Now we are 20
How much smaller, more intimate, F1 felt in 1996. Just 16 races, and a grid made up largely of privateers. The ‘grand European tour’ that characterised the spring-intosummer sweep of the season was still present and correct, from the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in April, through to Portugal and Estoril in September. Only the mid-season foray to Canada could trouble the logisticians – the flyaways to Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Japan were handily tucked away at either end of the season.
Stewart, Jaguar, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, BAR, Brawn, Force India et al were all still in some future-imagined space-time; in their stead we had Minardi, Jordan, Tyrrell, Benetton, Ligier and Footwork. We didn’t yet have a track designed by Hermann Tilke; the likes of Silverstone, Hockenheim and the Circuit de Catalunya were largely open, unfettered and fast. The press gang claret club – Messrs Roebuck, Hamilton and Henry – were in their pomp, as big beasts including Ron Dennis, Sir Frank Williams, Flavio Briatore, Ken Tyrrell, Eddie Jordan and Max Mosley roamed the paddock.
And into this cosier, less forbidding, but still furiously competitive world, F1 Racing was born. It was a smart move, for Formula 1 had never been more popular in the UK. Nigel Mansell had surfed to the ’92 title, leaving a trail of public goodwill in his wake. Then Damon Hill was thrust centre-stage to take on Michael Schumacher. What better storyline could there have been to sustain a Uk-based F1 magazine in its launch season?
As you’ll find out in this celebratory issue of F1R, we rode that wave of adulation to become a multi-edition title, with a global reach and an audited readership of more than a million. Our growth chimed with that of the sport itself, for it was at this time that the big bucks started flooding in. Whether it was British American Tobacco buying Tyrrell to become a self-marketing F1 team (a model adopted with vigour by Red Bull a few years later); or Ford (via Jaguar), Toyota, BMW, Renault, Honda and Mercedes each deciding at various moments that F1’s giddying cocktail of speed, technical aspiration and glamour made it too enticing an arena to ignore, the sport boomed through the early noughties – the era, of course, of Michael Schumacher’s domination.
We were there to chart his rise, retirement, return and, sadly, terrible injury; we were there, too, trackside, in the paddock, in boardrooms and even in the private jets of the sport’s protagonists, for every second of the past 20 F1 years. What a very fine thing that a magazine dedicated solely to the world’s greatest sport should exist. What a joy to record the exploits of Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, champions, all, in our lifetime.
We’re not given to self-indulgence – F1 Racing prefers to celebrate the sport rather than itself. But on this rather special occasion allow us this: Happy birthday, F1 Racing. Happy birthday, to us.
Follow Anthony on Twitter: @Rowlinson_f1