I’ve been a motorsport fan since I was a young boy. Formula 1 was and is a
particular fascination. I didn’t go to my first Grand Prix until the 2005
Belgian Grand Prix, which was an amazing experience. A few months after that, I
moved to Melbourne, a stone’s throw away from the iconic Melbourne Grand Prix
Circuit at Albert Park. Since then, I have been every year to watch the drivers
at motorsport’s zenith battle it out for the top spot on the podium on a Sunday
I always book my tickets early to ensure I get the best seat that I can afford
and have enjoyed every single race. The Australian Grand Prix being at the start
of the season makes it singularly exciting as it’s the first time that the fans
get to see what the teams and drivers have been working on over the (Northern
Hemisphere) Winter months. We find ourselves with muddled-up grids at the end of
breathtaking qualifying sessions and this guarantees an interesting race to the
first corner (and beyond) on the Sunday.
I booked my ticket for this year’s Melbourne Grand Prix back in July of last
year and didn’t give it another thought until I got a phone call from the
Australian Grand Prix Corporation on a Friday morning in September. They told me
that I’ve won a ride in the 2-seater F1 car at the 2012 Grand Prix weekend
(subject to some Ts & Cs) just for buying a ticket. I nearly fell off my
chair. I couldn’t believe it.
Skip forward to this weekend.
It’s dark at 6 o’clock on Saturday morning at Albert Park when I’m greeted by
our host at the circuit and presented with a ground pass that says, “Minardi 2
Seater Passenger” and some ear plugs. After signing my life away (gulp), I’m
taken to the garage to have a look around the cars. There are a few photos
Shortly after taking a few snaps, I’m led out to get changed into my fireproof
outfit and am told that there are two drivers, Cam McConville
Baumgartner. Zsolt, I am told, does not hold back with passengers and
goes full-pelt from the word “Go”, whereas Cam would ease them in gently. Guess
who was driving me!
In pit-lane I’m taken to the car, where Minardi boss Paul Stoddart explains
to me how to get in, how I’d be strapped in and also the Dead man’s switch,
should I succumb to the immense g-forces to which my body would be exposed in
the minutes ahead. Paul helped me secure my helmet and gloves and I was ready to
Stepping into the car was a dream come true. I was absolutely thrilled to be
there. My visor fogged up as the team tightened the race harness around me.
There was no moving now, my body is now one with the car with just my lower arms
and my head afforded any movement and my left hand was gripping the dead man’s
switch for all it was worth (if I let go, then engine would cut out).
Before I knew it, the Cosworth V10 a few centimetres behind me was fired up, the
jack dropped the Minardi to the track and Zsolt’s right foot took us hurtling
along the pit-lane almost without any warning.
The cool morning air seemed to clear my visor but I still couldn’t read the
names above the garages in pit lane as they whizzed past to my right. We were
travelling at such velocity so quickly. I wasn’t forced back into my seat as I
might have expected: the harness was that tight!
"Oh my word, I’m in a Formula 1 car!" I think I said aloud as we
reached the end of the pit lane. It was exhilarating and felt a bit like the
initial buzz when an extreme roller-coaster sets off. But then we were out on
Zsolt Baumgartner changed up through the gears in a heartbeat. And I thought
we’d gone quickly in the pit lane, that was nothing! We were
travelling at amazing speeds along Aughtie
Drive and then bam!
It was a bit like receiving a slap to the back of the head, followed by a thump
to the face as my helmet hit the padding at the back of the driver’s seat. We’d
reached Turn 1 already and Zolt had applied the brakes, I suddenly realised.
"Unbelievable"! We turned sharp right and then left through Turn 2
and then the power is back on…
This machine and its operator are truly phenomenal!
Thump! Turn Three! Now I’m relaxed and completely enjoying the
experience. I’m watching the tyres as they stick to the track like the stickiest
I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat as we pummel down Lakeside Drive; the palm
trees on the right are a part of my mental image of the Melbourne Grand Prix
from watching it on the television back in England. Now I’m speeding past them
in a Formula 1 car!
The three sharp corners at the Southern end of the circuit try to hurl my head
out of the car, but my neck works hard to keep it attached to my body and before
I have time to think any further about it, the main straight is right there and
Zolt’s heavy right foot is flat to the floor taking us back to Turn One at
I can’t stop smiling as we trace the racing line on Lap 2. I’ve acclimatised to
the speed and can now take in some of the smaller details: the hot air balloons
up above and the track marshals dotted around the outside of the circuit. If it
were not for these great people there would be no motorsport, I feel a deep
gratitude for them. I also spot quite how close the Minardi’s tyres get to the
green-painted concrete barriers on Lakeside Drive but I feel perfectly confident
that there’s no danger of them actually touching.
A few seconds later, after the absolute ride of my life, we enter pit lane. I’m
buzzing as the car is pushed back to its start position, jacked up and the
"Amazing!", I say to anyone who’ll listen as I vacate the seat for the
next lucky passenger. It took me hours to come down from that high.
It was only as I caught a Melbourne taxi home that night when I realised quite
how astonishingly safe I had felt with Zsolt Baumgartner driving me in
the Minardi F1x2 at those astounding speeds. All credit to him and the team for
putting together such a package!
The rest of the four
the Melbourne Grand Prix were great, but somehow less significant than those few
minutes where I really got to experience Formula 1 first hand.
I’ll certainly be booking early for the 2013 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix!