Experiencing Formula 1 cars running at their very limit, right in front of you, is a feeling that I will never forget…
Truth be told, the Red Bull Ring was a place that I hadn’t really considered going to before last year’s dramatic Formula 1 race. But, since then, it was firmly on the list of races to go to. After the weekend, it’s safe to say that I made the right decision.
The approach to the circuit set the tone for the weekend – it was spectacular. The mountains stopped and the Red Bull Ring appeared, set on undulating terrain. Already you could see the sea of orange; the Max Verstappen fans were in the house.
Friday and Saturday was brilliant. From watching the F1 boys in their practice sessions to cheering the Formula 2 and 3 grids on as they took to the track for their races. This was motorsport in a truly breathtaking location (albeit an incredibly hot one).
By the time Sunday rolled round, I had covered 60,000 steps and had reapplied suncream about a dozen times. Those numbers would only increase – race day was set to be a scorcher…and I’m not just talking about the weather!
Walking to the circuit from the car park, I was once again astonished at the amount of orange t-shirts. We were sat across from the Verstappen grand stand, so we got to experience the full power of their emotion.
The organisers of the race had arranged for each person in the grandstand to have a red or white coloured flag and a red cap to pay tribute to the late Nikki Lauda. This was a touching addition, and I wore my cap with pride.
The F2 and F3 race set the tone for an excellent race. Seeing the two fields battle it out for podiums and points was fantastic. I have said it before and I willl say it again – these two support series provide incredible racing and exciting battles from start to finish. If you can get to the circuit early to watch these guys in action, then you have to do it. I genuinely struggle to comprehend why racing fans head home immediately after F1 qualifying and didn’t stay for the F2 feature race. They missed out on hard racing and unpredictable entertainment.
Back to Sunday and the atmosphere in the Red Bull grandstand was growing electric. The pre-race entertainment was memorising. Watching fighter jets, Red Bull planes and larger aircraft perform their displays made the grandstand shake. Then, it was time for lights out.
Our grandstand was eerily quiet as the cars heading to Turn 2 on the opening lap – the crowd’s favourite had dropped down to seventh. Now, we had a race on our hands. Could Verstappen come back to claim a podium?
One of the things that stood out for me was how quickly the front runners pulled away. I know the deficit is big and the numbers speak for themselves, yet seeing it in the flesh was something else. It was disheartening yet also crazy at how formidable the top three teams are.
By the time the mid-point of the race came there wasn’t a single person in our block who wasn’t tense. As Verstappen closed the deficit to Valtteri Bottas, the crowd was going wild. Then, it came, and Verstappen was back on for a podium. I remember thinking that it would be virtually impossible for Max to catch Charles Leclerc, but boy I was delighted to be proved wrong.
Watching the gap close right in front of you was something else. Lap-by-lap you could see the distance between the two cars reduce. The cheers got louder and everyone’s hearts were beating that little bit faster. Then, the first attempt of an overtake came at Turn 3. The grandstand erupted, everyone stood up. It looked complete, but we would have to wait a while longer for the pass to be complete.
And then it happened.
The screams. The cheers. The feeling that something incredible had happened. I will never forget that moment.
Of course the investigation that followed provided some uncertainty, but from the fan’s point of view, the underdog had drove a sublime comeback performance. There’s a reason the Dutch had banners calling for the lion to be unleashed.
When Verstappen crossed the line first the crowd erupted again. We were caught up in this spectacular moment and it felt amazing. I will happily admit that I am not a Verstappen fan through and through, but we were all caught up in this moment. We wanted a true race and that is what we got.
No other sport can make me feel like this. No other sport can make me experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows like Formula 1.
I know that the sport is far from perfect, and there’s some question marks surrounding what steps need to be taken in the future. Yet, what I witnessed other the four days ignited the fire in me that little bit more.
F1 – for me – is a way of life.