Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hours to go until the first green flag of the season

It's Thursday evening and I'm sitting in the living room of my student house nearing the end of the university term, reflecting on the fact that it's now only a few hours before F1 2012 starts. In the six or so years that I've been adamantly following F1 there have been vast changes to the sport, some good, some perhaps not so good. One thing I have noticed though is the increasing length of the seasons.

For those of you who perhaps don't follow F1, the season usually runs from mid-March to November, giving us fans eight months (or thereabouts) of weekends filled with the sound of those beautiful cars (of course, with the stepped noses we might have to rethink the term 'beautiful'). However, I find that the time in between seasons we're left somewhat in a void, where there is very little news until we near the start of the new season.

At the end of November last year I genuinely didn't want the season to finish. I'd pretty much based my time around watching the races. For people like me who have to dedicate most of their lives to university work and passing exams, the relief of a weekend watching F1 is beyond comparison. It's more than just watching a sport; for me it's a time when I get to go back home with my family and just spend time enjoying a break from work. So, when the season ended I was completely lost. I'd not been able to justify spending a weekend away from university work, and so over the last four months I've mostly been removed from regular motorsport.

While the off-season sounds completely like a down side, there is a massive bonus to a lack of F1. Simply that with no F1 on the television, we have to go out and seek things to do. This year, like last year, my Dad and I went to the Autosport International Show.

If you've never been to this show before, I'd wholly and completely recommend it. Dad and I have been to our fair share of Top Gear Live shows, and while admittedly the live action show there is beyond comparison, the motorsport element to Autosport is simply amazing. This year, an Ayrton Senna display was one of the highlights, as well as the F1 grid. When I first went to Autosport International in January 2011, I was amazed by the F1 grid. The cars there (although labelled as the most recent are actually from several different years - you know you're a bit too obsessed with F1 when you're lecturing why a car is from 2008 and why another is from 2009...) are really up close, and so it's a rare opportunity to see them in all their intricate detail. My first trip to Autosport represented the first time I'd actually seen a range of real F1 cars in the flesh, bar the odd one or two at other shows. That year I must have managed to spend at least a whole hour staring at the cars, looking at the smallest details on them. You can stand and stare at those cars for ages and still notice everything about them - it's testament to the sport's attention to detail that the smallest things count. When I went to the show this year, I was prepared for seeing the F1 cars, I'd seen them on track at the Nurburgring after all. However, being so close to them was again mind boggling. I was also in for a rare treat courtesy of Caterham F1 (formerly Team Lotus). I got to get next to an F1 car with no restrictive barriers. For the first time, I was able to get within inches of a car and see literally everything about it really up close. Going to that show honestly makes you appreciate the sport all the more. So, while the off-season has the massive down side of no on-track action, it also makes you see the sport from new angles by getting off of the sofa and actually doing something.

What else can be said about four months with no F1? Well, quite simply it makes you appreciate it more. The anticipation you feel when you're coming up to that first race of the season is special. The first race of the year is also kind of magical in its own way. The atmosphere among the fans when preseason testing starts up is perhaps the first indication of a new year to come, and it's then that the excitement starts. Honestly, I know Bernie Ecclestone wants to extend the season to 25 races, and have F1 nearly all year round, but it just wouldn't be the same. Where would the anticipation be? Would you really get the interest around who will be the fastest? And would you have to actively seek out new things to do when the racing was off? Probably not. The off-season is, in a way, an important part of any F1 fan's appreciation of the sport. If that four month break wasn't there, I doubt very much that we'd be as excited and interested by this weekend. I also doubt that I'd take the effort to get up at a ridiculous hour to watch the testing. However, the break's been a long one and so in a few hours from now I'll be tucked up warm in bed with my (personalised) Red Bull Racing blanket (I know, it's one of the awesome Christmas presents I got this year) and my laptop, watching the ugly nosed cars and listening to that amazing sound. It's been a long winter, and frankly it's great to be back at last.