You can thank my father for this blog. Because this could quite easily have been a rose-tinted take on my childhood immersed in the world of badminton or ball billiards.
As it is, I count myself rather fortunate to have grown-up in the palm of Formula 1. His simple (yet questionable) parenting philosophy was to simply put me in front of anything he watched on TV. Consequently, I’ve been left with cherished recollections of Prost and Senna taking to Suzuka’s first-corner gravel trap in 1990 and the latter’s scintillating drive at a saturated Interlagos in the 1991 season opener. I know of little else before the age of five. The results are conclusive.
It would be a rare Sunday if I wasn’t absorbing a motorsport event. I’d regularly attend British Touring Cars, Formula Three’s, Formula Ford’s, even the Renault Clio Cup. I had little choice in most cases but in every instant I was immersed from the first lap to the last. If it had wheels, was quick and jostled with its equivalent I was there.
A first-hand F1 racing experience would, however, elude me for some two or so decades. That said, I was still only six years-old when an Easter bank holiday outing in 1993 led me to European Grand Prix qualifying at Donnington Park. It must firstly be noted that the race occurred in April, not known for its consistent weather, and at a track which had not staged a round on the Formula 1 calendar in its entire history. Curious enough. Not that I was any the wiser; my palpable excitement across every inch of motorway left me relatively ignorant to the fact we’d barely left home before 5am.
Whilst a detailed synopsis of the day’s timesheet ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ has always escaped me, certain aspects of that Saturday have remained etched on my conscience ever since. And one man in particular, whose snapshot is still carved into my memory some twenty years later: the late, great Ayrton Senna. Because he simply was Formula 1 during my earliest period. Come 1993 he was at the backend of his dominance, the McLaren looking a shadow of its former turbo self. But that wasn’t important to the six year-old who was ‘bug-eyed’ as he craned his neck to the right, negotiating the Old Hairpin with minimal fuss.
Oh and how he would prove me wrong, us wrong. The very next day, the predictably unpredictable Bank Holiday weather had left a slick, damp track and the dankest of conditions. Senna lost a place from fifth at the start before overtaking all six cars in front of him prior to the conclusion of the first lap on a circuit never intended for such motorsport. He ended up winning by over a minute, lapped almost every car, and made a momentous occasion out of an otherwise damp squib. By now I was watching on television at home, but even at that point I knew I had witnessed something incredibly special. It’s been dubbed the ‘drive of the decade’ in some quarters and his first lap magic is unequalled – much like the man himself.
And that’s how I still see him – and my first ever living, breathing interaction with Formula 1 – to this very day. In some ways it haunts me given what happened a little over a year later, and I can only be thankful I had the opportunity to come within several hundred metres of him when I did.
If I wasn’t hooked before I certainly was now. Further live qualifying sessions came in ‘94 and ‘95 at Silverstone as I witnessed a new era for the sport with Hill and Schumacher squabbling throughout. My long wait for a live race, however, finally came to a close with the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2010, some seventeen years on from Senna and the Old Hairpin. Not my dad this time; instead I was affording my friends their very own ‘Senna moment’. The landscape had changed insurmountably, the corporation itself had grown to unreachable new heights, but my thirst remained. Grand Prix were not now only sporting events, they had become adventures in their own right; so much so that in May 2011 I engineered another trip, this time to Barcelona and the Spanish Grand Prix, as my obsession with the world of Formula 1 became more concrete than ever.
That, however, still didn’t stop me from embracing a nostalgic trip down memory lane last year: two tickets to the British Grand Prix qualifying with my old man. Bacon sarnies, polystyrene coffees and an hour and a half qualifying rain delay. Just like old times.