Let’s get one thing straight: Formula 1 is not just about ‘men driving round in circles’, the old go-to comment from those who have no interest in the sport. There are no tracks used by F1 that are neatly circular!
And, from a female fan’s point of view, F1 is absolutely not just about the races… it is a world within itself, and possibly the most fascinating reality show on television.
We come to know the drivers, and we worry about them. We also learn to recognise their family members and decide whether or not we like them. There is one particular driver, a fantastic, feisty young man whose father is not my favourite person in the world, even though he has been behind his son every inch of the way. I have heard the stories about how he went about things (from the driver himself, even, in interviews), and I felt sad and indignant on his behalf. Not that he’s complaining or asking for sympathy. And the tough years have obviously paid off, given his level of skill, courage, and self-belief.
Women love the stories behind the scenes!
Women tend to pick up on the stories behind the scenes. For example, I wasn’t keen on Esteban Ocon at first, believing him to be a little cocky in attitude… but I came to understand him more, especially after hearing him explain about the sacrifices his family made to support him in his racing career, and how important it was to him to become successful… to make it all worthwhile. I became a big fan, and was gutted when he was ousted from Force India (I still struggle to call them Racing Point), but relieved when he didn’t end up at Williams.
On the subject of the Williams team, all women should admire, respect and sometimes cry for Claire – her determination and her dignity are second to none, and the task she is currently facing monumental. As the mother of a young child, and deputy team principal of a struggling Formula 1 team, she must, at times, be exhausted and living on the edge of her nerves… but she pulls it all together and keeps going. I think everyone in F1 is rooting for the Williams team, and everyone would be incredibly sad to see them go. So, fingers crossed for better days. I still wouldn’t want to see Ocon driving for them though, as things stand – it could be the kiss of death to his career.
There are drivers that you just know aren’t going to be there next season, and your heart bleeds for them – especially as the season unfolds without them acquiring a seat for the following year. I fear for Grosjean and wonder if he is now driving on borrowed time. So many times Guenther Steiner has appeared to want to throttle him with his bare hands, and probably for good reason! But Grosjean is so likeable and he has tried so hard, coming back from the brink many, many times. Yes, he can be a bit of a whinger, but he wears his heart on his sleeve, and when he is happy his face lights up… and you just have to smile with him! I hope I am wrong, but I would be surprised if he is still in F1 in 2020, the way things are going.
What about the technical stuff?
By now you will have noticed that I haven’t touched on the technical aspects of the sport, and won’t be at all surprised to hear that I don’t understand most of it. However, I do understand about DRS, and the different tyres used, and some of the most common rules (and the various arguments that regularly spring up around them!). Whilst watching the film, Rush, for the first time, I even immediately spotted that they were on slicks, instead of wet weather tyres, at the beginning of the race… and my partner was quite impressed! For a brief second in time, I felt like an F1 old-timer! I watch everything including some of the practice (I am usually working), qualifying, and of course the race itself, as well as all the pre-race stuff, ending with Ted’s notebook (on Sky).
And I love the documentaries showing how the hospitality suites etc are neatly dismantled and carted off to the next venue, where they are neatly-but-hurriedly reassembled – by what I can only describe as a team of miracle workers. How the hell do they do that?? Pit-stops are another source of great wonder, though I have become seasoned enough to deem a three-second stop as being too slow! Ridiculous.
Fewer celebs, please!
The grid walk is usually kind of exciting, especially when the teams all have to charge back to the pits, en masse. But some of the ‘celebrities’ really pee me off, and they spoil it for me, especially the more up-their-own-arse variety, flanked by a bunch of over-zealous flunkies, too important to stop for a chat with Martin Brundle (don’t get me started on Mariah Carey). Or, they do stop but give attitude – making themselves look ridiculous. However, most of the ‘big’ stars are responsive and polite, like Will Smith, Michael Douglas, and Daniel Craig. I don’t think that some of them understand that the real stars at a Grand Prix are the drivers and that most people would much rather see Lewis, or Seb, or Max, or Kimi. Well, I know I would. I’d also rather be in a queue for a cup of tea behind Toto, Christian, or Guenther, than any of the celebs (apart from Will Smith, maybe). And I would have given anything to have met Niki Lauda. My partner and I were both in shock and tears, following his sudden death, and it is still almost impossible to believe that he has gone. It was sad enough to hear of the passing of Charlie Whiting, but the loss of Niki was really hard to accept. I actually had a dream about him, in which he told me to be ‘resilient’, and although it was just a dream, it meant a lot to me. The following day I was watching an interview with Toto Wolff (I am sure it was him), and they asked him to describe Niki – and the first thing that he said was that he was resilient. That really blew me away, and made the dream even more meaningful.
I love Lewis, warts and all!
Of course, I have my favourites and Lewis has to be top of the list. I started watching F1 in late in 2006 (introduced by my partner, whom I met in September of that year), and followed his career from that point. I have argued with people who claim that Lewis is arrogant (I don’t see self-belief as arrogance), and those who say that he should stop all of his extra-curricular activities – as in globe-hopping and rubbing shoulders with the filthy-rich-and-famous (why should he? It clearly isn’t interfering with his racing). I don’t love everything he does just because he is Lewis Hamilton, and sometimes, yes, he can be a bit of a sulker – but he is a human being, not a god. He has struggled at times, emotionally speaking (I laughed out loud when he once claimed, in an interview, that he is not an emotional person!), and I love the way we get to see the worst and the best of him (well, some of it, anyway). I remember Niki, always up-front and unfazed, confirming that Lewis had been so upset that he had trashed his little room at Mercedes, following some incident during the Hamilton-Rosberg years. And I also remember (two years ago, I think) Lewis’s dad, Anthony, saying that he had locked himself into his room for the whole evening following qualifying at Silverstone, because he had made a miscalculation and believed he had blown any chance of winning the race and had let everyone down. Except that he hadn’t and he didn’t… because he won it. He is a passionate, hugely talented young man who is thinking ahead. He is creating an empire that will outlive his F1 career, and only very recently said that when his Formula 1 racing days are over, he won’t be there in any other capacity.
However, as much as I want Lewis to win, I also want Seb Vettel to win… and Max Verstappen… and Valteri Bottas… and Charles Le Clerc… but only sometimes. And of course, mixing it up is always good; the 2019 British Grand Prix was, in my opinion, the most exciting race of the year, and the excitement only eased after Vettel drove into the back of Max’s Red Bull – otherwise, it probably would have gone the distance.
“F1 has become boring”. Not to me, it hasn’t.
Over the years, I have heard many men say that F1 is now boring and not what it used to be. Well, I can’t argue the point because I have only been a fan for 12/13 years, and in that time it has changed face more times than I can count. I believe the whole aura of Formula 1 is now different… but different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. I have read and watched much stuff about the history of the sport, and the darkest days were when drivers were killed as a matter of course, several a year in fact, and no-one wants that. The last accident-related death in F1 was that of Jules Bianchi, who crashed in October 2014 at Suzuka, passing away in 2015, at the age of 25. This was absolutely devastating and completely unexpected. After all, the last driver to die had been the legendary Ayrton Senna, in 1994 (I cannot bear to watch the film Senna, again – I sobbed and sobbed, and once is enough), and it is hoped that no driver will need to die again, either on track or as a result of a racing accident. I don’t believe that Formula 1 is boring, or easier, as is sometimes claimed… but hey, what do I know, apart from the fact that I really love all aspects of it, from the pit-lane to the finishing line. I love the personalities, the gossip, the drama, the highs and the lows, the struggles, and the success stories. To paraphrase one philosophical team engineer I once heard interviewed: Formula 1 is mostly misery with the odd bit of joy thrown in!