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Involved right from F1 Racing’s inception, Steve Cropley, recalls the excitement of launching a magazine dedicated solely to the world’s greatest sport
It was the simplest idea in the world, and everyone in our Haymarket publishing business knew it. F1 was the most spectacular, most watched and most international sport of the age – an age in which glossy monthlies like GQ and FHM were thriving. And we were already doing well with our weeklies Autosport and Motorsport News. So why on earth was there was no proper F1-based monthly magazine in our line-up?
The question became even more urgent when we considered that on the racetracks of the world, F1 was riding a wave. Best of all for a UK-based magazine, there were prominent British stars – Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell, for two – to provide exploits that kept interest strong. What better time to launch a feature-based magazine that would get under the skin of the sport? And what better moment to publish the huge, emotive pictures no one else had time or space for?
Haymarket was involved in motorsport to the extent that it employed a couple of dozen expert hacks who had the contacts and knew just how to get a pitpass. And it had a terric editor in Mike Herd, who had won his spurs on Autosport, to build a staff and pull the thing together.
The sticking point was the business case. If this were to be a glossy monthly, it would need investment – meaning loyal and wellheeled advertisers. But where car magazines have car companies and dealers as commercial supporters, glossy racing mags do not. How could this be overcome? Discussions raged on.
Hacks tend to shy away from lthy commercial arrangements, but two ways were found to make F1 Racing wash its face, nancially speaking. One was to strike annual deals with advertisers, as race teams do with sponsors – and sponsors were nancially healthy at the time.
The second was to publish a German edition. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were F1’s biggest names, and there had been a huge upsurge in the sport’s popularity in Germany as a result. If we could tap into that, we could make the glossy mag idea y. If the international model worked, we could try it elsewhere.
Work began in 1995 to give commercial types time to do deals with advertisers for ’96. We produced a 132-page dummy ‘issue zero’ (pictured above) so people could see what they were signing up to. It was dated November 1995. The rst issue was given the go-ahead to be launched at the start of the 1996 season.
Issue zero was brave. We debated whether there ought to be a car on the cover as well as a person (which was our experience with other motoring magazines) but, in the event, the cover featured only a smiling close-up of Schumacher with the big cover line ‘Mr Bloody Perfect’, which we editorial types thought perfectly advertised the magazine’s purpose. Other titles would never have done such a thing at the time.
There were other challenging cover lines: a Martin Brundle story: ‘How to do a balls-out lap’, and a Gerhard Berger piece: ‘Hill has no hope’, which sort of went to show how easy it was writing cover lines for dummy issues.
The rst real issue, dated March 1996, had a somewhat tamer cover. Schumacher was there, but this time we used a side-on helmeted shot, with his eyes barely visible. I don’t recall why (I suspect our concerned bosses might have felt it was more obviously ‘about racing’), but it seems a poor decision now. We made up for it on the contents page, though, with a head-andshoulders picture of Schumi in a bubble-bath.
There was a furore in Germany over the UK coverlines. We ran ‘Ferrari & Me, by Michael Schumacher’, but when we tried the same in German, our German counterparts, Katja Heim and Matthias Penzel, protested, insisting that such wording wouldn’t be permitted in Germany because Schumi hadn’t physically sat down and written the story (that job had been done by F1 expert, Gerald Donaldson). This was the start of our realisation that international editions can never be slavish translations of the home version.
Still, things went well. The magazine gained traction with its audience and among the F1 people who were the source of the stories. We began to notice an enhanced willingness to cooperate on projects – something teams are hardly famed for. Mike proved adept at attracting the best authors, and commissioning imaginative stories. Art editor Tim Scott designed pages that got people’s attention, while Jed Leicester (now a top-class sports photographer) found and chose the images that distinguished them. We even got our F1 reporter Tony Dodgins into an actual Tyrrell F1 car, and printed a piece of telemetry interpreted by legendary technical director Harvey Postlethwaite.
F1 Racing has grown up. It knows more about the sport than we did. More than ever, you read it for inside stories others miss, gloss over or don’t have space for. And those of us who helped create it admire the way it continues to promote and explain F1, while staying close to its roots. We’re a little bit proud as well.