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MAY 25, 2004

Make your F1 dream come true


Have you ever dreamed of going to all the Formula 1 Grands Prix around the world, seeing all the great race tracks and meeting F1 fans from countries all over the world? Dreaming is easy, but back in 1991 one English fan called John Grainger decided that he was going to do an entire season of Formula 1 racing - and pay for it himself. It was an experience that he would never forget.

John was made redundant by the firm he worked for and rather than sit around and worry about the future he decided that he would use the money he received to do what he always wanted to do and then figure out what to do with his life when he got home at the end of the year.

Before taking the leap, John had attended probably 40 or 50 Grands Prix over a 15-year period, starting out with trips to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and gradually extending his range to take in the Grands Prix at Spa and Monza and then even as far afield as the United States and Canada. Knowing the ropes obviously helped him to know what to do and what not to do but in the end he decided that the wisest course of action was to approach a series of specialist motor racing travel firms and ask them what they had on offer. It is no good doing this in February, just before a new season begins because everything will be booked and tickets and hotels will be more expensive, but if you can book as much as possible in November of the previous year, many savings can be made.

Back in 1991 Grainger spent £22,000 ($33,000) to do 16 races. Prices have gone up since then but a rough estimate of the costs, including all the entry tickets for the Grand Prix is in the region of $50,000. For that you cannot expect to be staying in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo but neither will you be living in fleapits. Things have been helped a little in recent years by the arrival in Europe of low-cost airlines and high-speed trains and savings can still be made if one shops around the travel companies to see who has the best deals. However many of those who work and travel with Formula 1 each year have long ago understood that the best policy is to find one company and stick to them: so that flights and hotels are all taken care of and if things do go wrong, which invariably they will once or twice in a year, the company concerned is going to do its best to help you out because you are not a one-off client and your bookings are worth thousands of dollars to them.

What Grainger found all those years ago was that when he travelled to the same destinations as F1 people he ended up not only making friends with some of them but also being invited to go inside the paddock on occasion, even if at most of the races he was in the grandstands, hanging out with other Formula 1 fans.

Looking back at the end of that extraordinary year, Grainger remembered being the only Englishman in the grandstand in Sao Paulo and how everyone around him noticed it and made him feel welcome. He noticed too some strange anomalies along the way such as the fact that at some races being in the general admission area was actually better than being in the grandstands - and did not cost nearly as much. He also made one other quite startling discovery when he managed to get some passes to get into the Formula 1 paddock after he had made contact with some of the F1 crowd.

"Even when you have a pass it is very difficult to see things well at some circuits," he said. People in the F1 paddock usually watch the action on TV, rather than trying to find good vantage points. In fact in some F1 paddocks one cannot really see the circuit at all.

What John found was that a fan so dedicated to the sport attracted interest from inside the paddock and this helped him to meet drivers on occasion and get to know some of the team people.

"Following the races is basically a non-stop activity," Grainger concluded. "Early on there was the anticipation of everything and it was something new, but by Monza in September, I was starting to feel quite weary. People probably don't realise is how tiring the travelling is but when I look back I think the year certainly lived up to the expectations - and probably surpassed them. There were high points and low points throughout the year as regards the results, the weather and the facilities, but overall it was more than worthwhile. I will never have the chance to do it all again, but I've no regrets. I would love to do it again. I'd probably get a bit more out of it the second time around. I was always trying to make sure I saw everything and did everything, so I chased about a lot. If I was to do it again, I would take it a bit easier."

The hardest thing, however, was not doing it but rather making the decision to turn a dream into a reality.

The opportunity is there if you want to grab it.