Feature F1 Unlocked
BARRETTO: How a flying lap of Silverstone feels alongside race-winner Esteban Ocon
Silverstone is quick. It’s flowing. It’s a racing driver’s dream. And ahead of the British Grand Prix, I was very fortunate to experience that sensation from a passenger’s perspective when Esteban Ocon took me for a spin in Alpine’s sportscar, the A110.
There’s something special about Silverstone – and not just because it played host to the first World Championship race in 1950, or because it’s the first track where I witnessed F1 cars in anger back in 1997 as an 11-year-old. It’s just a mega track.
It’s gone through a flurry of configuration changes, most recently in 2011 when the pit straight moved to make Abbey – rather than Copse – the first corner.
Ocon wastes little time getting to that first turn, the tyres squealing as he blasts away from our grid slot in the slinky silver Alpine two-seater, before swinging wide to the left of the track to open up the first turn.
With very little steering movement Ocon chucks the A110 in hard on turn in, kissing the apex and then drifting out wide to collect all of the kerb.
He obviously won’t do that in the race as it’ll cost him lap time, but for the entertainment value of watching me squirm as we bounce across the rumble strips – you can tell from his face it was worth it.
We’re quickly through the slight left-hander Farm before he brakes heavily for Village. I shoot forward, the seatbelt digging into my shoulders as I fail to anticipate the sheer force of the stop.
As Ocon cuts across the track to head into The Loop hairpin, he lets the rear hang out – and you can already smell the smoke from the burning rubber as the tyres search for grip.
“We have a little bit too much rear tyre pressures,” says Ocon as we’re straight back on the gas, proof that a racing driver is always looking to improve the little details in search of the perfect lap.
We’re up to 60mph within five seconds, at a 100mph before we hit 10 seconds, the lightweight machine very compliant as Ocon stamps on the brakes – again throwing me forward – as we head into Brooklands, one of many overtaking spots on this epic circuit.
As we accelerate out of the corner, I feel my arm involuntarily reaching for the roof to provide some stability, much to Ocon’s amusement. And I’m pretty sure that only serves to encourage him to throw the car around even more to see what it does to me.
I’m happy with that, though, because this is epic. We slide our way through Luffield, Ocon holding the machine on the line with his finger tips – almost showing how at ease he is with this car – and then take all of the kerbs on exit and through into Woodcote.
We swing round onto the National Pit Straight next and towards Copse, which in a Formula 1 car is now flat-out. Ocon doesn’t bother trying to staying within track limits on exit, instead running over the kerbs and giggling to himself as he makes the most of the run-off.
We rejoin the track and Ocon spots team mate Pierre Gasly in the other A110 in the distance and sets about trying to catch him. This is ideal timing as we’re approaching, in my opinion, the best corner complex in the world, in the form of Maggots, Becketts and Chapel.
It's a jink left, then a jink right, followed by another left-right. In F1, that sequence is flat-out. In this car – for comedy value – Ocon accentuates the steering inputs to throw me around.
We hit 1.8G. It’s a thrill but nothing to the 12.3G he’ll hit on race day when he’s in his Alpine A523. He’ll enter than sequence in seventh gear and will avoid touching the brake if can. The adrenaline rush is immense.
I’ve got complete trust in Ocon, so I’m not worried about shunting. On the contrary, I’m actively encouraging him to get more lairy.
As we exit, we feel a gust of wind, but Ocon doesn’t even flinch. Silverstone is always blowy, which makes sense given we’re on a former airfield used in World War II.
Its flat terrain, runways, perimeter roads and huge open spaces made it perfect for motor racing, and the designers delivered the holy grail when they produced this one.
We blitz down Hangar Straight, Ocon flicking through the gears ready for Stowe. Plenty of run-off on the exit – and Gasly is within touching distance. We swing across the track to take the racing line into Vale – another great spot for overtaking.
We take all the kerbs and then he lets the rear hang out as we exit the chicane before backing off through the final corner – Club. And that’s the lap. What a track. What a car. What a driver. What an experience.
“You have the best job in the world, don’t you?” I say to him. “I have to say, yes!” comes the reply.