It’s been 108 days since my obsession began. More than 100 days in awe of high-tech cars zooming around a track carrying grown men weighing as little as 54 kilograms. One obsession led to another. I binge-watched three seasons of Netflix’s Drive to Survive over a week in January then waited impatiently for season four. Binged within days of release.
This weekend, reality television collided with reality on a five-kilometre racetrack around Albert Park where the drama was bigger than a bunch of couples pretending to be married while picking sides with either Olivia and Dominique. Yeah, watched that too.
Millions of new fans have happily spent a lifetime paying no attention to cars until Drive to Survive. Before Sunday, I had never even watched an entire Formula One race on television let alone at the track. I confess I was worried three full days of motor racing might introduce me to a new type of zoom fatigue.
No way. Loud, exciting, all the time, all day. Supercars, S5000 car races, classic cars, time trials, three F1 practice sessions and an F1 qualifying session – all before the main race on Sunday afternoon.
Ten teams to follow, 20 drivers to cheer for, pit stops aplenty, terrifying crashes, strategic decisions to analyse. The sound of crowds gasping when one driver tries to overtake another then the sound of 100,000 people screaming as a favourite driver appears on the big screen. Drivers double-dinked on scooters after their squillion dollar machines implode. Exhilarating. Nothing at all like watching it at home.
I was in the right place at the right time to grab a selfie with the former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s husband, also known as Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing. I kept my eyes peeled all weekend for Mercedes-AMG team principal, Toto Wolff, but no luck. Too busy trying to solve “porpoising”. Nothing like dolphins.
Three months ago I had no idea who these men were. Now I’m hooked on F1.
Hot tip: wear comfortable shoes. You walk 10 kilometres each day just getting around the size and scale of the Grand Prix track. Glad I made a comfortable choice although the perfect Melbourne weather made us all wish we’d dressed for the beach.
My father said he walked 17 kilometres one day as he explored everything from vintage car displays to Supercar garages. It was his first time at Albert Park and he tells me he will be going every year. F1 does that.
Watching it you soon realise that anyone can have an unlucky day on the racetrack. Just ask Red Bull Racing driver and current world champion Max Verstappen how he feels after his multi-million-dollar car conked out mid-race on Sunday.
“DTS was my gateway but now I want to know – how much are flights to Monaco? And where can I get my hands on that orange cap?”
On Sunday, totally on board, I tried to buy the papaya orange hat of Team McLaren and our homegrown hero, Daniel Ricciardo. One spruiker told me those hats had sold out by Saturday morning – they’d underestimated the scale of demand.
There is one weird vibe at the Grand Prix. Women are spectators only. Not a single driver or Team Principal is a woman. With female fans increasing from 25 per cent to 40 per cent, F1 must keep up with the changing demographics of their audience. What’s preventing women from reaching the highest echelons of the sport and opening pathways for them to also reach pole position?
I had another obsession which began 108 days ago. Tomorrow, as I do every day, I will play Wordle. As much as I love a good word game, the individual challenge is no match for the thrill of one in the largest crowd in F1 history.
I’ll be back. DTS was my gateway but now I want to know – how much are flights to Monaco? And where can I get my hands on that orange cap?
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 11 2022