The Formula 1 Grand Prix in France.
A report of the first weekend in July, 2003.
Friday, July 4th, 2003. Prologue and travel report.
On June 13th, 2003, I received my highschool diploma for the Havo degree. Because the previous 5 years
leading to this diploma were worth a nice present, my parents offered me a trip to a Formula 1 race in
Europe. To go to a Formula 1 race had for a long time been one of my dreams, so this was plain awesome!
Together we decided the best option would be to go to the French Grand Prix as we could combine our summer
holiday with this event.
After sorting our baggage and collecting the 2 entry tickets (one for me and one for my dad), we left home
on the morning of Friday, July 4th. We had already booked a place at the 'Les Halles' campsite in Decize
(France), not far from the circuit area. After quite a long drive we arrived at the campsite at around 17:00
and put up our tents. It rained all day long, but once in Decize, it was all dry again, which was nice. At
the campsite we met the first Formula 1 fans. They told us that 'our' Dutch driver Jos Verstappen gained the
Pole-position during the pre-qualification today. Jos was lucky in having a circuit that was drying up more
and more. The first drivers out had a wet track with barely any grip, but he had a nearly dry track which
allowed him to drive a quick lap, good enough for provisional Pole-position. Then it was time for lunch
(rice) and after having a cup of coffee (cola for me), we decided what time we wanted go to the free
practices the next day. Then it was time to hit our sleeping-bags.
Saturday, July 5th, 2003. Free practices and the qualification.
We woke up early but the sun was already out. We took a quick and easy breakfast and collected the stuff we
would need for later in the day. This included our entry tickets, some food and drinks, my dad's photocamera
and two easy and light-weight seats. My mom would take us to the circuit, so we didn't need to search for a
parking place for our car. This also made it possible for my mom and sister to go somewhere on their own.
They said touring the surrounding countryside was more interesting than visiting the race track. Of course
I disagreed with that...
On our way to the 'Circuit de Nevers'
in Magny-Cours, it was very crowded on the small country roads. We decided to get out the car and walk the
last couple of kilometers. It seemed that walking was way quicker than using the car to get to the circuit.
The atmosphere was already brilliant. Along the roads there were small temporary shops with loads of Formula
1 goodies, flags, shirts, shawls, et cetera. Then suddenly we noticed we could hear something; racing Formula
1 cars. Marvelous, what a sound! Here we come...
But first we had to find the right entrance. Fortunately we found the right one first time and walked on
towards the stands to get a good seat. There was just one enormous stand where you couldn't have reservated
seats. First come, first serve. The first free practise of this Saturday had nearly come to its end, but they
would start the second free practise after 15 more minutes. In the beginning we stood as close as possible to
the fence between the stand and the race track. We stood near a hairpin, so when the drivers accelerated out
of the corner, the sound was incredibly loud! I tried shouting something in my dad's ear from a distance of
less than 20 centimeters, but he couldn't hear me. And no, he's not deaf ;-) This was all so impressive!
In the Photo album you can see several
photos of the cars driving through the hairpin. In certain shots you can also see the huge amount of fans
there for the Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (Renault). Later on, we walked to a part of the track where they
drove at more than 300 km/h, but it was barely possible to follow the cars with your eyes. Relaxing watching
was really not possible at that spot but it was fun to realise at what an idiotic speed the cars pass by.
Then we had to wait for about 2 hours for the beginning of the final qualification. Because our tickets
included access to the in-field area of the circuit, we went there to have our lunch and to check the place
out. We didn't buy a thing on the circuit itself, as the prices were rediculous high. There were many things
to do on the in-field area. Besides looking over the stands of the teams and some car manufactureres, you
could also participate in a pitstop-simulation contest at the Michelin stand. There were also quite a lot of
beautiful Mobil-1 gridgirls. This event was in every way a great pleasure for your eyes ;-)
After our lunch, some good moments of distraction and a good walk back to our stand, the qualification
started. Because it had rained the previous day, the qualifying order was shuffled a lot, so Michael
Schumacher had to drive his quick lap first, and Jos Verstappen would be the last to do his single run. In
the Photo album you can see several
photos of drivers trying to get their qualifying lap as quick as possible.
One after another the drivers made a single run (outlap, timed lap, inlap). The top 10 looks as follows at
the end of the qualification: Ralf Schumacher had the Pole-position with his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in
second position. The second starting row had Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen. Fifth and sixth were
Coulthard and Trulli. Alonso's fans were not fully satisfied with his seventh position. The other Ferrari
driver, Rubens Barrichello, had also some problems and got 8th position. The Australian driver Webber and
Frenchman Panis took the other two positions in the top 10.
The qualification was nearly over at his point. There weren't many big surprises. What was interesting was
that the drivers with Michelin tires were all good up front, where as the Bridgestone drivers had the lower
positions except the Ferrari drivers. The German driver Frentzen didn't have a good day. He ended up at 16th
position, just behind his German teammate Heidfeld. Webber got 9th position, two places better than his
We had tickets for the 'Est' stand of the circuit. This is a very long stand without permanent solid seats.
Because of that it was important to get a good place for the Formula 1 sessions, as everybody likes to have
the best places. So both on Saturday for the qualification and the race on Sunday, we decided it was better
to be early in order to get a nice spot near the hairpin. The atmosphere and behaviour of the fans was really
nice and peaceful. Unlike soccer fans, here it was actually possible to have a huge McLaren fan sitting next
to a huge Ferrari fan. The stands in the empty French countryside where filled with fans and the atmosphere
was very good!
The last photo in this Photo album is
a photo of myself (yeah, remember it was 2003!) with my Ferrari shawl and cap. Later during this holiday, I
could add a cool Ferrari shirt to it, which I bought in
the Maranello Store in
Maranello, Italy. I also took my binoculars with me to be able to see the cars on the track even better.
This worked very well! Together with earplugs, we had the standard equipment for going to a Formula 1 race
weekend. The first day was nearly at its end. We watched the exciting Formula 3000 race. The race started at
16:00 and had a duration of 34 laps. If I remember well, the Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais won the race.
Then it was time to send a sms to my mom and sister so they could come to the place where they dropped us
earlier in the day so they could pick us up again. The general impression after this day was that it was an
incredibly cool event! A great experience to which you get used to very quickly. But once relaxing in a
comfortable seat back at the campsite, we were already looking forward for the next day, Race day!
Sunday, July 6th, 2003. A report of the race day.
When we got back to the campsite, we told my mom and sister about our Saturday's experiences. We had nice
baked potatoes for dinner and in the evening we ended our fantastic day with some coffee, cola and cookies.
We slept well and woke up early on Sunday. We had breakfast near the 'Old Loire' which passes the campsite
and flows through the city center of Decize. Then we packed our bags for another day at the circuit.
Again it was extremely crowded on the small roads leading to the circuit, and again we got out of our car
earlier to walk the last few kilometers. Because it was this busy, we picked a nice spot on the 'Est' stand
and didn't leave it for the following couple of hours. Not long after a bus came out of which stepped a full
orchestra. They played something and then went off to another section of the circuit to play there too. A
little while later a truck with trailer drove by, on which all the drivers were standing. Even though they
were talking to eachother more than waving to their fans, it was nice to see the 'people from TV' in real
life. You can see photos of the events in
the Photo album.
After this so-called 'driversparade', at 11:15, a jet aircraft put on an amazing air stunt show. The sound of
the jet fighter flying pretty low was overwhelming. Over all, we had a good time, but we still had to wait a
bit longer for the real thing -- experiencing my first Formula 1 race. Because of the new regulations there
was no warming-up like they had in the past, so we first got to see another race: the Porsche Supercup. A few
Dutch drivers participated in this race: Michel & Jeroen Bleekemolen and Patrick Huisman. Patrick got the
best position after they saw the checkered flag: fourth place.
The Porsche Supercup was only just over 16 laps, but the racing was very close because the cars were almost
identical. Sometimes they banged wheels through the hairpin, which made it all very exciting! But now slowly
the Formula 1 cars started getting prepared for the race, which would start at 14:00. In
the Photo album you can see a photo of
an enormous TV-screen, with Michael Schumacher giving a short interview. In the meanwhile the other drivers
drove their cars to the startgrid where they were made ready to start the race.
The moment of truth arrived: it was 14:00! As usual the drivers first drove a warm-up lap and lined up for
the start at the startgrid. This would be the first Formule 1 Grand Prix that I would see seriously live --
with the smell of burned rubber and petrol and the marvelous sound of the screaming V10s. The start was a
bit problematic for the 'Red Barons'. Michael dropped a place and ended up behind Kimi Räikkönen. Rubens
Barrichello spun at the end of the first lap, so he fell back to the very last position. Then he knew he was
in for a tough race, trying to overtake as many cars as possible.
In the very first photo you can see Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Räikkönen and Michael
Schumacher. The following photos contain 2 Jaguars, a Toyota, a BAR, another Toyota, 2 Saubers, a Minardi and
a car from the Jordan team. Both my dad and I had a great time and enjoyed the race. From time to time we had
a drink or ate some bread. With a good temperature (± 30 degrees Celsius) and the sun shining on our backs,
it couldn't have been any better.
As with every race there were pitstops after a certain number laps. We were able to see them on huge
TV-screens (about the length of a 18-meter truck trailer). This was exactly the same view that people all
over the world got to see on their televisions. Because the field got pretty shuffled by the pitstops, the
TV-screens were handy to get a good overview of everything. So after all, we got to see the race on
TV-screens just like everybody else, but we also got the amazing atmosphere, plus the smell and sound of
the real thing! That experience is soooo awesome!
In one of the other photos you can see that the three drivers behind Ralf Schumacher could not really follow
his pace up front. Ralf especially took the advantage of the perfect French rubber. It was way too hot for
the drivers with the Bridgestone tires, so they weren't able to compete with the drivers who had the Michelin
tires. In the meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello was driving a very good race and he overtook a lot of cars
through the hairpin. We definitely had the right spot to see most of the action on the track.
It was probably not the most interesting race of the season, but enough did happen to keep the spectators
interested. At least many of them. Jenson Button had to park his BAR, because there was not a single drop of
fuel left in his fuel tank. Somehow it was fun (not for him, his team and fans) to see him walking through
the enormous gravel beds. Also Jarno Trulli had to give up because of the reliability of his Renault. No
patriotic Frenchman was happy with that.
Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen had a tough but fair fight on the track. Each lap we could see how
difficult it was for Kimi to pass Fernando, even though he was much quicker. During the first part of the
race Räikkönen was third, but because of the pitstops he fell a bit back. Finally he succeeded to pass
As the race continued the Brazilian 'Red Baron' managed to climb from last position to eventually end up 7th
place (2 points for the World Championship). The winner, Ralf Schumacher did overtake Barrichello, so he
had to drive one lap less. The biggest event of the race was actually the spectacular 'blow up' of Fernando
Alonso's Renault engine. The fans from Oviedo (Spain) were pretty loud and present during the whole weekend,
but it wasn't hard to get them quiet. Alonso himself had the solution. The blow up happened with lots of
smoke. I'm glad that my dad was able to take a photo of this! Many of the Spanish fans there for Alonso left
the circuit after both Renaults were out of the race, but the other drivers were already in their final laps
so not much changed in the driving order. Only Michael Schumacher had a chance of gaining another position.
He was lapping about 1 full second quicker than Montoya, but there weren't enough laps remaining for him to
become a serious danger to the Columbian driver.
You can see our Dutch 'hero' Jos Verstappen in the final race photo in this Photo album. He finished the race
4 laps behind the winner. He was classified as sixteenth. The final photos show the drivers in their outlap,
waving to their fans and driving back to the pitlane. Michael Schumacher went to the podium to receive the
prize for becoming third, which was a remarkably good result with the relatively bad Bridgestone tires. The
last photo shows you the top 6 result of the race. All drivers in the top 10, besides the Ferrari's had
Michelin tires. It was a bit disappointing that the other teams couldn't compete in the way they would have
After seeing the podium ceremony on the enormous TV-screen (see the last photo) we left the stand. Because we
had enough time left, it was around 16:00, we decided to go back to the in-field area of the circuit. Luckily
it had become less crowded now, so we could take a good look at every single stand. We even went to the main
stand in front of the Start-finish line. By using a bridge over the track we went to the paddock where all
the teams were already busy packing their stuff and washing tires.
We even recognised a few people (mechanics and engineers) who we would normally only see on television. It
was nice to take a quick look in the 'kitchen' of Formula 1. After having watched the people at the paddock,
we went back to the in-field area. They had also started braking down the stands and other things there. The
merchandise stands were closed and the terrasses were empty. The whole event slowly came to its end.
It was time to send my mom and sister a sms. In the meanwhile we walked to the exit of the circuit.
Fortunately we didn't have to follow all the cars standing there in the traffic jam which appeared at the
parking places. On the way back to the place where we would be picked up we saw a lot of privateer merch
stands, so I bought a nice T-shirt as a good reminder of this dream coming true...
My mom and sister where already waiting at the arranged place so we got in the car and went back to the
Monday, July 7th, 2003. Epilogue and the rest of our holiday.
Once we got back to the campsite we had dinner and recollected the experiences of the past two days at the
circuit, but nevertheless, the adventure was really over now. The brief conclusion is that it was a FANTASTIC
experience which I will never ever forget. On the Monday we took a rest-day to relax after the pretty hectic
start of our holiday. We stayed at the campsite and walked around a bit and took a look at the surrounding
The next day we packed up our tents and continued on our holiday which would finally lead us to Italy. In
Italy we visited the Alfa Romeo museum near Milan (Arese). Were normally a museum is boring and you don't
think of spending a couple hours there, this museum was really interesting and for free. We had a good time
walking around and looking at the brilliant cars Alfa Romeo built during the past century. Later on we
visited the small village of Maranello, the home of Ferrari. Here we visited
the Maranello Store and
I bought a few nice items of Ferrari merchandise, for instance a really nice T-shirt/polo. Furthermore, I
can say that the rest of this holiday was really nice and relaxed.
I hope you enjoyed reading this story about my visit to the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in 2003. It
took a lot of time to write it all down and it took even longer before I could put it online, but I think
the result is worth the wait...