Now we are 20

F1 Racing (UK) - - IGNITION -

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

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