Team Spirit – Not Just For The Garage

22 Sep
I’ve been watching F1 from the age of six, but I can’t ever remember enjoying a season as much as this one.

Schumacher 97

Schumacher, Ferrari, 1997 – the year I was introduced to F1. By 1998, I was hooked!

With seven world driver championships and almost 100 race wins between them at the beginning of 2017, Lewis Hamilton v Sebastian Vettel was always going to be a tantalising prospect.

And, as the points gap between them both has, until the past weekend, been relatively tight, plus the fact that there are six drivers and three constructors regularly in the mix for poles and podium places, the season has lived up to all of my expectations so far.

But it’s not the only reason I’ve found myself glued to the screen from Friday to Sunday at every race weekend.

My two biggest heroes of F1 are Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, but in reality over the years I’ve cheered on others and have rarely disliked a driver along the way.


German Grand Prix, 2013. The most un-F1-looking fan at the track, no doubt!

I always held a soft spot for Damon Hill, as my dad’s favourite, and although Schumacher’s title battles were regularly pitted against the McLarens, I liked Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard too.

Hungrian Grand Prix, 2014. Getting there with the Schumacher flag/cape, points docked for the sunhat!

Despite my unwavering backing for Schumacher, I was silently pleased when Fernando Alonso and his blue and yellow Renault ended Schumi’s dominance, which was admittedly becoming tedious to a 13-year-old whose interest in football, by now, had surpassed any other pastime.

And, as a talented Brit whose journey into F1 I admired immensely, I naturally took an immediate liking to Hamilton and have supported him ever since his 2007 introduction – yet I couldn’t help but enjoy watching another great German cruise to his titles in a Red Bull.

But for all those years, not once did I feel part of a team. It was always all about the driver; if I liked him, I was relatively indifferent to his team-mate and the rest of the garage. I wasn’t really bothered about the constructors titles. I never considered myself part of the tifosi. I never felt inclined to get kitted out in merchandise for any team. Heck, I didn’t even own a cap, the staple item of any F1 fan’s wardrobe!

This year, for the first time, that has changed.

Austrian Grand Prix, 2015. Theo has the right get-up but I’ve regressed into football gear!

When Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes as Hamilton’s team-mate following Nico Rosberg’s retirement, I didn’t know a whole lot about him, apart from the fact he’d impressed at Williams and had featured on the podium a handful of times.

It soon became clear that the dynamic between Hamilton and Bottas worked perfectly, and I found myself cheering on both of them every weekend. I watched Bottas claim his first F1 win in Russia with a new-found sense of pride, despite the fact Hamilton wasn’t even on the podium.

The other half and I booked our annual F1 trip and opted for Azerbaijan as our fifth ever live race. If I was going to watch my beloved Aston Villa live, it would be unheard of for me not to wear the famous claret and blue. Yet for races, I’d usually just turn up to the track wearing weather-suitable everyday wear – including a sunhat more suited to the beach! This time, I nabbed some of my boyfriend’s Mercedes t-shirts to wear my new team’s ‘colours’ for the first time.

Canadian Grand Prix, 2016. There we go! Celebrating seeing Lewis win for the first time by donning Theo’s spare t-shirt for a photo at the end of the race!

It was this season’s Silverstone weekend which cemented my place as a fully-fledged Silver Arrows supporter. I visited a friend in Milton Keynes on the Saturday and stumbled across a Mercedes store in the shopping centre, where I finally bought my first F1 cap and enquired about the availability of the cardboard drivers adorning the shop floor (apparently I wasn’t the only one to ask!). Sunday was spent jumping for joy in front of the telly as Hamilton and Bottas sealed a one-two and celebrated in front of a fantastic British crowd which I desperately wished I was part of.

It’s evident that Hamilton and Bottas have a great working relationship and that it’s had a fantastically positive effect on both garages and the team as a whole. I never realised how much of an impact that would have as a supporter of one of the drivers, and now I see myself as a Mercedes fan just as I see myself as a Villa fan. I consume their social media output, keen to increase my knowledge of the team, learn more about Bottas and avidly watch anything involving Hamilton. I still like and respect Vettel but feel a rivalry with Ferrari. I enjoy the good times and keep the faith through the bad. I feel part of something bigger, and isn’t that all anyone wants as a sports fan?

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2017. Finally kitted out in Mercedes gear on race day…though I really need to get a cap!

My boyfriend and I have a solid record of attending one race live per year since 2013, but as we’re enjoying 2017 so much, this year it’ll be two! We’re now looking forward to flying over to Kuala Lumpur to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix. I’ll be armed with a blue Bottas cap to go with my white Hamilton cap, as well as a Union Jack flag and a plethora of Silver Arrows t-shirts! For the first time ever, I’ll be breaking a 19-year habit and going all out to shout for my TEAM, not just my driver.

So thank you Mercedes, for re-igniting my passion for F1. Here’s to a silver and green theme in the drivers’ championship as well as the constructors!