No sooner have you packed away the Christmas decorations than you're jumping in the car and heading for Birmingham and Autosport International. Family friends don't get it. "What is it? A race? No? You spend all year travelling to watch cars racing and now you're off to Birmingham of all places, to see them standing still..."
You explain that since its first involvement with 'The Show' Autosport has transformed it into a huge event that's truly impressive and, for fans, a great opportunity to see cars up close and to listen to the stars and personalities on stage. Harder to get across though, is the mentality of the whole business. I reckon 90% of the people involved in motor racing could no more do a nine to five than fly to the moon. In fact I reckon they'd find it a lot easier to follow Neil Armstrong.
Spectators view the F1 Racing display © LAT
Racing people tend to be endlessly optimistic which, I guess, is why I like them. There might be no sign of Dennis Norden but there always seems to be a sense of "It'll be alright on the night," even in the middle of a recession and credit crunch.
From the end of the Formula One season to Autosport International is a couple of months and, I've got to admit, you do tend to get a few withdrawal symptoms. You occasionally have time to read a newspaper and you're in one place long enough to start thinking like everyone else. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of weeks in the sun but, that apart, it's rained, every news bulletin announces more lost jobs and plummeting house prices and the general feeling is doom and gloom. Add in the whole country closing down between Christmas and January 5 and it's easy to find yourself treading water and feeling like some rudderless vessel heading who knows where.
It's often the same this time of year, and even a couple of hours in the car down to Brum can seem like a tiring prospect. But you know what? You always come back energised. You meet people, chew the fat and feel the same sense of purpose and enthusiasm that's there the other nine months.
Motor racing has always been escapism and there's people using every ounce of ingenuity to take part. But, this year, there's no doubt people are hurting.
If you read least week's Autosport magazine, our technical correspondent Gary Anderson outlined the logistics of building a new F1 car. It was interesting for a number of reasons. New cars appear every year, in varying states of readiness. They just do. That's what happens. And we're heading into the heart of 'the launch season' as I write. But Gary's piece helped you understand the teamwork and co-operation that goes into every single one of them - the urgency and logistical problems. And part of the reason why, right or wrong, F1 teams have hundreds of employees to put two cars on a track 17 times a year.
When the garage shutters go up and a new F1 chassis rolls out, it's the result of the better part of six months graft. This year, with a whole host of major regulation changes rather than a simpler evolution, it has been all the more frenetic.
Reading the piece, I couldn't help but think about the poor souls at Brackley who had worked like that on the new Honda and are now in limbo. And when I bumped into Gary in Birmingham he was of a similar mind. He'd spent much of the Christmas break in the Brackley area and, he said, a couple of trips to Tesco had been enough to feel the vibe. There's a big motor racing community in Brackley, much of it with family employed at Honda F1, and the body language in the supermarket aisles told the story.
I truly hope that there is a saviour in the wings and that a deal is done before Melbourne. But being realistic, is it likely? People were talking about David Richards and Prodrive, but I always thought that was a bit pie in the sky. DR has already got plenty on his plate with Aston Martin and made it quite clear just how he intended to come into F1 when he got so far down the line with McLaren. Ditto Vijay Mallya, who has been talking to Honda. In the present climate, why would Mallya want a Honda-sized infrastructure? From what I hear, if no saviour is found, Honda is looking at a $100 million redundancy bill alone...
Formula 2 cars on display © LAT
One thing I absolutely hate about Autosport International is seeing what is clearly a contemporary F3 car in the historic display. Like a beautifully presented ex-Kenny Acheson March resplendent in its Ready Mixed Concrete orange and sitting next to Nelson Piquet's championship-winning Ralt RT1 from the previous season. Five minutes ago that, wasn't it? Last week I was even looking at some pictures of that 793 I'd taken myself. Thirty years ago. Can't be... Must be 10, 20 maybe. Jesus Christ! We're not here long...
Then I bumped into Deborah Tee, sister of Haymarket's LAT photographic agency head honcho Steven, and partner of Julian Bailey. She looks no different to the way she looked 20 years ago when we were all travelling to the Enna F3000 race and she was talking about her baby, Jack. But this time Jack was peering down at me - not difficult, admittedly - and engagingly explaining all about his F2 plans and the fact that an F3 budget these days is about £600,000!
That's what does it - the energising thing. Racing's like that. Once it's in you it doesn't go away. And Autosport International is a hub. People meeting people, doing deals, making things happen. Drivers, teams, media, PR people, everyone.
A few years ago, Warren Hughes, brother of Autosport GP correspondent Mark, humorously summed it up. "It's loads of people all together, all having the same conversation: 'Hello, nice to see you. How are you? What can you do for me? Nothing... Okay, well, have a good year. Eff off."
Warren's one of those guys who was never quite in the right place at the right time, never quite got the opportunity his ability deserved. As good as David Coulthard in Formula Ford, twice British GP F3 support race winner but generally with the wrong engine and, unlike Jenson Button, with no David Robertson to pay the bills. He was quicker than Rubens Barrichello and Jacques Villeneuve in the same F3 cars and did things in the MG at Le Mans that even surprised Tom Kristensen.
Yet there he was on the familiar beat at the Autosport show. His sportscar entrant pulled out last year while he was in year one of a three-year deal. His age might even soon start with a four but, still stick-thin and trained, he'd get away with late twenties and more than fancy his chances of doing an Allan McNish in a proper car. With one young lad and another baby on the way, he's not too sure where the money's coming from this year. But he's not morose. He's not kicking the cat. Not that he'd let you see, anyway. He'll make something happen. It'll be alright on the night. Racing's like that. It's good for the soul.
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