It’s not every day you get the chance to teach one of the world’s top Formula 1 racers some Northern Ireland culchie slang, all while getting a spin in an Aston Martin.
But that’s what happened this week when I visited Silverstone, described as the home of British motor racing.
Four-time world champion and current Aston Martin racer Sebastian Vettel took me out on the track for what felt like a scene from a Fast & Furious film.
One thing we were told in a driver safety briefing on the day was that it is nearly impossible to crash the Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition (our car), as the vehicle itself is “too smart” — only someone as experienced as Vettel would be able to do that.
Make of that what you will.
To be fair to Seb, I thought he might have some difficulty understanding my Co Tyrone ‘culchie’ accent, but he picked it up quickly.
He told me that racing round bends and hitting the apex correctly, was fairly easy with practice, especially because there were signs indicating when to brake. I then informed him that I drive a Peugeot, to which he joked that I “need more toys to play and practise with”, which I suppose is a fair-enough statement for a world champion with a net worth of $140m (£111m) to make. When worlds collide, eh?
I then reverted to my go-to conversation topic of choice for whenever I meet anyone outside of Northern Ireland: teaching them the regional lingo. Now, for those who don’t know, ‘diffing’ is a term used by many, let’s say, rural motorists across the island of Ireland.
It refers to spinning or ‘doing donuts’ on the road, or ‘drifting’, whereby people can learn how to control a slide driving quickly round corners (AKA hitting the apex).
Monaghan musician Marty Mone made the phrase ‘hit the diff’ a national institution with his 2015 song of the same name.
While his definition has more links to agriculture, whereby ‘hitting the diff’ means hitting the differential lock pedal of a tractor to power through off-road terrains, many ‘differs’ have taken the meaning as their own — whether they’re skidding round country roads or go-karting in their own F1 racing imitations.
Well, German-born Seb well and truly ‘hit the diff’ with me and now he knows about it.
Although he said he couldn’t perfect the saying, well, because “he doesn’t have the accent”, I’d say he will still be well-received if he ever uses the term here.
Seb added that he’s never been to Northern Ireland, or the Republic, but “would love to go”.
He said: “I will definitely go when I have a bit more time, because it’s beautiful.
“There’s much to see — the landscape — and there’s so much space and not so many people. I would like that.”
Advising any young and aspiring local racers here, he said: “When you set yourself a target, like Formula 1, you are very ambitious and you think of all sorts of things that you can do, which I think is important, but I think the first question you need to ask yourself is whether you really love it, and, if you do, then I think the rest will come naturally.
“Generally, over the UK, you have quite a good network with loads of go-karting championships in place.
“It’s hard to give advice. I think maybe more for parents to let the children do what they like. If they really like it, naturally you want to support them. For the kids, just to enjoy it.”
The Silverstone event was to promote ‘Il Pitstop’, which is being brought to Belfast later this month. The multi-sensory experience, involving an operational pit stop and Aston Martin F1 car, is coming to St Anne’s Square from June 17-19 and gives racing fans an up-close encounter of what it’s like to be an F1 driver.
Il Pitstop is being brought to Belfast – the first of 11 European cities it will travel to this summer – by Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0%, partners of the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team. Samples of the new alcohol-free Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0% will also be provided to those who are aged 18 and above.
Il Pitstop will operate from 4-9pm on the Friday, 12-9pm on Saturday and 12-6pm on Sunday.
And if Marty Mone needs a new cover — something along the lines of “flat to the mat in an Aston Mart” — I’m now available for bookings also.