As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer so comes the anticipation of a new Formula One season with the hope that it will bring close competition and a Championship that is not all over by August.
It is also the time when I start to finalise my own travel plans having spent the winter musing over which events to attend, not just where to go but how to get there and what else to take in along the way.
For me Formula One is as much about the travel and destination as the actual race track. Consequently, I visit a couple of new circuits each season taking the time to stop off en route at other attractions, cities or countries. I travel independently and make my own arrangements thus avoiding those excessive ‘single-room’ supplements imposed by tour operators.
My ‘new’ Grands Prix this year will be Azerbaijan and Japan, two countries I have not visited before. My travel insurance assures me that Baku is in Europe so making it my last destination on this continent. With the current situation developing as it is between the UK and Russia it is probably just as well I ticked Sochi off the list last year. All I can say is that every time I have visited Russia both for work and pleasure I have found the locals nothing but extremely welcoming and friendly. But then, probably none of them were politicians.
Being an early season race and not wishing to miss out on one of the reasonably-priced hotels within walking distance of the circuit, I have already finalised my Baku arrangements. The hotel I booked is now selling rooms at more than double the price I paid. Also, not wishing to spend hours in transit at either Istanbul or Moscow, I have direct flights courtesy of Azerbaijan Airlines with a homeward flight on Tuesday, giving me Monday for some sight-seeing.
For a first-time visit to a circuit I try to take in all the vantage points possible preferring the freedom of general admission. GA at Baku seems limited and restricted to areas alongside the ultra-fast final straight and with GA tickets only available for individual days it makes a full weekend more expensive than some weekend grandstand tickets. I therefore presume that a grandstand ticket does not give access to GA. So, I have taken a chance on a ‘mid-priced’ seat and will see where it (and opportunism) takes me. Hopefully some additional photogenic circuit scenes will present themselves as I roam around.
For Japan I have already reserved a hotel close to Nagoya railway station from where Suzuka is accessible by local train. They are sure to sell out. I have made no travel plans yet but it would be a shame to go all that way without seeing Tokyo or taking a ride on the Bullet Train.
Within a couple of years I will have visited all of the circuits on the current calendar by which time hopefully Liberty Media will have added some new venues. Did someone mention Buenos Aires? Yes please.
I enjoy an extended break around a new circuit but for those (mainly European) and their host cities that I have visited many times and have become over-familiar, I make race-day only visits. Silverstone is probably my least-favourite track for several reasons, but I can drive there and back in a day. For Spa I will make use of their free bus transfer to the circuit from Brussels Midi Station which happens to be the Eurostar terminal and therefore served with plenty of hotels. I have used this service several times but last year the organisers failed to anticipate the traffic chaos caused by the influx of most of the population of the Netherlands. Hopefully, they learned their lesson and will have some form of traffic control in place otherwise this will be my final visit to the Ardennes.
The only other Grand Prix that takes my fancy this year is the return of Circuit Paul Ricard, a venue that I love. But its remote location and lack of public transport makes it difficult to get to without driving all the way or hiring a car. However, rock legends ‘Scorpions’ are performing in Paris on the Tuesday after the Grand Prix and I am tempted by the opportunity of combining both events in one trip.
As my ageing camera is starting to show signs of ‘battle fatigue’ I spent some time over the winter looking for a suitable like-for-like replacement. Although making the right noises and the controls feeling as they should, the review screen kept displaying ‘error’ messages with none of that particular sequence of images having recorded. I’m sure they would all have been prize winners. But after great deliberation I decided that the expense of a replacement DSLR, many of the functions I would never use, was not justified. The future, even for the professionals, although they will probably take some convincing, must be the mirrorless or compact camera so doing away with much of the intricate mechanics and the necessity to carry around a variety of bulky lenses.
So, my trusty Canon eosD400 will be called into service for its twelfth season to join me in experiencing (and hopefully recording) some new as well as familiar pastures.
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.