Falling in Love with F1

I didn’t mean for it to happen. When I first heard the roar of the engine, there on the closed street in front of Austin’s capitol, I never meant to throw my arms up in the air and scream wildly. Who knew my heart would begin to pound simply by driving my little Fiat onto Circuit of The Americas, the U.S. Grand Prix’s home?

Never in a million years had I ever imaged I would fall in love with Formula One. But I did.

And right now, I’m pining from afar.

Learning by Covering F1

My introduction to Formula One came through Austin Fit Magazine. The new purpose-built track was under construction and the magazine was planning introductory coverage. At that time, I was the managing editor; naturally, I jumped at the chance to own this story. When the Texas link between the Williams F1 team and Michael Johnson Performance located in McKinney was discovered, I was knocked breathless. As a runner, the chance to talk with and meet legendary track star and MJP owner Michael Johnson was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Collage of images from USGP 2012

I have never been so nervous as before my first phone interview with Johnson. At a following interview at MJP, where Williams drivers Bruno Sena and Pastor Maldonado were undergoing physical testing and mingling with journalists, I had to take a moment to compose myself before coming face-to-face with Johnson. Those F1 athletes? Well, they were cool and all…

That first F1 issue for AFM is one of my all-time favorites. 

Meeting F1 Drivers Makes a Fan

My blasé attitude toward F1 superstars evaporated after attending the first U.S. Grand Prix. There’s nothing like being in the press corp for a world-wide sporting event such as F1. The journalists are dedicated, the activity frenetic, and access to people, teams, and pits mind-blowing. My husband had gotten grandstand tickets for the final day and, when the cars roared off at the green light with the TV helicopter swooping in close pursuit, all hope was lost. I’d fallen hard for F1.

Montage of USGP 2013The next year’s coverage introduced me to Susie Wolff, one of the few women in this young man’s sport. In 2013, Wolff was the team development driver for Williams F1. Through her, I took a look at women drivers and found a new connection with F1. To say that Wolff is charming and approachable is an understatement. As I talked with her, Wolff made me see her professional progression was a natural extension of her athleticism and “can do” spirit.

“The Stopwatch Has the Last Laugh” (Oct. 2013, Austin Fit Magazine)

I’m with Team Rossi

That year, I also met a young American driver, Alexander Rossi, who was working diligently to put his mark on a profoundly European theater. It’s interesting to talk to a highly specialized athlete at the top of his game, poised and cultured, with incredible access to the world…who’s your son’s age.

“A Chat with Alexander Rossi” (Nov. 2013, Austin Fit Magazine)

Throughout these years, I was attending and posting daily F1 reports for the website. Nothing beats watching that drama unfold at the track (unless, that is, you’re traveling in a car during finals, and then Twitter is a mighty fine option.)

“Was it a Vettel Snoozefest or an Exciting Battle?” (Nov. 2013, Austin Fit Magazine)

The 2014 USGP was special, my last pilgrimage to COTA as AFM’s editor in chief.

Montage of USGP 2014 images

“#USGP: Tricks and Treats for Today’s F1 Practice Sessions” (Nov. 2014, AFM)

“Nov. 1 at #USGP: P3, Qualifying, and More”

Like any sport, F1 is so much more fun once you develop a fan connection. I fell in line with Rossi. No matter which team the young driver was headed toward in the future, I was cheering for him. After the Dec. 2014 issue of AFM, I’d begun freelancing and in February,  I pitched Rossi to Texas Lifestyle Magazine for their 2015 F1 coverage. My story would hit the stands in October to coincide with the USGP on Oct. 22–25, 2015. That fall article arrived in two parts, the first in the print issue and the second online:

Web version of Texas Lifestyle Magazine article on Alexander Rossi

“Alexander Rossi: America’s F1 Hope” (Oct. 2015, Texas Lifestyle Magazine)

“Alexander Rossi Tells TLM More” (Oct. 2015, Texas Lifestyle Magazine)

As the USGP approached, I hoped desperately that my boy was going to become a driver for the newly formed HAAS F1 Team, the only American team. How dreamy would that be? But nothing is simple in this high-stakes, big-money game. There’s an incredibly difficult financial aspect to becoming a principal driver. While Rossi was smartly honing his driving skills and winning races on the GP2 circuit, he was also working to secure the funding needed to lock up a driver position. This season, he landed it — not with Team HAAS as I’d hoped but with Manor F1 Team (formerly Marussia F1, where Rossi, a reserve driver, had been tantalizingly close to driving after teammate Jules Bianchi’s crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix).

Austin’s F1 Hero

In the week preceding the USGP, Austin rolled out a red carpet love fest for Rossi. Texans are proud of those they call their own (even when they come from California), and the idea of an American driving at COTA had everyone giddy. Except me. As opening day got closer and closer, I got more irritable and out of sorts, like an obsessive lover denied her fixation. I had a bad case of the I’m-not-covering-F1 blues.

Perhaps Friday’s black clouds and lightning that canceled P2 and sent fans scurrying for cover were simply a manifestation of my dark mood at missing out. However, I’m working on a sunnier disposition in hope that clouds will clear, the track dry, and COTA’s medical helicopter get clearance to fly so my boy Rossi can get behind the wheel this weekend for his inaugural 2015 USGP.

After all, he’s planning to win in 2018…and I’ll make sure to be there cheering him on.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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