- Goodwood Festival of Speed
'Probably the best event there is'
The 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed took place this weekend in the grounds of Goodwood House, the 19th celebration of the world of motorsport as organised by Lord March bringing hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to the estate to get close to their heroes and their machines.
As always there was a big contingent from Formula One, with Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov appearing alongside past drivers and team principals. Walking among the fans, the sheer number made the vast grounds seem smaller somehow, with the main attraction being the close proximity that you can get to the cars and the drivers.
Such an open and accessible event may seem like a drag for the instantly recognisable names, but Adrian Newey told me that it's quite the opposite.
"It's a fantastic break from the pressures of Formula One. It's obviously still cars and motor racing but it's a very relaxed atmosphere; I'm here purely for the social side so there's no pressure! I just enjoy seeing old friends and meeting spectators, it's a fantastic event."
Newey was driving the Red Bull showcar this weekend, and he admitted he couldn't be quite so relaxed inside the cockpit.
"It's a little bit intimidating - it's very narrow and there's certainly no room for mistakes, but I enjoy it."
If Newey seemed to enjoy the environment, Karun Chandhok was revelling in it. Well known for having a big interest in the history of motorsport, Chandhok was running from car to car like a kid on Christmas morning.
"I think the word you use is magic," Chandhok enthused. "I think everybody - certainly in the UK and in India - knows that I'm an old-school fan and a huge fan of the sport; more than probably most other drivers! So this event is made for me, I come here and get a great chance to meet drivers from the past and see teams and cars from years gone by that I saw as a kid and admired. And just to interact with people, it's a great atmosphere and great for the fans, it's super.
"I think the charm of Goodwood is to drive something that is outside of your comfort zone, so I think last year when I came and drove the '82 Williams was fantastic, it was one of the best experiences of my life. So I like to come back and maybe drive something from a different era, come back and drive something from the 80s or the early 90s, I'd love to have a go.
"My dream car is either the 1990 Ferrari, or the '93 Williams - that's the one I'd really like to drive but on a proper circuit, just to see what active ride height feels like and all the gizmos but not too much stuff that we have today like all the buttons on the steering wheel. I think the 1993 FW15C is the one I'd really like to have a go at. I've told Patrick Head this as well but it's difficult to get them to give me one! There's one here today though, I saw one going up the hill so I need to find out who owns it and be nice to them!"
Chandhok appeared to have competition on his hands for the FW15C though, as Mark Webber also had an eye on it.
"For me that was the era when obviously I was fully immersed in watching it, I was a youngster and watching it through the late 80's, early and mid 90's was something that was very special to me so that's a beautiful car, fully active obviously and it's incredible."
The busy nature of being a Formula One driver can prevent many attending, as it did Vitaly Petrov last year. This time around he was able to give a first-timers view of the festival, saying the relaxed atmosphere was fun.
"It's very different [from races] because you can do some totally different things here. You enjoy it here, you can do some strange things like burn the tyres and relax yourself; you don't need to work hard except your right hand to sign autographs!"
Petrov's fellow Renault driver Bruno Senna is a Goodwood veteran, attending his seventh festival. Wanting to please the fans is clearly something he takes very seriously, as he returned to the Renault garage after his first run and complained that he couldn't spin the wheels enough because of the car's setup.
"I always enjoy it," Senna said. "It's awesome to see the cars and drive the cars that are here. The event just grows and grows every year, so for car enthusiasts and racing enthusiasts this is probably the best event there is. I've come here since 2004, missed one year only because of a clash with a race that I had, but other than that I always enjoy coming here.
"The first time I came here in 2004 I managed to look at every car, but since 2005 I've had a little blue cap that stopped me from going around the cars, because the people here go to the races and they knew me, so it turned out I couldn't walk around so much anymore!"
It was clear from the smile on Senna's face that the raw sights, sounds and smells of vintage racing cars still stir emotions in drivers that spend their time around the sophisticated machinery every day.
"Especially when they're driving around and they're making noise and burning rubber it's actually quite cool to see some of these old things that were there making history before I was born being driven around, and sometimes quite fast."
For those not currently in Formula One, it's a rare chance to drive some of the more recent models. For Sam Bird it was the opportunity to jump in to Jenson Button's 2009 championship winning chassis, as well as doing further work with the Mercedes team.
"It's mega. As a British driver to be able to come here to Goodwood, to be able to drive a championship winning F1 car and be involved with the fans is mega, absolutely mega. It's great to give something back occasionally as well, because Formula One isn't accessible as it used to be and this is the one time where they can smell it, feel it, touch it, so I think it's a really important event."
But Bird was able to sum up just what Goodwood means to a driver when he revealed a comment he had made to his father as a young boy.
"I used to come here myself, and I was saying to my dad a bit earlier that we used to come to this and I was telling him 'Ah Dad I would love to drive something up the hill', and over the last three years I've been able to drive championship winning F1 cars every year, so I've been a lucky boy."