means that you are likely to see action all the way. Plus with the well laid out grandstands the action is usually more easy to see there.
Spa is renowned for the viewing from some of their general admission areas (Bronze) but their grandstands are less well laid out than Silverstone. The seating tiers in some of the stands at Spa are too shallow (for example the Start/Finish Line Stand) where it can be difficult to see the track over the heads of the people sitting in front of you especially when something exciting happens and everyone stands up.
Best Spectator Facilities?
Silverstone is by far the largest race meeting of these two in terms of the number of spectators that attend. In fact it has by far the largest number of spectators of all Grand Prix throughout the year with nearly 90,000 for Friday practice, over 110,000 for Saturday qualifying and 140,000 on Race Day making this, annually, Britain’s biggest single-day attendance for any sport or activity.
Spa is far smaller and has a country fair atmosphere in comparison to Silverstone’s vibrancy.
At Silverstone there are, generally, good facilities (food, toilets etc) all around the course which prevents unnecessary long queues. There is also an extensive F1 Village with a large sound stage located between Luffield and Abbey which forms the base for evening entertainment (something that is totally missing at Spa).
Spa falls way short of Silverstone on this criteria where facilities are generally limited and mainly in the F1 Village area where only junk food can be found which is over-priced and subject to long queues.
Being close to both France and Germany, Belgian-located Spa is very multi-lingual and the course commentary is shared between many tongues with only a minor part being dedicated to English. Indeed there is now no English language commentary on the support races.
At Silverstone, the course commentary is entirely in English plus every race, qualifying and practice session throughout the meeting is covered by Radio Silverstone which is well advertised and can easily be tuned into.
Best Access & Accommodation?
Bernie Ecclestone for many years criticized Silverstone for its poor access and thus gave it a bad reputation. However, the country lanes that once led to the circuit are long gone and they have been replaced by a dual carriageway that leads you right there whether this be to a conveniently close car park or the extensive camping sites.
As Spa is set amongst the hills of the Ardennes Forest the topography is more higgledy-piggledy making the walk to and from the car parks more energetic whilst the country lanes do become clogged with traffic and characterised by the frantically gesticulating Belgium Policemen blowing their whistles.
One of the most notable things about the British Grand Prix is all the activities that are included in the event. Popstars, past and present, are lined up for evening entertainment, the Red Arrows take their turn, Stirling Moss drives his GP-winning 1959 Mercedes around the track, a RAF Phantom Jet demonstrates its versatility, there is a free-fall parachute display … and the list goes on. There is never a dull moment!
None of these type of events are provided at Spa.
Best Priced tickets?
Silverstone General Admission Tickets: £120.00 for Fri-Sat ticket
General admission tickets offer two advantages: (1) They are the cheapest way to get into Silverstone giving you access to the circuit but not to any of the grandstands; (2) This means that you are free to roam and you can walk the entire outside of the track and enjoy watching racing from every angle. With Silverstone consisting of so many different types of corner and straight, walking the track (particularly during the Friday practice sessions) is a great experience especially when watching at Maggots, Becketts or around the Luffield area.
Silverstone Grandstand Tickets
If you wish to spend a bit more, grandstands provide a marvelous vantage point to watch the British Grand Prix. Not only do you get a reserved seat on race day (avoiding general admission fights for space!), all stands are covered giving the perfect protection from the wind and rain that can plague Silverstone even on a nice summer afternoon.
Prices vary from stand-to-stand starting around £200 for an adult Sunday seat, to £465 for a full weekend ticket in the best grandstands which are considered to be Club Corner and the International Pit Straight where you will be at the very centre of all the activity of the GP weekend. Club Corner is the final turn on the circuit, with a view of the pit lane entrance and podium in front of you. The International Pit Straight is opposite the new pit lane with an obvious amount of action taking place there all weekend.
Spa uses a Gold, Silver & Bronze system for their tickets. Gold refers to covered grandstands; silver for uncovered grandstands and Bronze is free roaming. Spar, located deep in the Ardennes Forest has a fearsome reputation for rain; a shower anywhere else in northern Europe is often a downpour there, so covered grandstands can be a great advantage.
Spa General Admission Tickets
A three-day Bronze Pass at Spa costs around £100.00 and is great value for money and offers many places around the circuit that you can access. These are not seated grandstands, these areas are mainly high and steep banked hillsides and wooded areas around the track. The best general admission area at Spa is between turns 11 and 12, right up on the hill side looking down onto Pouhon. Hundreds of fans congregate here making for a great atmosphere and view plus you will always be up-to-speed with what is going on because here you will find the hardcore supporters of F1. It is always a good idea to bring fold-away chairs and binoculars for some of these areas.
Being a long lap, be prepared that there may be a long walk to some viewing areas around the track.
Spa Grandstand Tickets
The covered (Gold) stands cost around £350.00 for a three-day pass and the uncovered (Silver) stands around £250.00 (dependent upon location).
From a British perspective, Silverstone can be driven to quite easily from most parts of mainland Britain as it is situated close to Milton Keynes conveniently between the M1 and M40. There are also train and bus links plus tour operators offer packages based upon a coach and accomodation.
Don’t be put-off by Spa being in Belgium. It is within an easy driving distance of the ferry ports of Calais, Dunkirk and the Hook-of-Holland (the latter actually being the closest to the track) and probably more people in Britain live closer to Harwich (from where you depart for the Hook-of-Holland) and they do Dover.
A number of British Tour Operators run coach trips to the Belgium Grand Prix taking care of all the travel and accommodation arrangements for you. Amongst the most notable are Leger Holidays (also renowned for their Battlefield Tours) and Diamond Holidays.
So which one should it be?
The reality is that they are both wonderful experiences and both should be tried as they are very different in nature. Whichever one you decide, you won’t regret or forget the trip.