In 2008 I left my native New Zealand for the very first time. Three years after becoming a Formula One fan I was finally able to fly to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. My first race gave me an excitement I’m not sure I’ve felt in the six years since even though I’ve done a lot of exciting things.
I was at the track every day when the gates opened, trying to see absolutely everything. I spent hours walking around the track and I can still remember how much I was shaking when I got to talk to my favourite team’s drivers for the first time even though I don’t normally get star struck.
After moving to Melbourne later that year I celebrated finding a job by booking tickets to the Singapore Grand Prix. My excitement hunt began. I never thought my second race would be the same year as my first, and that it would be the first night race ever. Seeing something that had literally never been done before was awesome.
Again I was there early every day, trying to see everything. I was so early I was the first one there.
2009 was pretty high on the levels of excitement. I had joined Twitter at the start of the year and with the F1 Twitter community being very small at the time I was noticed by McLaren’s Group Brand Director. He put my name on the entry list for a promo event so I was one of a small number of people who got the chance to watch the new world champion and Heikki playing cricket in the park.
That weekend I also got my first trip into the paddock as a membership perk from Team McLaren. The rules on photography were strict – only in front of the garage, not in the garage, not in the paddock. I never forgot the bleep-bloop of the electronic paddock gates. What a noise.
In 2010 I got a Team McLaren paddock tour again and this time I got to bring my friends! It was exciting, but not as much as the first time. Uh oh.
Later that year I went to Spa with the Sidepodcast crew because internet people are the best. That was exciting because hello, Eau Rouge, even if it took me three years to mentally recover from the rain that weekend.
Two weeks later I went to Monza by myself and thanks to Twitter again, I got into the paddock with Virgin Racing. This was my first one-on-one paddock tour and also the first time I’d ever seen the motorhomes. That was exciting.
I swung by Singapore on the way home. I didn’t get into the paddock but I did find the paddock entrance. High on the night race atmosphere I harassed a lot of people for photos. That was exciting.
In 2011 the Australian Grand Prix learned how not to use Twitter and while I was seeing Eddie Vedder with my phone switched off a campaign was growing online which resulted in two paddock tours for me. With my favourite driver now at Team Lotus getting a one on one tour from them was fantastic. I even got to see inside his driver’s room. That was exciting.
Because 2010 taught me that doing races back to back is awesome I went to the Malaysian Grand Prix. I got a Team McLaren paddock tour and enjoyed bleep blooping again. This wasn’t one on one and there were no motorhomes but it was the first time I got to go under the circuit via tunnel. It was exciting.
I went back to Singapore in 2011 because Singapore is awesome. It’s hot there and I’m generally really over Melbourne winter by the time it rolls around. We splashed out on our hotel, staying so trackside I could watch Sebastian Vettel do his trackwalk from my balcony.
There were a lot of drivers in our hotel, and running into Timo Glock in the elevator was a novelty. The Amber Lounge was just around the corner and at an ungodly hour on Monday when we were checking out to go home we saw a drunk Fernando Alonso coming home from the night before. He’d just been eliminated from the championship, so why not have a big night? That was exciting.
Then, thanks to a Facebook competition, came the weekend that may have ruined the rest of my F1 watching life. I went to Korea and watched free practice in the carpark because I couldn’t get into the circuit.
But after that things improved. I got a paddock pass that I didn’t have to give back.
I got to watch qualifying from the garage where the live timing goes to an extra digit. I got to wear the fancy headphones that let you hear team radio.
I got to watch the race with my favourite driver’s super nice girlfriend. I got to stand under the podium and come within inches of Lewis’s champagne. How could another race compare?
I went to Germany in 2012 and took advantage of Santander offering paddock tours to promote females in motorsport. The bleep bloop noise had changed. The new one wasn’t as fun. This was the second time I got to see the motorhomes but this time I actually got to go inside Ferrari and McLaren’s. That was exciting, but not Korea exciting.
I haven’t been at the Australian Grand Prix when the gates opened for a few years. I’ve seen the support races a lot of times since 2008. I don’t wait at the paddock for hours for drivers to arrive any more because these days I prefer the scheduled arrivals at the autograph stage. From Friday to Sunday I arrive 10 minutes before the F1 activity starts and I leave when it’s over because the weekends are long anyway.
This year’s race in Melbourne was my 15th Grand Prix and as I was sitting there I was thinking about how lucky I’ve been as an F1 fan. I embraced social media at the right time to have a lot of awesome opportunities because of it. I was also thinking about how I haven’t felt an excitement like that of my first race since. I’ve done a lot of exciting things but that first race was something else.
This might be two years in a row of not going to any foreign races speaking. It might be two years without my favourite driver being in town. Maybe the Australian Grand Prix would be more of an adventure if I still lived in New Zealand. Maybe it happens to everyone who gets to go to more than one race in their lifetime. Perhaps the same guy winning four years in a row doesn’t help. I’ll keep chasing that excitement though, there’s still a lot more circuits to conquer and I’ve still never met Mika Hakkinen…