If you had asked me 18 months ago who Daniel Ricciardo was, I wouldn’t have been able to respond with anything other than “a driver”. What kind of driver, I had no idea.
Fast forward to March 20, 2016 and you have yourself a woman, standing in a friend’s living room, yelling at a TV screen, supporting that very same Formula 1 driver.
In fact, even as recently as two weeks ago, I never would have thought I’d send my heart into marathon-mode watching a bunch of cars race around a racetrack. But apparently F1 fever is a very real thing and it’s more contagious than a gastric bug on an aeroplane – in a good way.
See all those people looking down at the pit? That's where Anna was sitting. Credit: 2016 Australian Grand Prix Corporation
Maybe the enthusiasm of some of my colleagues was rubbing off, or perhaps it was just a matter of diving deep into the F1 circus that sparked this new ardour. Either way, it was certainly not love at first sight, but it was still the beginning of something great.
It all started with a little bit of research, and ended with the offer of a corporate ticket to Saturday’s qualifying sessions at the Australian Grand Prix. Such was my disinterest, I almost turned it down – “give it to someone who loves it,” I said. But I’m not one to shy away from new experiences, and I guess the Grand Prix is one of those things anyone living in Melbourne has to do at least once. I’m so glad I made the choice to go.
A lazy Saturday morning, I was in no rush to get to the mayhem of Albert Park. Actually, come midday, I was dreading it. Public transport seemed too difficult – to get the 5km from my house to the gate involved two buses, and three trams – walking in my boots was out of the question, and everyone else I knew was already there. Luckily I lived close enough for it to be a relatively short taxi ride.
Once I’d got my ticket, it was in through gate one, across the pedestrian bridge and over to Formula One Paddock Club. It’s at this point I should mention that my ticket gave me access to part of the more luxurious area of the F1 circus. I certainly wasn’t slumming it and it’s easy to fall in love when you’re handed free champagne and Masterchef worthy food.
But the atmosphere was different to anything I had imagined. Being an Adelaide girl, I went in with expectations that the F1 would be somewhere between the Clipsal 500 and a day at the races. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
For the most part, the patrons at the Australian F1 Grand Prix are better behaved than some of the other events I’ve been to. Families are in abundance, there’s plenty to do aside from watching the F1 and everyone is genuinely there to have a good time. Sure, there’s plenty of drinking involved – it’d be un-Australian otherwise – but there were very few reports of misconduct.
But that’s not the reason I left Albert Park on Saturday to spend my Sunday watching the GP on the telly and listening to it on the radio while in transit.
It’s hard not to be wrapped up in the behind the scenes action of F1. Sure, watching cars drive in circles is great for people who really, really love the sport, but without the characters of the F1 – from retired drivers to those currently donning the helmet – the attraction just wouldn’t be the same.
Once you have a basic understanding of the rules, and the regulation changes (here’s a beginner’s guide to the F1) and then you start to follow the lives of the drivers (here’s a bit of background on a few F1 drivers) it’s hard not to get involved.
I built such a fantasy rapport with some of the drivers that I walked straight past the opportunity for a ‘celebrity selfie’ to watch DRiccy drive out from the pits. True story.
The sportsmanship of the drivers, the international community of the F1, the excitement, the noise, the money and the next-level mechanics are all hard factors to ignore.
Here are five reasons to fall in love with the Grand Prix.
Even if you don’t give two hoots about mechanics, you’ve got to admire the machinery of F1. When you take into account that a lot of the technology used in Formula One vehicles end up in our consumer cars, you start to take notice. Currently, the regulators behind Formula 1 are working out ways to make these cars ‘greener’ – much to the dismay of enthusiasts. There’s a big long debate about the new engine regulations enforced in the sport, but ultimately, we, as consumers, may benefit.
Then there’s the safety side. It’s no secret that Formula 1 drivers aren’t afraid to put their lives on the line, and the event is no stranger to tragedy in years gone by. But when we consider how far the safety of these vehicles has come, and then expect this technology to be in our own cars, we start to realise just how important Formula 1 is. Take the Fernando Alonso and Esteban Guiterrez crash for example. A horrifying crash that left people holding their breath for the safety of the Spaniard saw him walk away from the disintegrated vehicle virtually unscathed. Such is the advancement of these cars.
If we take another look at Saturday’s red-flag moment, the moment Alonso and Guiterrez embrace after the crash sent my skin into goosebump overdrive. As you’d expect, there’s competition and feuds, but it’s hard not to have respect for sportsmen (and women) who put their competitiveness aside when it’s all said and done.
I mean, take the sportsmanship out of the equation and you have yourself some entertaining, off-track feuds that make watching the sport a little more enjoyable. Whether you’re team Hamilton or team Rosberg, you’re almost certainly in for an entertaining chase.
Sport wouldn’t be sport in Australia if we didn’t have some supporter banter. With the Federation Internationale de I’Automobile regularly changing the rules, you hear some brilliantly heated conversations over the office water cooler.
5. HOLLYWOOD STATUS
It’s big business. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are amongst the highest paid athletes in the world, and they’re not afraid to show it. A large proportion of drivers live in Monaco, a country that is said to only accept residents by Royal Invitation, hang out with the celebrities of the world and date supermodels. That doesn’t make them worth supporting; it just makes for an interesting read in the tabloids. So for those who like to keep up with the Kardashians and fly with the Victoria Secrets’ angels, knowing the names of these athletes will not go astray in your regular gossip fix.