I actually started to watch Formula One back in the late 90’s. I first dabbled with it a bit in 1997 and 1998, seeing the odd races here and there. However, the first race that I actually remember specifically sitting down to watch would be the Monaco Grand Prix in 1999. Michael Schumacher won quite brilliantly that day in his scarlet Ferrari, ahead of his team-mate Eddie Irvine and his great rival Mika Hakkinen.
Pedro de la Rosa, a rookie in only his 4th Formula One event, driving for the underfunded Arrows team had a quite different weekend, qualifying 21st and suffering a mechanical failure on the Sunday that put him out of the race.
Thirteen and a half years on from that day and Michael Schumacher has just completed the final race of his illustrious career and has now retired from Formula One for the second and almost certainly final time. Michael leaves the sport as statistically the greatest of all time, with 7 World Drivers Titles, 5 of those coming in succession from 2000 to 2004.
But it wasn’t just Michael’s retirement that got me thinking over the course of the weekend. Another veteran driver, the aforementioned rookie, Pedro de la Rosa is also increasingly looking like he will be landed without a job for 2013, as HRT have hit the skids quite literally. They are flat broke and unless the team can find a buyer before December 2nd, then they will not be here in 2013.
What is the relevance of Michael’s and Pedro’s situations you may ask? One is a 7 times World Champion, while the other has only one podium to his name.
Well, it is actually quite important to me personally as if both of these guys are absent from the grid in Melbourne in March, then 2012 will have officially brought to an end to my own era of Formula One. Michael and Pedro were the last drivers who had lined up on that grid in Monaco way back in 1999.
It seems unreal to think that the 90’s generation, my generation, will have finally passed on from the sport that I adore so much. I mean, for sure, Button, Alonso, and Raikkonen all entered the sport soon after, in the years 2000 and 2001 respectively, but it isn’t quite the same. It was these guys, the class of 99′ who made me fall in love with this sport in the first place, and without whom, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now writing about it.
So my thanks go out to Michael and Pedro, and to all the other drivers on the grid that day (Yes, even you Tora Takagi). You effectively changed a boy’s life. My very ambition to make it as a motorsport journalist stems from that very day, when I sat on the sofa to, quote a worn out expression, ‘watch cars drive round in circles’.
It’s a pretty special sport Formula One, don’t you think?