Twenty years ago I got bored, turned the TV on and caught my first glimpse of some funny-looking cars blasting around a place called Silverstone.
It was the 1989 British Grand Prix which, though not remembered as a classic, was my first taste of Formula 1. Without it, I might well have ended up writing Football Fanatic. I’m glad I didn’t…
Looking back at the BBC’s coverage from that weekend, I can spot any number of things that would have caught my attention.
Crowd favourite Nigel Mansell was an obvious draw, and there was other British talent in the form of Martin Brundle, Jonathan Palmer and Derek Warwick.
It was a colourful world that drew me in – of scarlet Ferraris, blue Ligiers, yellow Lotuses and the United Colours of Benetton. And an exotic one – drivers with names like Ayrton Senna, Satoru Nakajima and Olivier Grouillard.
I remember how poorly I comprehended what was going on. When the points table flashed up at the end of the race I wondered if the drivers got the same number of points for winning each round.
And I figured that, although Mansell failed to win, it was good that Alain Prost had won because he was from France, which wasn’t too far away from Britain…
When Mansell finally got his championship in 1992 I was jubilant – and then had the wind knocked out of me when I discovered my hero was off to race Indy Cars in America the following year. Damon Hill took his place at Williams, but without Mansell’s swashbuckling style it wasn’t the same.
Still, I kept watching. By now I had F1 posters on my wall, Lego racing cars all over the floor and Geoff Crammond’s "Grand Prix" on my Commodore Amiga. I was hooked.
Somewhere along the lines I had discovered a passion for the sport itself, rather than just tuning in to see if my favourite driver had won. And so, whatever trauma F1 has faced – and of my time the horrors of 1994 by exceeds them all by far – the idea that I might not tune in for the next race has always been unthinkable to me.
Family holidays were interrupted by Sunday sojourns to local bars so I could get my F1 fix. Church was tolerated on the strict understanding that we got back in time for me to hear the strains of “The Chain”. Even today, friends don’t call me at 1pm on a weekend just in case…
For me, the early 2000s were spoiled by the Schumcher strangehold. In 2002 especially I begrudged him his success because of Ferrari’s crass manipulation of races in Austria and America (the latter particularly unforgivable because of F1’s fragile foothold in the States).
But in 2004 my indignation turned on the teams that had failed to provide any kind of meaningful opposition to Ferrari – Williams (who squandered their BMW power on a monstrously ugly and not especially quick car) and McLaren (who had ventured up what looked like a conceptual blind alley with the MP4-18 and 19).
In 2005, tired of flame wars on forums and feeling F1 fans were poorly catered for online, I decided to start a Formula 1 website of my own. Four and a half years later, F1 Fanatic has grown far quicker than I ever imagined it might. And it’s brought me in touch with a world of fans who share a common passion for the pinnacle of motor racing.
It’s sad that as I write a reminiscence of my early years as an F1 fan others are penning grim articles describing what some are calling the worst political crisis in F1’s history – even eclipsing that of the FISA-FOCA war, which was a few years before my time.
I have been asked twice in recent days what I would write about next year if F1 were to split in two. I’m not even contemplating it, and none of the parties involved in the discussions over the sport’s future should be either. They have to find a way out of the mess they have gotten themselves into. Splitting in two would be an admission of failure.
A little more reflection on their parts about their own, much longer association with the sport, would surely do no harm.