GUEST COLUMN: How I found love for F1 and then lost it after Abu Dhabi

© LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

By Homayune Ghaussi

It was a bachelor weekend in 2019, while my wife was out of town for some bridal or baby shower, that I found my new love. I woke up that Saturday morning without a honey-do list and only an evening get-together with my fellow bachelor cousins on my schedule.

After breakfast I sat in front of the TV to find something to watch that my wife wouldn’t watch with me. As I went through the Netflix categories, Formula One Drive to Survive kept popping up. From riding my pedal car around our yard as a kid to a career built on the automotive industry, I’ve been a life-long car guy/petrolhead. But I had never gotten into auto racing. NASCAR seemed like watching human hamsters going around an oval wheel. Formula One seemed like a pastime of the rich in far-off lands like Monaco or Monza. But this wasn’t racing. This was reality TV. I gave it a shot.

That morning, I probably watched half of the first season. Before the first episode, I had heard of some of the greats—Senna, Stewart, Mansell, and the more recent Schumacher, Vettel, and Hamilton — but I didn’t know any of the other current drivers. It was clear within the first few minutes of DTS that the show wasn’t about racing. It was about personalities, starting with what appeared to be the fastest personality, if not the fasted driver, Daniel Ricciardo.

But as a car guy, the cars themselves and the sound of the cars got me hooked. I love driving. The commute to and from work before work-from-home days was my daily moment of zen (unless I’m stuck in traffic, of course). After hours of watching sparks fly and feeling the thunder of the engines’ roar through my speakers, my drive to my cousin’s house was something else.

Every on-ramp was the start of a race. The cars I’d pass were driven by names in my mind like Hulkenberg and Magnussen (no offense guys, you’re still Formula One drivers), and every car that passed me by names like Hamilton and Vettel. I was lucky that I didn’t get a ticket or worse. And as I neared my destination — my checkered-flag — every exit became a strategic pit-stop. To this day, as I near the turn lane to my street, I hear “box box box” in my head. And as I pull into my garage, I hear “I’m sorry mate, we have to retire the car.”

I finished Season One the next day, before my bachelor weekend ended. And for the most part, I forgot about Formula One in the months that followed — except when I was driving. The “box box box” still plays in my head on every turn into my street.

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In the off-season, I learned more about Lewis Hamilton and some of the other drivers. I watched his interview with David Letterman, and admired how he had broken barriers in such record-breaking ways. As a fellow person of color, learning about his struggles and his triumphs was inspiring to say the least. Still I didn’t yet get into the racing aspect of Formula One.

The second season of DTS dropped on Netflix and I binged it before going back to my non-racing life. I didn’t watch any races in-between DTS seasons. Before Season Three aired, the only thing I heard was the news about Grosjean’s accident. Season Three aired and again I binged the entire season. But this time, I knew the personalities so the racing became key. In the end, Hamilton having matched Schumacher’s seven world titles gave me something to root for in the upcoming season.

Now I found myself reading and watching Formula One anything. And when the 2021 season began, I suddenly became interested in watching the races. I woke up early one Sunday morning to watch a race from start to finish and I was hooked. I also realized I didn’t know much about the actual races despite all the DTS viewing.

Soon I learned the race was about more than just going fast and braking last. There was tire strategy and minute car design differences. Pit timing and qualifying. So much more than just pedals and steering. I found myself scheduling my Sundays around races. My Saturdays around qualifying and sprints. And my weekdays watching YouTube videos of old races and other Formula One related materials. My Twitter feed and Instagram were filled with Formula One pages and fans.

I was becoming a Formula One fan, and a full-on Hamilton fan. A small die-cast replica of his car sits on my desk. I was rooting for his 8th WDC. I would tell anyone I could about Formula One and how exciting the races can be. I’d try to get them started the way I started by suggesting they watch DTS first. A few bought-in and watched DTS, but none of them joined me in my Formula One addiction.

By the time the Mexican Grand Prix rolled around, it seemed this wasn’t Hamilton’s year. There’s no question Verstappen is an incredible driver, and he seemed to have the faster car this year. But this is Hamilton after all and Brazil showed just what he can do.

Brazil made me a fan of Formula One like I had been a fan of hockey and football for decades. I didn’t just watch the race, I replayed parts of it over and over again throughout the week that followed, like I’d watch replays of the Red Wings’ championship wins over and over again in the 90’s and 2000’s. The overtake on lap 48. The 20th to 5th in the sprint. All of it seemed like a perfect tale of what sports can be.

But despite Hamilton proclaiming “it’s not over” to his team, it seemed nearly over. The track to the championship seemed impossible. But this was Hamilton. And he knew his way around this track. He’d raced this impossible track his entire racing life.

In the week that followed, I kept doing something I usually try to avoid — math. I kept trying to figure out the different points scenarios for Hamilton to still have a chance to win his eighth. It wasn’t easy, but it was mathematically possible for him to get to even or better on points for the last race—if he kept winning. And that’s just what he did.

As the final race approached, being a sports fan I knew the odds were still in Verstappen’s favor. I accepted that he and Red Bull could close this out despite Hamilton’s incredible last races. And I had looked at the calendar to see how long it would be before I could watch Season Four of DTS, and how long before the races began again. I even considered attending a race in the US sometime in the future.

That morning I woke up early, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn the TV on — the hockey fan superstitious part of me remained strong and I kept remembering that the first race I watched was Baku and it wasn’t the greatest for Hamilton. Instead, I kept following the race from updates on my phone and enjoyed seeing that Hamilton was in the lead throughout. Finally, I decided to put the hockey superstitions aside to watch Hamilton win his 8th title live. I turned it on just as Verstappen overtook Hamilton.

After the race was over, I watched the replays. I read the analyses. I read about the challenges filed by Mercedes, and the decisions rendered by the stewards. I read the rules. I watched the other driver reactions. I couldn’t find a reason for what had just happened.

In the weeks since, nothing I’ve read or watched has explained why what happened should have happened. Nothing shows why it was fair or within the rules. Nothing makes sense other than drama for the sake of drama, or worse.

Hamilton had done the impossible. He had won every race to get to his 8th title. But the outcome was based on decisions out of his hands. The reason given — that this is auto racing — didn’t sit right. Even as a novice fan I knew there couldn’t be a race in the last lap with Verstappen on fresh tires. Hamilton had no chance.

What had started out as an exciting year of watching races in my new-found love for Formula One as a sport turned into a sad reminder of the unfairness faced by Hamilton and others like him. The Sunday escapes from reality suddenly became all too real.

As many others have said, as a person of color, watching Hamilton do the impossible to earn his record eighth title, but still watching him lose because of decisions that spun the rules for a different outcome hits a little too close to home. It no longer seemed like a sporting race. It became more like scripted reality TV. I haven’t been able to watch a minute of DTS or replay of a race since. And, at least for now, I can’t imagine watching a race again.

There’s been much talk since the race about Verstappen deserving the championship. There’s no question Max did what he should have done in that scenario. He wouldn’t be a Formula One driver if he didn’t take advantage of the situation before him and overtake Hamilton. What happened wasn’t Verstappen’s fault.

But races aren’t about deserving; they’re about winning. Hamilton had that race and the championship won by every standard. The ending, however, has now become about deserving — whether Formula One deserves Hamilton’s return, or sports fans like us?

Homayune Ghaussi is a car enthusiast, lawyer and sports fan.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of SilverArrows.Net.

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