Features - News Feature
NOVEMBER 1, 1991
Formula 1 fan for a year
BY JOE SAWARD
John takes watching motor racing very seriously. Born and bred in York, he started going to races at Rufforth, an old airfield on the outskirts of the city. In the mid-seventies he began travelling to F1 races.
"I started going to British GPs," he explains, "but my first foreign trip was to Monza in 1977."
The following year he took a holiday to North America and went to Watkins Glen and the first Montreal race.
"By the end of last year, I suppose I had been to about 40 or 50 races over 15 odd years," he explains.
In the autumn of 1990 British Telecom, for which John worked as a manager, decided it wanted to lay off 5000 managers and put together financial packages to encourage managers to retire early.
"I was approached and when I looked at the numbers they put forward I thought: "This looks good". I accepted the deal they put forward and, in my wisdom or otherwise, I committed myself to going to all 16 GPs in 1991."
It was not an undertaking to be made lightly.
"I tried to make an estimate myself of what it would cost," he remembers, "and then I approached four travel companies and looked at what they had to offer. As it turned out there was only one company - Pole Position - which would commit itself to look after me at all 16 races. The price they came up was reasonable and I decided I was going to do it.
"Basically, Pole Position organised everything. They found me flights, hotels, everything. When I turned up at the airport to leave everything else was organised.
"For all but the last two races I was a spectator in the grandstands. In Japan, however, there are big problems just getting tickets but, through the connections that Pole Position had, they were able to give me an introduction to people at ESPN Television and they were kind enough to take me on as an assistant. They gave me a pass to get into Suzuka and Australia, so I ended up working for them.
"For the rest of the time I was in the grandstands. I could have gone to the Paddock Club, I suppose. That makes life a little easier, but my first experience of seeing a Paddock Club was two years ago in Hungary and I wasn't struck by it. A lot of the characters that get in there don't know the arse-end of a car from the front. They're not my sort of people.
"The one time that I had an opportunity to get hold of a pass and get into the paddock was in Canada. I had been in a paddock a couple of years ago and I was with some people who had never done it so I turned down the invitation and gave them the opportunity to go in my place.
'"always try to look around the circuits. It is easier to do at some tracks compared to others.
"Funnily enough Phoenix was good. You could walk round virtually anywhre and see quite a lot of the cars.
"In Brazil you couldn't. You were in a pen where your stand was and that was it. You get a good view but you can't walk around and mix with the people, which I always think is part of the fun. When it comes to enthusiasm Brazil has got to be the place.
"Getting to the track was a bit of problem, even though I was staying in central Sao Paulo and this guy was picking me up and chauffeuring me about. It meant an early start to get there and be sure of getting there. The crowds were huge. It didn't help that on the Friday morning, they didn't open the gates until five past eight, when pre-qualifying had already started. That was frustrating because I was out on the street and I could hear the cars going round.
"I had been told be careful in Sao Paulo and it was a bit iffy. You don't walk around flaunting expensive things. I had a watch which was fairly expensive and you take note of things like that because you could feel a bit of an atmosphere there. We got to the circuit on the Sunday morning at ten past six and, at that time, the queues to every entrance were at least half to three-quarters of a mile long and three abreast. That was the kind of enthusiasm that I found. On the Saturday and Sunday, I was the only English bloke in the grandstand and they all noticed this and they were friendly and enthusiastic. It didn't seem to matter which of the drivers went past they were up there shouting and cheering. It was more intense than in Italy.
"I enjoyed Brazil but I nearly ended up staying there - when Varig tried to bumped me off the flight home. I must say I didn't really fancy being stranded in the airport there on the Tuesday night after the race.
"The enthusiasm of the Brazilians I felt was much more than the Italians. Perhaps that was because of the way things were at Ferrari. At San Marino it was very noticeable because of the, shall we say, disaster for Ferrari. Prost never turned up for the start and then three laps later Alesi went sand-hunting. I was sitting in the stand just before the pit entry and the expressions on the faces when Prost never showed up were something else. After Alesi went off they were getting up and walking away.
"For me Mexico was a great race. I am an out-and out Williams fan, not particularly a Nigel Mansell fan, but a Williams fan. I walk around wearing Williams T-shirts and stuff. I've been following the team since the mid seventies. Mexico was a good battle between the two Williams drivers. It was a good race. I was sat on the stand at the end of the main straight going into the first corner and I had a damned good view of the cars braking into the first corner and of the left-right after that.
"You hear a lot of bad stories about Mexico, but I didn't have the same feeling as in Brazil. I was quite happy walking around the streets. Personally, I thought Mexico was one of the best races of the year.
"In France, even though some of the organisation and facilities were absolutely atrocious, I had a good time. The stand which I was booked into at Magny-Cours was locked all day Friday and I had to blag my way into another grandstand, but I found that the best viewing was actually from the general admission areas. All the grandstands were stuck in the middle and there was nothing much there. You really had to walk across into the general area and there you had the chance to see the cars two or three times.
"I have to say that I had never been a great fan of Silverstone. The circuit layout was flat-out with nothing in particular of great interest. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the changes they had made this year. You can certainly get around the track there, particularly on the Friday when you can walk around the grass banks and see a lot.
"Hockenheim is the opposite. That is very difficult for a spectator. I tried to get out to the back of the circuit and failed. I was pleased with the stadium section, but getting out into the country is fairly difficult and you have to buy an additional ticket. I was a bit disappointed there.
"Hungary is very good for general viewing. I travelled in from the city (Budapest) on public transport and walked in, down the hill. I had tickets in the main grandstand opposite the pits, but there are excellent views from the hillside as well.
"A lot of people complain about Spa, but I personally didn't think that the spectators have a bad time. What I did was to stay in a motorhome in a campsite right in the village of Francorchamps. I had a seat in the Raidillon grandstand which gave me a good view of Eau Rouge and a back view of the cars up the hill beyond that. The ticket gave you the chance to walk up the hill and see them through there as well.
"Following the races is basically a non-stop activiy. Early on there was the anticipation of everything and it was something new, but by Monza, I was starting to feel quite weary. The crowd there was very subdued - like at Imola. The Ferrari thing again, I suppose.
"I've been to Estoril five times I think and I like the circuit, but unfortunately it's a bit like Sao Paulo, the access is very limited. That's a great pity.
"Barcelona was impressive and I have to say that the Spanish race was a great one as well. The best of the year. Mexico was good, but Spain was great.
"Obviously after that it was long-haul out to Japan and I found it quite difficult in Japan. Being on the other side of the fence, thanks to the ESPN pass, did open your eyes to what does go on and what is involved in getting two cars out there to try and do the business.
"I stayed in the nearby town of Yokkaichi and because I had the pass I was able to catch a media shuttle bus into the track.
"Even when you have a pass it is very difficult to see things well at some circuits, I found a spot in Suzuka near the exit of the pit road. I could see quite a bit there and then look across behind and see the cars coming round on the other side of the ponds at the bottom of the track. Adelaide was a bit limited, even with a pass. There is only a small area behind the garages.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I got into the paddock at the way in which the drivers, mechanics and everyone would stop and have a chat. In Japan I was introduced to Thierry Boutsen and he was quite amazed that there was somebody doing what I was doing and paying my way to see all the races. We stopped and talked for five or six minutes and he was most pleasant. I met quite a few insiders. After the first two or three trips you would meet someone in an airport and they would say "Hello" and "How are you?" and people would stop and have a chat.
"One thing which people probably don't realise is how tiring the travelling is. I must admit I was grateful of the break in Sydney between Japan and Adelaide because it meant I could wind down a bit and recover.
"When I look back I think the year certainly lived up to the expectations - and probably surpassed them. Because of the way the races fall, finishing up with Australia, I had a week in Sydney. That felt like a dream come true, to be on holiday in Australia and have the motor racing as well.
"There were high points and low points throughout the year as regards the results, the weather and the facilites, but overall it was more than worthwhile.
"Including beer money, I reckon the whole thing cost me £22,000, but it was worth it. Unless I win the football pools 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 and still get as much enjoyment out of the whole thing. All I am looking for is someone to pay me to do it!"