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Watching Formula One

Watching Formula One


The approach of a new Formula One season might be a time of interest for me but it is met with total indifference by friends long since disconnected with a sport that once held more than a passing interest for them.

‘There are no characters anymore like James Hunt or Nigel Mansell’ they say. ‘There’s no overtaking, it’s too complicated to follow – you don’t know what’s going on half the time and you can only see what’s happening on your section of track, unlike other sports where you can follow all the action all the time’.

And they are right, I cannot disagree with any of that. I doubt whether I would be drawn in by twenty-first century Grand Prix racing if I were not already a lost cause.

They could also add that motor racing is probably the only sport where you cannot actually see the players at play unlike almost every other, even darts, where the physical effort, reactions and emotions of the participants are very much part of the spectacle.

So, why have I already spent hundreds of pounds finalising visits to the this year’s Bahrain and Singapore Grands Prix with more yet to organise?

Over half a century ago, Jim Clark in trying to convey what motor racing meant to him described it as satisfaction, disappointment and triumph; the noise, the people and the colour; the tension as he set out to attempt to justify the skill and ceaseless efforts by everyone involved in bringing his car to the peak of performance. Each race being a new adventure.

I believe that as a true fan you are always more than just a mere spectator. Even as a bystander, it is possible to connect with much of Jim Clark’s sentiments.

Firstly, you have to be there, go to an actual live race. TV does not do it justice, it is too clinical. It does not convey the speed or agility of the cars, nor the noise or colour (not to mention smell) as described by Jim Clark that can linger in your senses for days after. It cannot capture the experience of standing a pavement width’s away from cars blasting past at more than 200 mph as you are able to do with the cheapest admission ticket at Azerbaijan.

Circuits often describe their general admission/walkabout tickets as ‘an opportunity to create your own viewing experience’. So do just that. A Grand Prix circuit is a variety of challenges – fast corners, slow corners, flat out straights, hairpins, technical esses and changes of gradient. Move around and experience as many performance aspects of the cars as possible. Attending on practice days is good for this with less people and often better access. Although a grandstand seat may offer more comfort and unrestricted views, you are confined to one vantage point that has been randomly selected for you.

If you do wish to see the whole circuit from one position then go oval or banger racing. But a Grand Prix held on a one mile oval would not be very ‘Grand’.

Do not preoccupy yourself with trying to follow the race lap by lap. Enjoy your viewing, there are plenty of giant screens around the circuit to enable you to keep abreast, as well as streaming and circuit radio.

The famous photographer, Ansel Adams, said ‘a good photograph is knowing where to stand’. Motor racing is primarily a visual experience so treat your eyes as if they were a camera. Compose your view as if looking through a lens or at a film set. Almost every image you see on screen has been constructed to make it more photogenic – like painting a picture. Even the news, where for example, the Houses of Parliament will be framed through trees, or will have a prop such as a lamp post in the foreground to lead you into the scene and give it depth. At the race-track there are plenty of props in the form of trees, foliage, buildings, equipment, fences and people that can be used to frame or otherwise enhance your own view, whether you are taking photographs or not.

If you want some inspiration for photogenic racing scenes, some real and some manufactured, have a look at John Frankenheimer’s film ‘Grand Prix’, he really understood what it is all about.

There is an art to watching Formula One and it is worth a little effort to get the best from it.