Trip to Belgium part 2 — Belgian Grand Prix qualifying day, and F1 Vision reviewed

Alex, me and Gordon watching qualifying

Day 4 — Saturday — Qualifying day

GP3 cars at the start of the race

With the on-track action ramping up on Saturday, the first event of the day was also the first race of the weekend — GP3 race 1.

After that race finished, we decided to walk around the perimeter of the circuit. We made our way through the tunnel that goes under Eau Rouge, followed the path, and emerged at the Bus Stop chicane. Disappointingly, the pit straight is completely out of bounds unless you have bought a gold ticket. So we began our tour here.

Porsche Supercup race at the Bus Stop chicane

Porsche Supercup qualifying was taking place as we walked towards Blanchimont.

Fan dressed as a traffic cone

There were throngs of general admission punters here, jealously clinging onto the spots where they had set up their camping chairs. Some enterprising people brought hammocks and attached them to the trees.

As the Porsche Supercup qualifying finished, we went through another tunnel to return to the inside of the circuit, and we headed for Pouhon.

Gordon, Alex and me with our beers at the Verstappen grandstand

It would be a short while until the next on-track action — F1 practice 3. So we got a beer and partied with the Max Verstappen fans, who had their own allocated stand.

Ferrari going through Pouhon

Practice 3 began, and we continued our tour of the circuit.

Marcus Ericsson heading towards Pouhon

The pathways around Pouhon are surprisingly hilly, so we were getting a pretty good workout.

Valtteri Bottas at turn 11

We were also getting some pretty stunning and varied vantage points of F1 cars on this route.

Max Verstappen heading towards Pouhon

Crowds, a view of the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and surrounding countryside

This part of the circuit was mobbed with people.

Nico Hülkenberg heading towards Bruxelles corner

Stoffel Vandoorne's car being recovered during practice 3

We had reached Les Combes by the time practice 3 was brought to an abrupt halt by Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren breaking down.

In theory, we had a relatively short walk back to our grandstand from here. But the Kemmel straight was absolutely mobbed — so much so that it was basically impossible to move at points. By climbing through the adjacent forest we managed to slowly make our return to the fanzone.

Gordon with chips and mayonnaise

There we sampled a some chips and mayonnaise, and endured the bobbleheads again.

Alex, me and Gordon watching qualifying in the rain

We returned to the grandstand to watch F1 qualifying. This is the part of the weekend that the rain affected the most, and we saw quite an exciting session, particularly for Q3. We witnessed both of the Force Indias sliding off the track at Raidillon after gambling on staying out as the rain began to worsen.

It seemed like bad news for Force India at the time. But their speed at Spa is such that they ended up qualifying 3rd and 4th.

This was a bit of a miracle, because when we arrived at the circuit on Thursday we had no idea if Force India would even be racing at all, because of legal arguments surrounding their change of ownership. When I was a child my favourite team was Jordan — a successor to Force India. So I was delighted to witness their comeback at Spa.

Ferrari heading up Eau Rouge in the rain during qualifying

Before the Formula 2 feature race began, I went on the hunt for a drink that wasn’t supplied by F1 sponsor Heineken. The only other option was from race sponsor Johnnie Walker, who were serving a variety of cocktails. I bought three different ones for us to try. They were of variable quality.

Me posing with my Johnnie Walker cap and drink

I also got a free Johnnie Walker hat.

Me watching the F2 race with interest while eating a waffle

F1 Vision

Me using the F1 Vision device

This day we made more use of the F1 Vision device that we’d rented for the weekend. This handheld device has returned to F1 this year, after being absent for a while due to costs. It enables you to watch the TV coverage, and see live timing screens — making it easier to follow the race.

Me, happy watching the action

It is a relatively simple device to use, and surprisingly robust. It is clearly a locked-down Android device put in a secure case. It is the size of a smartphone.

I spent all of Friday getting battery anxiety about this. There is no permanent battery icon, but I thought surely a device this size can’t last all weekend. Sure enough, in the middle of an event on Saturday, it ran out of juice and turned black.

I returned it to the F1 Vision desk, in the fanzone, where they happily swapped the device for a new one. It was only then I discovered where you can see the battery level, hidden in an obscure menu. But this enabled me to prepare in advance and swap the device again ahead of the grand prix on Sunday.

Alex, me and Gordon in the grandstand on the Saturday morning

We came prepared with a three-way headphone splitter, which meant that all three of us could listen to the commentary and take it in turns to watch the device. In reality, I hogged the device somewhat, as I was sitting in the middle — but it was quite tiring to hold it out for all to view.

Me using the F1 Vision device

The screen was very shiny and reflective, which made it difficult to actually watch the video, particularly in the sunshine.

F1 Vision enables you to select from a few different audio options: raw world feed audio, circuit commentary (the same that you hear on the trackside loudspeakers), commentary from the local broadcaster, and commentary from Sky Sports UK. I personally would have preferred an option to hear Channel 4’s commentary, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Strangely, the Sky Sports commentary option did not contain the actual world feed audio, meaning that team radio messages did not come through. This left us filling in the blanks ourselves based on what the commentators said around it.

There is a further option to select your favourite drivers, whose radio messages you could hear in full. It’s a nice idea, but in practice we didn’t use it because it cut straight across the other commentary, which was simply annoying.

F1 Vision is a brilliant idea, but these niggles ought to be worked on for the future. Also, for what it is, it is rather pricey to rent. In practice, it was uncomfortable to use, and it was most useful for the audio options.

Given that it clearly used Android as its platform, I ended up wondering if they would be better off providing this service as an app that you could install yourself. The content was evidently transmitted from the circuit rather over the internet (the device didn’t work in the campsite), so perhaps any phone would need some sort of radio receiver to work.

This is probably because many circuits have poor mobile signal, particularly on the one weekend a year thousands of people descend on it. But there’s no doubt this service would be handier as an app.

I’ll publish a post about race day in the coming days.

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