Wednesday, 8 July 2009

British GP with MercedesWorld at Brooklands

An A5 sized flyer fell out of a copy of Evo, or was it Car, maybe both, I've got two of them. Anyway, on it was an invite to watch the big screen at MercedesWorld to see the British GP. It was free and why the hell not.

Brooklands is such a historical race circuit to go to. The banking now wraps around a selection of modern life: Tesco's, an industrial estate, an out of town retail park, a gym and a loose bit of urban sprawl in the form of a housing estate. The houses now cover where would have been the junction of the start/finish straight with the right turn into the start of the famous banking. To make up for this, the street names are of legends of both the motor-racing and aviation heritage of Brooklands. That'll make up for it: I'm Mr. Smith, I live at 12 Seagrave Road, Brilliant. Yes well, it is down to a hand full of plucky sorts, that with the spirit of the pioneers, took it upon themselves to get the rest of the circuit listed to gradeII. Sadly, that didn't sit too well with local planning. Their idea is use the track as two mile long carpark for a new technology park. Great, why don't you turn the banking into a waterslide and pool whilst you're there!

Moving back to point:

The only other time I went to Brooklands, was about four or more years ago with my friend Dan. MercedesWorld was just an idea, the thinking behind it, was when getting rid of dealerships was at it's height and Brooklands was going to witness the new way of buying a car, a Mercedes at least. Now, things have changed. Third party dealers are still here, so I was interested what this flagship outlet was really about.

The drive from Eastbourne was two and a half hours or so, more like three if you're sensible. We're not, so it was a sprint to get there for the opening car display on a section of the original Campbell circuit, now owned by MBUK. Yes, we missed that bit, but that's because I thought we'd find Tesco's and a large part of banking that Dan and I had searched for but missed last time.

We sat down in front of the big screen early, it was only a quarter full if that, but there was a huge amount of people about, all here to watch. As we were getting comfy on the standard conference centre chairs, the MC was conducting an live feed interview with a Mclaren mechanic at Silverstone. He went through the team's plan of action and what they expected to get out of the race. Starting well back, second to back row for Hamilton, it wasn't great PR for MclarenMercedes but the Brawn is Merc powered so it wasn't a total loss.

Race over, and with some patient queuing from SL, we got seats in a 10 minute track experience in an AMG car for a tenner. BTW, SL was brilliant at queuing, she left the big screen early to get us a gourmet burger lunch. Thank you again SL.

The car was one of Jeremy Clarkson's favourities: the new C63 AMG. Our driver was a quietly spoken man; Tony Lyons, which it turned out, was a championship winning touring car driver. It was an off the wall experience. The 6.3 V8 was at full song and in Tony's hands, the car was darting all over the new test-track, drifting through the longer corners, breaking late into hairpins, it was beyond any in-car experience I've had before. SL and I departed the track a little worse for wear and returned back inside the MW building. Anymore than 10 minutes with Tony in touring car mode, we would have seen lunch again.

Even as I write, I still don't really get the point of MercedesWorld. It's like the re-tardis, huge on the outside, really nothing in it on the inside, and it wasn't empty feeling either. Part museum, part giftshop, part dealership and service centre, it did none of them convincingly. For example, it had a range of vehicles from the first 1884 Benz to the newest E-class, but in 1:24 model form! As for the link between Mercedes and Brooklands, it was nonexistent in any of the small handful of picture displays. Iet was less of a flagship cultural centre MBUK would have you believe, more an average city dealership, quite like Glasgow Audi, which even has an art gallery too. I did enjoy sitting in a number of the current range of Mercs, full sized and including the recently launched E-class coupe. It was nice to do this without the usual "can I help you sir?" attitude from the one or two sales staff we saw. But if this is the only reason MW is here, then it's looking poor value for the Daimler-Benz buck.

Home was beckoning, it was father's day and we were to have dinner with mine. Normally I hate to leave places; there's always more to see, but not today. It's brilliant to see the Grand Prix somewhere publicly, specially if you can't make it to the track, and especially for free, but I just can't see what's in it for Mercedes and their World. I did buy a DVD in the giftshop, reduced to three pounds; Full Circuit: The History of Mercedes and Brooklands.

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