FEATURE ARTICLES

Sample of work by Ally Stoyel

 
 

SOAKING UP THE ATMOSPHERE IN SPA
 

The day began at a cosy bed and breakfast, tucked away in the rustic town of Jalhay, Belgium, just a stone’s throw from Circuit De Spa Francorchamps.

While we dined on our authentic Belgian breakfast of fresh bread, cold meats and cheese, we discussed our predictions for the day ahead as the proprietor’s son Christoph prepared his car to drive us to the track.

To say there was a buzz around town was a vast understatement. The picturesque streets were lined with people young and old, foreign and native, the crowd so thick that Christoph was forced to drive the car at a slow crawl. It was a colourful scene of hats, jackets and flags from all over the world and every other type of merchandise you could think of. Suffice it to say, our excitement was building.

We farewelled Christoph as he dropped us off in town and after a brief moment of confusion, we realised there was no need to know where we were going, all we had to do was follow the mob of people, who were all moving in the same direction. Thus began the long and quite difficult walk to the track. The terrain was rocky, muddy, uphill then downhill, and became slippery as the sky opened up and poured down on us. After 45 minutes of battling with the treacherous landscape, we had arrived at our destination: Eau Rouge.

Arguably one of the best corners in Formula 1, there we were propped up in the stand overlooking the exit of turn one through to Eau Rouge. The row in front consisted of six burly men, each adorned in top to bottom Ferrari merchandise and smoking Marlboros, as a nod to the team’s past sponsor. As I hadn’t yet mastered which way to look through the haze of cigarette smoke, my first introduction to live Formula 1 was solely through the sound of the V8 engines approaching through turn one and roaring past our stand in a thunderous assault.
I was hooked. I sat fixated on the huge screen, watching the drivers form up on the grid, Sebastian Vettel taking pole position in qualifying the day before. A hush came over the crowd as one by one the five red lights illuminated. We all held our breath as we watched the lights go out and the roar of the engines filled our ears.

It was an exciting start, albeit messy as an incident between Bruno Senna and Jaime Alguersuari resulted in Alguersuari retiring from the race. Nico Rosberg quickly stole the lead from Vettel but couldn’t hold on to it for long after DRS was activated. In lap 13, disaster struck for Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren when he collided with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi at Les Combes, spinning off and hitting the barrier with significant force and causing the safety car to be deployed. The uproar from the stands of both disappointment and glee at this change of events was deafening, with a British group behind us stating “oh well, now we’re going to have to barrack for Jenson [Button]”.

Vettel held on to his lead ahead of Alonso and Mark Webber, while Button charged his way through the field an impressive nine positions from 13th to fourth. Much to our delight and with the Australian flag wrapped tightly around our shoulders, we watched in awe as Webber pulled off one of the bravest and most daring overtakes we’d ever seen on Alonso, heading into the dangerous Eau Rouge. Webber fan or not, no one could deny the skill in which he executed this move, securing second place behind his teammate.

Alonso was unable to fend off Button with just two laps to go and slipped back to fourth position, with Button securing a podium place in third. Seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher definitely deserves a mention, with his stellar drive landing him in sixth place, after starting the race at the back of the pack in 24th due to losing a wheel in Q1 a day earlier. This race also marked the 20-year anniversary of his Formula 1 debut at Spa in 1991.

As Vettel’s Red Bull sped past the chequered flag, thousands of fans began their own race to the track, jumping over barriers and fences with a mission to get as close as they possibly could to the podium. We were sprinting down the track with the outstretched Australian flag between us, celebrating our home grown hero Webber in what was the second best result we could have hoped for.