The joy of the travel and the chase in Formula 1

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the familiar pattern of travel for everyone involved in Formula 1, the joy in chasing the racing can still be found and will only become greater when normality returns.

The joy of the travel and the chase in Formula 1

One of the many joys of covering grand prix racing is the opportunity to travel to far-flung areas of the globe and experience all that other cultures have to offer. The Formula 1 world championship calendar has a foothold in every continent bar Africa, and even that may change in the coming years.

While some traditionalists bemoan the expansion beyond F1’s traditional European heartlands, and prefer the more ‘organic’ circuits to the grand clean-sheet architecture of recent arrivals, for the journalists each new destination brings a fresh adventure.

From hitting the street food emporia of Singapore at 4am for ‘dinner’ after the track sessions have finished for the day to catching Paul McCartney live at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, it’s not all work…

And, let’s face it, travel isn’t as challenging as it used to be. When Japan joined the championship calendar in 1976, getting there required a stopover in Anchorage. The world is a smaller place now. No need to cart a typewriter around, faff with fax machines or dictate your copy down a crackly phone line either.

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed new working patterns on everyone, and the journalists are no exception. But while there’s less travelling to races, it’s still possible to report from the ground.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, in the paddock

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, in the paddock

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Flights have been harder to come by, the airports unusually quiet, and it’s a curious and disconcerting process when you’re used to the hustle and bustle of busy travel hubs. As vaccination uptake enables the restrictions loosen in the months to come, this will change. Right now, it’s almost as if the people at passport control are pleased to see you.

Formula 1 has moved proverbial mountains to lay on a full calendar, and the process has required sacrifices: intrusive nasopharyngeal swabs before, during and after the event for everyone planning to attend; strictly demarcated areas for team personnel and the media; and reduced interview access. Even so, F1 hasn’t switched entirely to virtual press conferences, and the FIA is now furnishing a specific area at every race for socially distanced face-to-face meetings. These are key opportunities to get exclusive insights.

When last year’s F1 season kicked off with a double-header in Austria it was a genuine light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel moment, because for all the precautions everyone had to take, the locals in Styria were palpably delighted to have F1 there. It was a welcome relief from lockdown measures.

While forthcoming events in Portugal and Spain are going to be held behind closed doors, race promoters elsewhere are super-keen to get spectators back in this year. So too are the teams and drivers, because the novelty of performing in front of an empty house has long since worn off. Fans bring an atmosphere and energy that’s been lacking. The season-opener in Bahrain was extra special because spectators were allowed in and the drivers responded to it.

Fans in a grandstand

Fans in a grandstand

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Depending on developments in the coming months, there’s the tantalising prospect of an epic road trip for the triple-header which brings the European leg of the championship to a close as August fades into September. Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza are steeped in history and individual character, and the prospect of visiting them on successive weekends is genuinely exciting – regardless of the grind involved in working a triple-header. It’s a confluence of greatness which may never happen again: what’s not to love about it?

Tickets for the Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix are currently on sale with Motorsport Tickets. Italian Grand Prix tickets are expected to follow in the coming weeks.

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