In February 2015 Facebook delivered me a targeted ad for the Formula 1 Grand Prix to be held in Melbourne a month later. The Facebook algorithm had done well and picked me, an addicted F1 fan who, a season earlier, had discovered the joys of online sports streaming. A year later and I was leaving uni mid-way through week four to watch 22 men drive around a loop for two hours.
I don't know when it started. I would watch V8 Supercar and Formula 1 races with my dad, but something in the final years of my high school life got me hooked on F1, the alleged 'pinnacle' of motorsport. In 2014, when Western Australian Daniel Ricciardo moved up the ranks in the F1 world to join the Red Bull racing team, I knew I was in for the long haul.
2014 came and went, with Ricciardo beating teammate and (four-time) World Champion Sebastian Vettel convincingly over the season, earning some dramatic victories. The habit of staying up for a two-hour window every fortnight became as much of a habit for me as dominating races did for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, with Hamilton easily earning the championship.
2015 similarly came and went, with no end in sight to the Mercedes dominance. In February I considered if the Australian Grand Prix Association would consider my SURG credentials as a valid enough reason for a weekend in Melbourne. I quickly realised that they probably would not, considering at the time Media Accreditations had closed more than a fortnight ago, and I was finding it hard enough to get Garth from publicity house Falcona to respond to my emails. (He still has not)
Formula 1 is a sport of high emotion, and this was slowly building on me. The Hunt/Lauda rivalry of Rush, or Jenson Button's championship winning lap in 2009, are all part of the soap opera that surrounds the sport for the other 31 weeks of the year in which there is no on-track action. 2014 saw the first death in Formula 1 in my lifetime, with Jules Bianchi sadly passing away from injuries he sustained in the Japanese Grand Prix. 2015 saw four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel almost in tears on the podium in Malaysia as his embodied his hero Michael Schumacher in the red overalls of the Scuderia Ferrari. To quote Ken Purdy, 'There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games', and the emotion associated with the sport only added to my excitement as 2016 arrived.
A serial goldbricker, I purchased tickets mid-shift as a present for my dad's upcoming birthday. It instantly became a family trip to Melbourne, with me flying down early Thursday morning to go straight to the track, meeting my parents that afternoon and my sister on Friday night.
The event was like no sporting event I had been to before. Even on Thursday, with empty stands and no real action on track, the atmosphere was buzzing and popular areas, like the autograph stage and the 'Melbourne Walk' (the closest thing to a red-carpet for the drivers, if you will), were packed. I was privy to two pit lane walks, allowing an up-close and personal view of the inner sanctums of the teams.
The main events of the weekend were Qualifying and the Grand Prix, held on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The FIA, the international body that certifies racing series', and FOM, the Formula One promoter and rights holder, had fought to have a new Qualifying method introduced this year to further entertain those at the track. It replaced timed 'best-lap' sessions with elimination sessions, which was quite exciting for the first few drivers eliminated, until teams stopped competing against the clock and we saw drivers being eliminated while still in their garages or not even in their cars. Nonetheless, the stage was set for the main event on Sunday and Qualifying had proved that it would be a good competition.
The race was full of drama and reassured every Formula 1 fan that this season would (hopefully) not be a Mercedes whitewash. It saw one of the most shocking crashes in recent memory, with Fernando Alonso clipping Esteban Gutierrez on Lap 17, causing a red flag. The crash was as jarring at the track as in the broadcast, as the camera zoomed out of a fairly innocuous image of Gutierrez's car to show the sunken wreck of Alonso's McLaren. The race was halted an a momentary lull (the first of the very upbeat weekend) fell upon the track.
Alonso was cleared of injury (however would not return for the next race) and the race resumed after debris was cleared. The introduction of a third choice of tyre compounds added variety to the race and combined with the red flag, this saw Romain Grosjean finish the race in 6th for the new Haas F1 team without conducting a pit stop.
Rosberg and Hamilton completed a 1-2 finish for Mercedes but Ferrari were hot on their heels with Sebastian Vettel only 1.5s behind.
Throughout the weekend, all over the track, was such an amazing atmosphere that I was immediately researching the most cost-effective way to attend my next Grand Prix (probably Malaysia, although the new street circuit in Azerbaijan would be cool). Formula 1 is a modern travelling circus, a family of 22 drivers, 11 teams, and countless support staff, as well as their houseguests of thousands of local staff and over 300 000 fans at the track. It builds up slowly to the ultimate crescendo, timed best to coincide with UK viewing hours, and leaves the city buzzing for days afterwards.
I would greatly recommend turning up, or even watching a highlight reel on channel ONE in one of the rare times they show one, even watching Rush, or Canada or Hungary 2014, or Malaysia 2015, or even just Google-ing or Youtube-ing 'Formula 1 funny moments'. Formula 1 is the worldwide melodrama of our times, in which off-track politics sometimes drowns out the on track action, and the on track storylines are too strange to be believed. The big kids' WWE, For Real (tm), it is an addictive travelling circus that never fails to entertain. We can dream that SURG will be there next year.
As for me, I want to run away and join the circus.