It was pure chance that I happened across a live broadcast of the British Grand Prix on BBC Grandstand in 1989.
That first glimpse of Formula 1 captivated me, aged seven, and over the coming years the sport got under my skin.
How did I turn into an F1 fan? Here are the five things that first fired my passion for F1.
In 1989, Mansell-mania was as strong as Hamilton-mania is 20 years later.
The moustachioed Brummie didn’t have a world championship to his name at that stage, but he had been through two heart-breaking near-misses with Williams before leaving them for the most evocative of F1 teams – Ferrari.
The Ferrari 640 was a competitive car – when it went the distance. By the time of the British Grand Prix Mansell had only finished one race – the season opener in Rio de Janeiro, which he won.
At Silverstone he chased the dominant McLarens of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the early stages. Senna spun off with broken transmission, but Prost gave Mansell the slip after the Ferrari suffered a puncture. Mansell chased Prost hard, but unlike his famous win of 1987 he wasn’t able to catch his rival this time.
Of course, I became an instant Mansell fan. I was indifferent to his histrionics and whingeing – and utterly thrilled by moments like this:
Senna vs Prost
F1 in the late eighties and early nineties bore witness to one of the greatest rivalries of ny sport: Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost.
It wasn’t until much later that I appreciated the complexities of their rivalry: cool, calculating, political Prost versus the brutally fast and uncompromising Senna.
But even a seven year-old couldn’t miss the ferocity of their battle was: particularly when Prost bundled Senna out of the title decider at Japan in ’89, and Senna returned the favour in even more shocking fashion 12 months later.
It’s easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses at the years when I discovered motor racing. But it wasn’t all Mansell’s swashbuckling and the bitter enmity of Senna and Prost: there were some crashingly dull races, just as there are today.
The difference was we had Murray Walker. I doubt any other sporting commentator is remembered with such affection by so many.
No matter how poor the race he could summon up seemingly limitless reserves of enthusiasm. And when the dramatic moments came, he left you in no doubt you were watching something truly special.
”Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix”
Watching Formula 1 on TV is one thing, but getting stuck in for yourself is something else.
Computer gaming was in its infancy when I first discovered F1, but in 1992 Microprose produced the first instalment of a series which became the benchmark by which all F1 racers were judged (and often still are).
“Grand Prix” may look hilariously simplistic by modern standards but, equipped with my Amiga 500 Plus, it took my enthusiasm for F1 to a new level.
It also taught me a lot about the sport: not just what all drivers’ names were, and what their cars might look like from a great distance away, but about aerodynamics, suspension and gear ratios
I hope when Codemasters’ new F1 game finally sees the light of day they aim for the kind of detail “Grand Prix” had rather than the by-the-numbers efforts Sony churned out.
Knockhill Racing Circuit
My family moved to Dunfermline in Scotland shortly after I discovered Formula 1. This made the logistics of getting to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in Northamptonshire rather problematic, but fortunately Scotland’s best motor racing track, Knockhill, was only a short drive away.
Climate experts will tell you otherwise, but I know from personal experience that Knockhill is the coldest place on earth. But if you can stand the chill (and hardy Scots certainly can!) it is a spectacular place to watch racing from. Especially if you head up the hill in the middle of the track, which affords a great view of the undulating circuit.
Sadly you’re more likely to see sunbathers than F1 cars at Knockhill, but watching touring car and junior formula races there was my first taste of the sights, sounds and smells of motor racing.
I was hooked then, still am now, and probably always will be.
How did you first discover Formula 1? What turned you into a fan? Share your memories in the comments.
Image (C) Honda