On a very hot Wednesday evening before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, whilst the Formula One drivers were entertaining the public doing donuts in their cars around Trafalgar Square, I ventured out to the beautiful Hurlingham Club in Fulham to watch a slightly more refined demonstration of ex-Formula One cars raising the noise levels at this rather exclusive private members club, much to the delight of the guests who had donned their black ties and party dresses in support of spinal cord research charity Wings For Life.
The Grand Prix Ball was founded in 2011 by ex-Formula One driver David Coulthard, former race team owner Eddie Jordan and Red Bull Team boss Christian Horner.
David Coulthard explains that they “…created The Grand Prix Gala Ball six years ago to support charities and we are proud to have created a long-term partnership with a National UK charity Wings for Life, a spinal cord research foundation, which has special and personal associations for us.”
Thanks to its success, the Grand Prix Ball has now become a firm fixture in London’s social calendar on the eve of the British Grand Prix that it is the event to be seen at with celebrities and guests lining up to have their photographs taken on the red carpet.
Amongst the guests on the evening, were radio presenter Shanie Ryan, Georgia ‘Toff’ from Made in Chelsea and Sophie Stanbury from Ladies of London. Live entertainment included performances on the stage from The Gipsy Kings, DJ Seb Fontaine and Emily Haig with host Eddie Jordan also performing with his band ‘Eddie and the Robbers’.
For me though, having raced for six seasons and being a die-hard Formula One fan and petrol head, the highlight of the evening was most definitely the live Formula One car demonstrations in the grounds of The Hurlingham Club, where you really can get up close and personal with the cars, all hosted by ex-Top Gear presenter and racing driver Tiff Needell.
First up was a restored 1972 Hesketh Dastle that had been driven by Formula One World Champion James Hunt. Then a flash of red appeared in the distance before a gleaming 1960 Ferrari 246 F1 enthusiastically hurtled around the corner towards the crowd with its unmistakable V6 roar.
The third and final car to make its very loud appearance and excite the crowd was an immaculate Red Bull RB13 driven by Red Bull Formula 1 Racing Reserve Driver Pierre Gasly. The Red Bull engineers then proceeded to plug the car into their laptop and got the engine to cleverly play the National Anthem at a deafening pitch, making me wish I had brought some ear plugs!
As well as the demonstrations, there was a stunning line up of vintage racing cars and modern sports cars side by side on the Concours leading up to the red carpet, which included a green 1961 F1 Lotus, a Brabham BT 37 with its 3 litre Ford Cosworth DFV engine and built in 1972 and originally driven by Carlos Reutemann and Graham Hill and a 1976 Shadow DN8/4A, raced by Alan Jones in 1977, who then went on to become world champion in 1980. Bringing things a little more up-to-date was the impressive McLaren 650S Coupe and an amazing futuristic looking one of a kind single seat road legal BAC Mono.
Towards the end of the evening the live auction took place where guest bid on special motor sport-related lots with some of this year’s auction prizes consisting of a weekend in Dubai, an elegant designer dress and a weekend on Eddie Jordan’s yacht, with all proceeds going to the spinal cord research charity Wings for Life.
As well as plenty of classic and more current racing and sports cars on display, guests were also able to mingle with a magnificent 8ft elephant sculpture, named Red, donated by Ian Unsworth, owner of Pangea Sculptures, which was also auctioned at the ball.
So my thanks go to Jonny Dodge, founder of GP Management and his team, for putting together such a fun and entertaining evening, giving me the opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people and getting up close and personal with some rather exotic machinery on the eve of what is one of the biggest sporting events of the year for us motor racing enthusiasts, the British Grand Prix!
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground
Photos also by Simon Burrell