I pass the start finish line, 6th gear, and the pits flash by. At 320km/h, I caress the brakes and find 5th before lining up to the high speed right hander and flooring the throttle. I correct a slight twitch from the back and line it up for the right hander to be taken in 5th gear. As soon as Iím out of it, its hard on the brakes for the 1st gear corner. The next few all have the same beautiful rhythm. Hard, but fair 2nd gear corners. Harsh braking zones with equally exciting blats of the throttle. Approaching turn 6, things begin to change. Coming out of the tricky 2nd gear left hander, its up the hill in to the off camber turn 7. 4th gear, accelerating to near 210km/h and then there it is. An ugly, completely out of place 1st gear corner, I struggle through it at near 40km/h.
The game of course is GP2, and the track is Estoril.
As a passionate Formula One fan, I have always harbored secret fantasies of Frank Williams ringing me up to say "Hi Paul, Damon has sprained his ankle, we need you to race for us." While GP2 may not be a complete substitute for the real thing, it is an interesting and, at times, disappointing look into the world of the Grand Prix driver.
The view is not all accolades and silver bottles of MoŽt. It is a depressing view of what destruction the governing body has allowed to occur on the tracks which form the World Drivers Championship.
Damon Hill has perhaps put it best about the new corner at Estoril. "There are some lovely, flowing, corners, and you can really get a rhythm going [at Estoril]. Then you get to this stupid bit, and every lap I think, Oh bollocks! This is dreadful..." Mika Hakkinen in the past has been even less kind to some of the modern tracks. "For me Silverstone is the worst circuit now... you just arrive at a corner, brake, turn in, power down. All you have to do is turn the steering wheel, but if you go to a circuit like Spa, you really have to feel the car..."
Donít misunderstand my point of view here. Like anyone I want to see the tracks as safe as possible, but I donít believe that should be achieved at the expense of the great circuits of the world. As it is, Nurburg and the Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari (Imola) are great in name only.
Formula One is increasing moving focus from the traditional setting of Europe to the budding Markets of Asia. What the FIA should be actively encouraging is to start afresh in these areas, transplanting tracks like Brands Hatch or Zandvoort and rebuilding them in their former glory with ample run off; this would surge Formula One in popularity. Finally, we would see the greatest drivers, cars, and tracks making F1 the absolute pinacle that is rightly deserves to be. On that note, Iím off to conquer Eau Rouge, or will the corner conquer meÖ