If you’ve ever seen Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, you’d likely agree that they’re picturesque. This lovely swathe of greenbelt, overlooked by Edinburgh Castle atop a craggy precipice, is a pretty alternative to the urban chaos that buzzes around it. Whilst it’s perfect for an after-dinner walk or afternoon in the sunshine, it proved to be a rather snug playground for two McLarens and a Caparo last Thursday.
The three supercars shot along a narrow route through the park as part of Johnnie Walker’s ‘Join the Pact’ initiative against the dangers of drink-driving. None other than Mika Hakkinen, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were in attendance, with the retired ace piloting a very twitchy Caparo and the two McLaren F1 drivers in charge of identical 650S’.
As PR events go, this was worth braving the biting cold for. Thankfully, the obligatory on-stage small talk was soon pierced by the shriek of a cold Caparo warming up. Capable of reaching 0-100mph in a face-meltingly quick blur of 5 seconds, today would be more about braving the cracked, lumpy and narrow surface of the gardens than about setting speed records. With the crowd enticed and the stars shuttled in by Mercedes minivan, we were ready to begin.
|Hakkinen’s warm-up man (literally)|
Rookie Magnussen was the first to attack the route in the blue twin-turbo’d McLaren, and created a dry line for the cars to follow. Full-bore upshifts were an aural delight with its whistling turbos, and the P1-esque airbrake was even brought into play when slowing for the route’s only corner. The car’s hard use was evident by the time that Jenson Button came to take lucky participants out in the McLaren Orange car, as the carbon ceramic brakes began to squeak.
From a spectator’s point of view, it appeared that the more experienced Button was much less hesitant in the damp conditions compared to the 22 year-old. His throttle input, whilst still enough to induce some crowd-pleasing wheelspin, seemed to be more measured than the young Dane’s. As the event wore on, the crowd became more restless. When would Mika be taking out the Caparo?
As a diehard F1 fan, I spent much of the late-90’s wide-eyed in front of the TV watching Hakkinen and Schumacher vie for position in the driver’s championship. Whilst I managed to maintain my journalistic role for the day, I must confess that I was a little bit awed that one of the sport’s best drivers (and overtakers) was right in front of me. Oddly, my first thought was ‘Oh, his haircut hasn’t changed at all since his racing days’. Perhaps the cold air was making me delusional.
|Skip to 1:08 in the video below to see what the Flying Finn used to do|
Mika was inserted into the tight-fitting Caparo; a car that you don’t so much as drive as wear like an extension of your clothing. This T1 is one of only eleven worldwide and has been tailored to Mika’s physical and racing requirements. After a short recce over the skittery surface, it was down to business with passengers riding onboard. The car shrieked back and forth along the route, but embarrassingly it needed a helpful push from the marshals at the end of each run. Whoever planned the event in Princes Gardens was not mindful of the Caparo’s lack of a reverse gear. T1s are brilliant for lap records, but not so hot at three-point turns.
The Finn’s car control was nothing short of masterful. Despite the tight confines of the route, he wasn’t holding back. More than once a flare of high revs and wheelspin was kept in check by his quick reactions. As the Caparo blasted by less than a metre away from me, it seemed to consume all the air around it. A painful-yet-brief assault on the ears was more than worth it to see him tame what is a very intimidating rocketship. On his final run, he whipped into the main area and effortlessly fired out a few donuts to keep us all happy.
As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the event Jenson Button handed out signed caps to the crowd. One dumbfounded journalist was in the right place at the right time and exchanged a few brief words with the 2009 World Champion. The cap’s now on proud display at home. Not only did I see two World Champions, but I got a hat too. Perhaps the close confines of Princes Street Gardens isn’t such a bad thing after all.