I started watching F1 in 2001. Michael Schumacher had won his first title with Ferrari the previous year at Suzuka and the team took the constructors’ title at Sepang. My dad watched the race and I watched the podium celebrations. I don’t know if it was those eye-catching red wigs or the unabashed happiness on the Ferrari team’s faces, but that afternoon converted me immediately into a fan. I was ignorant of their legacy and their 21-year-old title drought. I simply vowed to watch and support Ferrari next season onwards. March couldn’t come soon enough.
It did, eventually, and in style. Year after year of Ferrari victories followed. A process was followed clinically — race, victory, German anthem, Italian anthem, champagne sprays. This kept me going as I prepared for endless tests every Sunday, stepping into the crucial Board exam years, then days and nights of engineering entrance preparations at the State Board hellholes. Ferrari’s was the light that shone bright and steady throughout,giving me courage, hope, and confidence. It was as if Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Ross Brawn, Jean Todt, and a host of other people toiled to make a teenager in faraway Vizag deliriously happy. So did other people — my dad bought me the Sportstar regularly and I plastered my walls with Ferrari posters. His colleague passed on a copy of Overdrive featuring a Schumacher interview and a Ferrari-themed calendar. The Hindu covered F1 fairly well and there were plenty of photos for me to cut out and stick in my scrapbook. Life on the other side of the exam drama was good.
In the early years, my ambitions were restricted to collecting photos and articles, but I soon started imagining I worked with an F1 team — then dreaming that I’d work with one. A few years later, when Narain Karthikeyan entered the picture and eventually Force India came into being, I told a teacher that my dreams might actually come true. He told me to aim big — why Force India, why not Ferrari? Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to pursue a career in motorsports and never took any concrete steps in that direction. However, I am glad that I didn’t end up working with Force India — the Gelusil livery they ended up in after it became Racing Point, the scandal of being considered a Mercedes duplicate, were things I could live without. Remember Spygate? (And there I go again, thinking I was actually on the sidelines while all this unfolded. But this is what following team sports does to you.)
I never aspired to be a driver, knowing well that if I couldn’t even get on a ferris wheel, the pummelling of G-forces would turn me to pulp. Instead, engineering could be an option. I paid more attention to certain chapters in Physics (kinetics, dynamics, viscosity); to this day, I look back fondly on Bernoulli’s Principle. But with our cutting-edge syllabus from the 70s and teachers who had freshly graduated from college themselves, I quickly found myself losing the little grasp I had on engineering.
In the meantime, I wrote race reports on my blog read by a grand total of ten people. I looked up to Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn, the only Indian-born team principal on the grid. But as real life took over and Ferrari’s glory dimmed, I veered away from the sport. I skimmed through reports, knew the drivers’ names, but didn’t follow the sport keenly for a few years. Through this period, though, I continued to root for Ferrari.
The something changed last year and I had to return to F1 full-time. I had been reading books about the sport off and on, but I wanted to get back to active watching. I wanted the highs and the lows of supporting a team, of the sweet rewards that eventually arrived after years of patience. I wanted to begin Monday mornings grumbling about the team’s abysmal showing, or soaring like a kite. With Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz getting started on what will hopefully be a formidable partnership, and Mick Schumacher entering F1, there were things to look forward to.
Interestingly enough, after a year of nursing Ferrari’s woes, Sunday’s race felt like a reward. Ferrari were expected to do well with the rule changes, but I never dreamt of a 1–2 finish: their first in a season opener since Bahrain 2010. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high now, but it does look like Ferrari will not be an also-ran this season. Haas, surprisingly, has also discovered some magic. I think I pinched myself harder at Kevin Magnussen’s fifth place finish than at Red Bull’s failure. Miracles do happen.
And as we enter a new season, I’ve found myself a solid, more realistic F1 ambition: to build out my library of motorsport books and understand the technical aspects of the sport well, especially with the new regulations coming in this year. I’m working my way through a little collection at the moment, with Ross Brawn’s strategy lessons and car designer Adrian Newey’s memoir in my to-read pile while I work my way through Steve Matchett’s Life in the Fast Lane. Life is a truly enjoyable read, taking the reader through the 1994 season, with Matchett’s British humour shining through. The chapters are divided into twelve months and as I plunge into March, I have a newfound admiration for the team engineers and mechanics. In fact, had I read this during my exam days, I’d have related more with the mechanics pulling all-nighters than with the midfield drivers.
In keeping with my tradition of reading several books at once, I’ve also resumed Kimi Räikkönen’s biography. Kimi’s story fills the gaps of his absence on the track. His interviews are as entertaining as his terse radio messages. I’d like to set my WhatsApp status to “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing,” but my colleagues may not take very kindly to it.
I’m really looking forward to the Adrian Newey next — it promises a good dose of Physics nostalgia with its diagrams and explanations. I’ll get to revisit my old friend Bernoulli, get nostalgic over the scrumptious Ferrari-McLaren battles. And a few months on, I may have a new F1 ambition: to build a stellar, winning race car.