I became a fan of Formula One in 1998, at the mature age of six and a half. Kids are a stickler for that half year, while I just like accuracy.
That would mean this is my 20th year as a fan of the sport. I hadn’t realized that until I was in desperate need of an introduction for this post and asked the corner crevices of my brain for assistance.
Shout-out to my uhh…uhh…what’s it called…brain!
I’ve had an enjoyable experience as an F1 fan, albeit a lonely one.
I’m starting to realize this is a trend in my life. A trend where I have an interest in something, but no one else I know does.
Outside of my Dad, I don’t think I’ve ever had an in-person conversation with anyone about Formula One. There have been a couple of bloggers I’ve talked to about it via the comments section, but that’s not exactly the same thing.
I stayed up until 2AM today, just to watch the first qualifying session of the season, which took place in Melbourne, Australia. I’m not aware of anyone else who did.
But let’s go back to 1998 and my early years as a fan, shall we?
Insert time warp noises here.
Apparently, I was a morning person on weekends. On Saturday mornings at 8AM, there was qualifying. On Sunday, at the same time, there was the race.
Of course, those were replays of the proceedings that had taken place during the wee hours of the morning when Little Paul was getting his 10 hours of uninterrupted beauty sleep.
Also, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that I was never actually watching it live. I didn’t know much about time zones at the time, but I assumed that no matter where a Formula One race took place, it would always be at 8AM Eastern.
My body clock would wake me up around 7:58AM and I’d run across to my parents bedroom and, well, force my Mom to move. My Dad and I had some Formula One racing to watch! I needed space and she needed to wake up!
We would watch the one-hour qualifying session and then go downstairs for breakfast.
Toasted bread with butter and some chopped up salami on the side. My mouth is drooling. It’s been too long.
On Sunday, same thing.
The start of a Formula One race is my favourite because the first corner is where the action happens. I don’t know why racing fans get excited for crashes; it’s actually quite sadistic of us.
However, I love drama in my sports, and a multi-car pile up at the first corner of an F1 race satisfies my appetite. Of course, I don’t want anyone to get injured. I just like when back-of-the-pack drivers are in a higher position than expected.
One thing I’ll always remember from my early days as an F1 fan is when the commentator said, “Jenson Button’s in FIFTH PLACE!”
He said, “FIFTH PLACE” with enthusiasm, amazement, shock, and giddiness.
That has always stuck with me. My Dad and I have said it to each other over the years whenever a driver is doing better than expected.
“Jenson Button’s in FIFTH PLACE!”
Button was with Honda at the time. They were not a top team, so the fact that Button had wiggled his way up to 5th place was incredible, and the commentator captured it perfectly. I’ll never forget that.
Speaking of commentators, they all had a British accent. I don’t think I fully understood that TSN – a Canadian television network – was broadcasting the British feed of the race.
Whenever they mentioned the, “Commentator’s Box” they were in, their accent made it sounds like they were saying, “Commetry Box”. I didn’t know any better, so I called it the Commetry (pronounced: Comet-Tree) Box for many, many years.
Finally, my Dad asked me what I was saying and he broke the news that it’s called the “Commentary Box”. Oops?
Childhood innocence for 200, Alex.
Hmm…what other memories can I jar loose?
There was a Finnish driver for McLaren in the late 90s – early 2000s. His name was, Mika Hakkinen.
At the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix, he was in first place going into the final lap and the commentators were knee-deep in their end-of-race praise for him, when all of a sudden his car started to slow down.
The tone in their voices instantly shifted as they wondered if he was out of gas. All of a sudden, we get a camera shot of Michael Schumacher gaining ground on Hakkinen as smoke started to come from his car.
The engine was gone.
Remember my love of drama in sports? This fulfilled that and then some.
A few years earlier, in 1999, he retired from the Italian Grand Prix and went to cry near the bushes. The camera from the helicopter captured the entire thing. It was quite awkward.
Over the years, those two memories had blended into one and I thought the story was that he ran out of gas on the final lap and went to cry in a forest. They were separate events, now that I’ve researched it. Double the heartbreak. Double the drama.
I never knew who to cheer for. Formula One isn’t like most team sports where your default option is to cheer for the team that is geographically closest to you.
The idea that I could cheer for any driver, and any team, confused me. I wanted to know who I was supposed to cheer for.
I deduced that since Ferrari was an Italian team and that I was also Italian, I’d cheer for them. Though that might’ve just been a lie I told myself, as an excuse to cheer for Michael Schumacher, since he won all the time.
I also liked Juan-Pablo Montoya, the Williams driver in the early 2000s. There really was no rhyme or reason why I liked a certain driver. In Montoya’s case, I just really liked how his name sounded.
He was also on the cover of a computer game that I owned, so I guess I was duped by some marketing gurus.
I also had an F1 video game for my Nintendo 64. The first time my Dad and I played was hilarious. My whole family was in hysterics. We were driving everywhere, except the race track.
I was off in a gravel pit. Dad was off in a field. We’d make a sharp turn out of our predicaments, go across the track, say to ourselves, “Oh, there it is!” and then be off in a barricade.
It was a two lap race and it was an unmitigated disaster. My Mom still brings it up.
When I moved away to university in 2009, my interest in Formula One was put to the test. Did I really want to wake up at 8AM on a Saturday morning to watch it?
In first year, I realized I could just stay up late and watch it early in the morning when it was live. For the most part, that’s what I did, but I wasn’t as into it as I normally was.
By fourth year, I had given up on it completely. I can’t recall my reasons, but getting the results online the next day was good enough for me. That continued for a few years.
My Dad would ask me if there was a race on the weekend and I wouldn’t know. If there was, I’d watch bits and pieces of it, relying on the internet to fill in the blanks.
I never stopped being a fan, I just didn’t consume it like I once had.
Then in 2016, I told myself I wanted to get back into again and would really commit to watching every qualifying session and race. Following all the team accounts and most of the drivers on Instagram, really got me back into the Formula One craze I had been missing.
It’s hard not to romanticize a race track via Instagram filters. Tell me I’m wrong. You can’t.
I don’t know how long TSN has been doing it, but in recent years they’ve been televising a pre-race and post-race show. I never even knew those were a thing!
It’s reporters and former drivers walking around the paddock and pit lane, talking about Formula One. This was new to me.
Pre-game shows in other sports bore me. I attribute that to, “too much, too soon”, which is to say I consumed them religiously when I was growing up and by now, I’ve had enough of them.
Don’t advertise that the game starts at 7PM if puck drop isn’t until 7:30PM. You’re just tricking people into watching your pre-game show!
But with Formula One, it’s fresh. I’ve found myself learning new things and having multiple “a-ha” moments.
Before writing this post, I saw on Twitter that Formula One has a partnered with Netflix this season. They will be filming behind-the-scenes footage and releasing it in 10 episodes next year.
I live for stuff like that. I’m beyond thrilled.
Don’t let the lack of exclamation marks fool you.
I’m hopeful that this introduces Formula One to a wider audience, specifically people I know.
There was a time when I felt like I was the only one who cared about the Toronto Blue Jays. That changed. Maybe this will, too.
A lot has changed over the last twenty years, but when the lights go out tomorrow for the Australian Grand Prix at just after 1AM Eastern, I’ll be watching.
But don’t worry, I won’t be interrupting my Mom’s sleep to watch the race. Those days are behind me. I’m twenty-six and a half.
And yes, I still appreciate accuracy.