disclosure: we were given complimentary tickets in exchange for this review
What a year this has turned out to be! As regular readers will know, I should have been at the British Grand Prix again this year, but it wasn’t to be, roll on 2021 when hopefully life will be normal again. As indoor venues begin to open their doors again we were invited to spend time exploring The Silverstone Experience, with social distancing in place, at the weekend. It was a case of third time lucky as we’ve had to postpone our visit twice already with the lockdown. This was to be our first indoor experience, other than a quick visit to the supermarket, in over four months. I was slightly anxious about the prospect to be completely frank, but I had a good read of their Covid-19 safety measures and decided it was time to dip our toes in the water of the ‘new normal’ and enjoy some family time involving a sport I’ve loved all my life.
The Silverstone Experience is located at the entrance to the Silverstone racing circuit, which is located just off the A43 between Towcester and Brackley, in Northamptonshire. As you approach the circuit the venue is well signposted and free parking is available in car park 49, which is right outside The Silverstone Experience.
We had booked a 10 am slot on Sunday morning, and at the moment you are requested to arrive no more than ten minutes before your time slot, to avoid queuing issues. There are social distancing grid boxes to stand in as you approach the doors, so it’s easy for everyone to keep apart, and everyone has their temperature taken before they can enter the premises. Hand sanitiser is available as you enter, you show your pre-booked tickets to a member of staff and complete a track and trace contact sheet before entering the main facility. There are toilets available at this point too, should you need them. At the time of visiting, masks were only mandatory in the shop area which you go through at the end of your visit to exit the premises, but we’d decided that we would wear our masks throughout our visit, except when exploring the outdoors track trail. I would say that about 50% of the visitors when we were there, were doing the same. We’ve also made the decision that whilst my son is ten and the legal requirement for children to wear a mask is eleven, being only five months away from that birthday, he will wear a mask whenever we need to. It’s a personal choice.
As you can only spend time exploring The Silverstone Experience with pre-booked tickets, numbers are limited and it was very easy to social distance from other visitors whilst we were there. We didn’t need to queue for anything and I was really impressed with the cleaning measures put in place. There is hand sanitiser everywhere, along with paper towels and cleaning fluids, so you can clean any interactive exhibit before and after use. You are also provided with your own stylus to operate touch screens as you enter The Silverstone Experience. We felt safe, looked after and we just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.
Exploring The Silverstone Experience takes place over two floors and it isn’t just about motorsport. Having been born to a motor racing enthusiast, my brother and I grew up at circuits and as we’ve both ended up living within twenty minutes of Silverstone, it’s a circuit we know very well. I knew, like many race tracks, it was once an airfield, but I didn’t know about the history of the area further back than that. The Experience covers the history of the area, the track and its various redesigns, RAF history as well as looking at the cars and motorbikes that have made the circuit famous over the last seventy-plus years.
After watching the Starting Grid action you head into the upper level of The Silverstone Experience, there are arrows guiding you through the one way trail as you learn more about Luffield Priory, and life before the tarmac track was ever even thought of.
The various corners and straights of the Silverstone circuit all mirror the history of this area – from Luffield from the time of the Priory, Farm from the farm that was here and Wellington as a reminder of the vital part RAF Silverstone played during WW2 with the Wellington bombers based here.
The interactive displays in this area were a big hit with my son as he tried his hand with the Link Trainer to train to be a pilot, he got to shoot barrage balloons and drop propaganda material behind enemy lines. My son is very shy, and often can’t be persuaded to join in with the interactive elements in museums, so having less people around him really seemed to bolster his confidence and it was lovely to watch him really enjoying his time exploring The Silverstone Experience.
As we entered the Village and Farm area of The Silverstone Experience I saw a blast from my own past. As I mentioned earlier, motorsport was a big part of my childhood. We spent a lot of time as children, watching the track action but also wandering the paddock and collection autographs and team stickers. We had our own autograph books which I still have, and Dad put up a large hardboard sticker board in each of our bedrooms to hold our sticker collections. When I saw this display at The Silverstone Experience I was instantly taken back forty-odd years with lots of them and messaged my brother straight away to share the memory. I loved my sticker board as a child!
My son loved learning about how Silverstone changed from an RAF base after WW2 to a racing track. The information boards work well for children as well as adults and I think The Silverstone Experience as a whole works very well for children his age.
We also got the chance to sit in a replica car from the early days of racing, no halo or seat belts then!
I’ve had the opportunity to sit inside a real racing car before as a child, we were rather impressed that the OH actually managed to get in an out of the replica in one piece. We could only look at the Cooper Mk2 and admire it from a distance.
Exploring The Silverstone Experience on the lower level is free flow but there’s lots of space and we didn’t feel at any point that anyone was encroaching on our space.
There are areas with static displays of cars and motorbikes that have driven around the circuit over the years, as well as racing memorabilia. As I’ve written about before, James Hunt was my childhood hero and it was lovely to be able to show my son something about the driver I worshipped at his age.
There’s lots to look at as you wander through the years racing history and it gave my son the chance to get up close to cars and bikes from before he was even born.
We forget these days just how dangerous motorsport used to be and my son was glued to the presentation by Sir Jackie Stewart telling us about the safety changes made over the years.
You can try your hand at being a commentator, take the pit gun challenge, stand on the podium as well as trying other interactive elements within the Tech Lab area as you spend time exploring The Silverstone Experience.
Until 9th August you can also see one of the 2020 Mercedes F1 car sporting the 44 of Lewis Hamilton. Let’s face it, it’s the nearest any of us are going to get to Formula One this year! I do love the nod to Niki Lauda that still marks the cars this year. A great champion and someone I was very lucky to meet a number of times over the years.
When you’ve finished looking around the various displays you exit via the cinema which takes you on a lap of the circuit chasing after racing drivers from across the decades. It works rather well.
Once you’ve spent time exploring the inside of The Silverstone Experience you can also venture outside to enjoy the self-guided Heritage Track Trail which allows you to walk on the old track from Bridge corner to Priory. There are information points as well to help you familiarise yourself with the track layout.
There’s also a number of picnic benches in this area so you could make use of those during your visit. The cafe offers a range of sandwiches and refreshments with tables spaced apart. We did have a couple of coffees whilst we were there, but it would be great if they could offer orange and apple juice for children. The sandwiches looked lovely but there was nothing that my fussy son would eat and the days of pleasing him with a kid’s meal selection are long gone. But that was really the only area we could fault in any way.
We spent a good three hours exploring The Silverstone Experience. Do you need to be a motorsports fan to enjoy yourselves? I think it probably helps to have some sort of interest, but I’m sure anyone would gain something from the visit. It’s interesting and we all learned something new. We were all impressed with the safety procedures that The Silverstone Experience have put in place to make visits as normal as they can be at this time, whilst ensuring everyone remains safe. We’re certainly glad we went, even if my son came home with a Mercedes F1 model to join his Ferrari collection. He’d better not be changing his allegiance!
For information on booking requirements, pricing, opening hours and current COVID procedures pop over to The Silverstone Experience website and if you visit, let me know what you think.