Every year in January, at the NEC in Birmingham, Autosport International takes place. Also know as "The Racing Car Show", the event celebrates motorsport of all kinds and allows the public and trade access to each other.
The first two days are trade only, a Thursday and Friday for businesses and press to get together and make deals with each other. The weekend is open to the public, and this year, I was there both days.
Although all kinds of motorsports are covered – rallying, karting, touring cars, even NASCAR had a representative – I was mostly interested in the Formula 1 stands.
Jenson Button, Mark Webber, David Coulthard and Mark Blundell all took to the stage at various points throughout the weekend to talk about their year just past and their hopes for the upcoming season. There was a Q&A session with the audience and they signed autographs and had pictures taken afterwards as well.
F1 Racing magazine always sponsor the big F1 display, where a car from each and every team on the grid is at the show in one corner of the hall. The setup varies from year to year, we've had the cars fastened upright on the walls and we've had them lined up in a mock grid. This year, they were in a long row, each car sitting in front of a pit garage painted on the wall. It's brilliant to be able to get that close to the cars, to take pictures and see all the aerodynamic details in all their glory.
The event also has a Live Action Arena. I have to be honest and say that I've been to the show for four years now and still have yet to go to the Live Action bit. It's basically motorsport cars showing off, and whilst the tickets do include seats to the arena, I have yet to indulge.
Aside from the Formula 1 attendance, it's always worth having a good look at the booths and stands that litter the hall. From car tuning to memorabilia, team merchandise to car hire, there is anything and everything you can think of covered in the hall. And the nice thing is, a lot of them give away free stuff. Usually it's postcards and keyrings, but this year I also managed to get a calendar, a baseball cap and a free t-shirt. Always keep your eyes peeled for any of the booth girls handing out free stuff.
All in all, it's a great way to see some of the more behind the scenes items of motorsport. I think going two days was perhaps overkill, but there definitely is plenty to see.