Every Two Sundays: A Grand Prix Fan's Perspective (Part 1)

steven stonesAnalyst IAugust 14, 2008

With a long wait between Grands Prix for the Summer break, I thought now might be the best time to test out an article which is about my experiences as a Grand Prix fan.

The aim here is to see how people's opinions differ from event to event and time to time and to share with people how I enjoy and experience Formula One.

I realise the danger of just writing about myself here but again, the aim is to share with people my experience and to see how other people deal with and enjoy our favourite sport.

An Introduction to Formula One

The 1990s was a difficult time to be coming into racing as an interest. The sport was a fast-moving one by this time, and all manner of gadgets and gizmos were being invented and then banned.

I remember watching racing in chunks with my Dad since he never missed it then. For the first half of the '90s, I remember only brief glimpses of very colourful cars which meant nothing to me and the ever-excitable Murray Walker wailing through the TV.

My first real memory of watching F1 was unfortunately the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna's crash seemed like nothing at the time to me; I didn't fully understand. But when my Dad later explained he had been killed, he told me about other drivers. Dangerous stuff.

1994 wasn't a season I took too much interest in; Formula One was still a little too complex and required a little too much commitment of time for a 10-year-old boy. I tuned in occasionally, but enjoyed it more and more and even remembered some of the teams and drivers. I was a journeyman fair-weather fan I suppose, supporting Damon Hill, because he was winning and he was British.

It was around 6 o'clock on a Sunday morning at the end of the season and my Dad was already up. The Grand Prix was on, the final race of the season apparently. I sat down to watch it and that was when it happened.

Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, the two championship rivals were together on the circuit and Schumacher's colourful Benetton had been forced into a mistake, damaging the Benetton. I was loving it until he cheated blatantly, pulling across the circuit and knocking off Damon Hill. We know how it went down.

That was it: a fun race and I watched more racing the next season. The other thing to come out of that for me was that I did not like Michael Schumacher. He was a cheater.

I wasn't old enough or informed enough to have a favourite team yet. So to begin with, I was a passing anti-fan of Michael Schumacher.

Growing Interest

1995 and 1996 were both seasons I followed, but not very closely. I did at least now know which cars were which even, if I didn't know all of the drivers.

With Damon Hill still challenging for the championship in both years, I even had friends who were on the bandwagon to talk about it with me. My interest in Formula One was nurtured by that. As a kid, I think that's how sports become your interest.

I must admit remembering less about 1995, except that I felt quite peeved that Schumacher had won again. 1996 though, especially towards the end of the year, was when F1 became MY sport.

I had never liked Football so much; it was all right, but it didn't suit me. I had no passion for it. Racing was different.

I started reading books and buying information sources left, right, and centre to learn more. It was a craze of the kind that only a 12-year-old boy could produce. 1997 came around and I was clued up on almost everything.

Why isn't Damon Hill Winning?

I didn't realise that F1 races were delayed because nobody had told me and I wasn't paying that much attention, so I didn't get up early to watch Melbourne in the night. I was so confused, though; Damon Hill had broken down on the Parade Lap of the opening round.

Coming to terms with learning drivers and teams was one thing. Learning that the cars were not equal and that an Arrows was no match for a Williams took some learning. Jacques Villeneuve became my man for the WDC and Michael Schumacher was still public enemy No.1.

I began to understand as well, around the midpoint of the season about the car performance. I had a Playstation and a copy of Formula 1 97 (Great game still). With books, games and a fast becoming regular sport on TV every two weeks, that was it. I was hooked on Grand Prix racing.

By the end of 1997, my Grand Prix pattern was established. I'd sit in front of the TV and watch the race with both eyes watching different things. I'd watch the racing with one and keep an eye on the (now fully understood) TV graphics, which were yellow and large in those days.

An Emotional Attachment

I will never forget the 1997 season. Penalties and problems for Villeneuve towards the end of the season left the championship too close for comfort. A rainy Spa, an unfair Suzuka for Villeneuve (in my opinion of the time), and a nail-biting Jerez were simply fantastic to behold. I watched with my fingers chewed.

Now understanding everything that went on in racing, I became vocal when watching the action. I shouted at Schumacher so loudly and so angrily when he clonked Villeneuve's sidepod at Jerez and cheered so manically when Ralf took his brother out of the race at the Luxembourg Grand Prix.

When the ITV broadcast of the final race had ended, I felt a little bit sad that it was all over. I hadn't missed a race and I had my favourite drivers and my "enemy" drivers. Now it was finished, and Winter was and still is a long season.

Despite Villeneuve winning and feeling like a Villeneuve fan, I had read and spent a lot of time reading about McLaren and older teams.

In the videogame, the McLaren was the most powerful car of 97 and they won in Jerez. When 1998 rolled around, they dominated. I abandoned my Williams team and rooted for McLaren. Fair weather?

Perhaps but I was a kid of 13. Becoming older, I learned more and more and stuck with them through thick and thin ever since.

The Good Times

1998 and 1999 were years where I began to get up early and watch the racing from those flyaway races. I was always knackered, but I felt a tenseness in my body and a restlessness knowing the action was going on Live. I have the habit now of not wanting to see the race if I can't see it live, and it started here.

1998 saw another facet of my experience of watching Grand Prix racing come to the fore. I actually, despite other people's "watching hoping for a crash," hated big, painful looking accidents. Spa 1998 proved this, I watched the opening accident turning white as a sheet as Murray agreed "this was quite appalling." 

As a McLaren fan, I was glad to see so much success for Hakkinen in 1998 and remember cheering and yelling out loud whenever something happened to Michael Schumacher. I willed him off the circuit in 1999; I'll tell you how in a second.

However much I loved to see Ferrari lose out to McLaren, I hated them so much and their management team for winning so many lucky breaks, including that British Grand Prix in 1998 where Michael Schumacher served his stop/go penalty after the race had ended and got away with it.

1999 was happier still. In the Canadian Grand Prix, I remember ITV going for a break and Michael Schumacher approaching the final chicane. I hoped so badly that he would just fall of the circuit.

When ITV came back he was gone, crashed into the "wall of champions." There is no way to describe the satisfaction!

I wasn't happy that Schumacher had broken his leg, I never wanted to see anyone get injured, even Schumacher. I didn't enjoy seeing those replays over and over again either. 

He recovered, however, and Eddie Irvine, his teammate, was on course to mount a challenge to Hakkinen. It never happened, and I was so happy. Probably the first and only time I went against a fellow Brit.

Not sure why, perhaps others felt the same and could shed some light? But I never ever felt any support in 1999 for Eddie Irvine. In those days, pre-2000, I hated Schumacher, but not yet Ferrari, though it was developing. But Irvine never got even one cheer from me. It was odd.

So my new team had won two driver's titles and one constructor's. I was on Cloud Nine and couldn't envision things changing.

I had tuned in to Formula One every two Sundays and left the TV relatively happy every time with the outcome. However, I hadn't realised when the TV from Suzuka ended, that the good times were over.  


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