We are now almost half way through the calendar year and a quarter way through the current Grand Prix season. This year is last year’s ‘next year’ when things, if not back to normal, were at least supposed to be better. So, for the Formula One fan – are they?
The short answer is if you follow the sport through TV – probably yes. But if you like to be at the races – then definitely not.
The tried and tested protocols developed ‘on the hoof’ last season with venues being added and routines introduced as the season progressed enabled the FIA to confidently publish this season’s calendar well in advance. With only one casualty so far and no shortage of replacement circuits the armchair enthusiast can look forward to enjoying a full uninterrupted season of F1 in comfort. And the sterile ambience of fan-free ‘ghost’ races does not manifest itself through TV broadcasts.
I prefer reality to TV and for me Grand Prix racing is more than just another pre-packaged TV show. If unable to attend a few races each year I cannot engage with it so this season am feeling disconnected from the sport I first experienced in 1974.
Last year the pandemic struck just as the season was about to get underway and as the virus spread so Grands Prix began to drop off the calendar or be held behind closed-doors. But there were no blanket bans on travel so when Portimão (amongst others) was added to the calendar with spectators, I was able to go with only the ten-day self-isolating period on return required. Even so it was rather a bland event with activities restricted to the bare minimum and no peripheral entertainment or displays to complement the on-track action.
This season, those wishing to travel for leisure purposes have had to contend with a myriad of obstacles – a blanket ban on leaving the UK, closed borders, red lists and traffic light systems – before they can even consider attending a Grand Prix.
Reduced availability of flights and accommodation, Covid testing, self-isolating and quarantine requirements, although not exclusive to F1, will substantially increase the costs in what is already an expensive sport to follow. The ebb and flow of the pandemic around the globe adds another financial risk whilst ticket agents are offering mostly high end tickets only including Paddock Club and corporate hospitality at up to £8,000 a go even for those circuits yet to confirm public admission.
A precedent was set last season when a week before Portimão the Portuguese Government halved the already restricted 50% capacity crowd meaning that tickets already sold had to be withdrawn. Inevitably these were the cheaper general admission and single day tickets.
I am determined to complete my ‘grand tour’ to attend a Grand Prix at every ‘live’ track. Before the pandemic struck I only had Shanghai and Melbourne to go plus a return to Singapore as my 2019 venture did not go quite according to plan. So my intended destinations this year were to be one or more from Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Australia but entry into all of these countries from the UK is presently prohibited and probably unlikely to change even if their Grands Prix do proceed.
I hope Silverstone are able to deliver on their ticket sales as it is looking like the only live event most British race fans, myself included, will be able to attend this season, and maybe the next few. Who’s to say things will be any better next year, or the year after?
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.