The first race of 2020 was the first F1 race of my life

What I’m about to give you is a newbie’s reflection on the Austria GP, a race weekend which completely enchanted me with the charms of Formula 1. First though, I need to give you a bit of background.

I have to confess that I’ve never been interested in F1, not because I didn’t admire it or didn’t like it (how could I dislike it if I had never watched it), but because to me there was nothing appealing about watching a 2 hour long race with cars which… didn’t look much like the cars I loved. Even that famous high-pitched engine noise was so different and not very enticing to me.

My brother raised me to be a football fan but 20 years later I realised I found it boring. My grandad loved F1 but never shared it with me, and my dad was an avid rugby and NFL player/watcher. None of this set me up to be an enormous motorsport nerd but a few years ago I discovered that deep down I had a deep-rooted love of cars.

The truth is that I haven’t been on the automotive/motorsport scene for long at all compared to a lot of people I encounter and the amount of information out there is completely overwhelming. I wanted to learn about all forms of racing and also try to understand why so many people love F1, because whenever people ask what I do they always assume I’m involved in F1. It’s usually the first thing that comes to their mind when you mention racing or motorsport. So here I am.

Just as I was gearing myself up for the F1 2020 season, COVID-19 hit the world and delayed everything. So instead I binge watched seasons 1 and 2 of Drive to Survive on Netflix (which was AMAZING) and now I’m hooked. I put together a fantasy F1 team with basically no idea what I was doing, I upgraded to Sky Sports F1 and here we are! I can’t believe I’ve been missing out for this long.

So let’s talk about my FIRST RACE WEEKEND. The stats and rules of Formula 1 are complicated enough on their own, but for someone who’s fresh on the scene they’re like instructions to a 3-tier wedding cake when you’ve only baked a cookie. Watching qualifying absolutely scrambled my mind and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep up with the commentators or the timings/stats on screen. I was truly blown away by the knowledge of the presenters and the speed of the real-time statistics. Throughout the entire weekend the quality of the graphics and production were seriously impressive. I especially loved the way they super imposed an artificial rear-view mirror onto the dash by using a rear-faced camera feed. Genius.

I was rooting for Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon after their genuine and charismatic appearances in Drive to Survive, and to my joy both drivers made it into the top 10. I had no clue how qualifying worked in terms of the 3 sessions and how this affected pole positions, but Crofty and Brundle explained things very clearly. That’s without the 3 different tyres available to drivers and what advantages/disadvantages these can bring. These drivers really are in a completely different league, and I remember a very specific moment where this hit me. Max Verstappen was down to his last few laps when I heard “Max has got about 5 minutes to go into the pits and change his tyres so he can improve his lap. He’s got enough time.” WHAT? Where else can you achieve this much in under 10 minutes?

Then as quickly as I was watching the first session, qualifying was over and race day was starting. I’ve always thought that F1 could be a bit boring because of its predictability. Although there are so many elements that can go wrong, you can pretty much be sure that you’ll see Hamilton in the headlines. Boy did this race prove me wrong. Not only did Hamilton deal with some really controversial penalties and end up 4th (I agree with the decisions made) but only 11 drivers finished the race. I mean, is that normal? I suppose I should have known things would be shaken up by the enormous 217 day wait since last season, the Ferrari engine not quite cutting the mustard and some rapid new drivers poking their way into the top tier.

I won’t go into the details of the race because they are people far more qualified to provide you with some analysis, but what an exciting induction into F1 that was. It didn’t take long before I found myself yelling at the TV and clutching my face when yet another driver had to retire. I was secretly hoping that the Mercedes cars would also have to retire due to their gearbox issues because it’s plain to see what a dominant place they hold on the grid. Even with them in the race, the results were still unpredictable. Charles Leclerc climbed his way up from 7th to win 2nd , Bottas fought off Hamilton and kept his top spot, and Lando Norris won his first ever podium. A well-deserved win for all three drivers for very different reasons and an absolute whirlwind of a first race.

I do feel as though I’m joining F1 at a really historic/monumental time, with Corona changing the sport as we know it and Ferrari potentially slipping behind. I wonder if this will make it easier or harder for me to learn, and whether Red Bull will become the new Ferrari.

Bravo by the way, to the FIA and production companies for their COVID-19 precautions. They not only managed to bring us fantastic entertainment but set the bar for live sports in this current climate. I can only hope that the whole season is as eventful and exciting as this weekend.

– Sophie Middleton @@MotorsportSoph

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