If I had a pound for everyone whose response to my revealing the line of work in which I’m immensely fortunate to earn a living has been, ‘ooh, do you go to all the Grands Prix?’ I’d have a few hundred quid.
Such is the global reach, via blanket television coverage, and multi-billion dollar backing of motorsport’s highest echelon, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the casual observer has little notion of the myriad other formulas, even FIA-blessed ones. F1 is king and everything beneath it is small fry.
Ask the majority of car enthusiasts, who happily follow the fortnightly exploits of Messrs Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Button, if they know the names of the reigning FIA World Endurance Champions and it’s unlikely they’ll come back with, ‘yeah, that’s Toyota pair Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi’. Ditto FIA World Rally Champions Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, FIA World Touring Car top dog Jose Maria Lopez, or FIA Formula E title winner Nelson Piquet. No, not that one, his son!
I’m aware that, unless you’re immersed in the industry, either professionally or as a super-fan (or both), you haven’t necessarily got the time or the inclination to follow Formula This and Formula That among the dozens of categories in which things with engines and wheels are raced.
And it seems, in the wider world, until you get to Formula 1 and you start making headlines, you’re an unknown. Yet you need every penny and column inch of promotion you can get along the way.
A classic example of that catch-22 scenario took place this very weekend, in the shape of British success in an international single-seater championship.
While millions tuned in to watch Lewis Hamilton dominate the Japanese Grand Prix to notch up his 41st career win and thus stretch his championship points lead to 48 over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, a 23-year-old Yorkshire lad by the name of Oliver Rowland secured the Formula Renault 3.5 title in the penultimate round at Le Mans in France. And with Hamilton looking increasingly likely to make it back-to-back F1 titles, Rowland’s achievement will be the second biggest for a Brit in worldwide racing during 2015.
Like Hamilton, Rowland has served his apprenticeship in karting and the junior-racing categories, yet a championship title in cars had eluded him until last weekend. Victory in what’s perceived as an F1 stepping stone, with two races to spare, will make more of racing’s movers and shakers take notice. Well, that’s what I’m hoping.
Having already lifted the coveted McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award, which offers the recipient a cash boost to the following season’s budget and a test in a McLaren F1 car, the Sheffield-born racer, who is also backed by talent-recognition scheme the Racing Steps Foundation in his bid to reach the top of his profession, now has the springboard to emulate his title-winning predecessors, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz, who both graduated to F1 with, respectively, McLaren in 2014 and Toro Rosso this season on the back of FR3.5 success.
Let’s hope that Rowland can complete the next step up the precarious ladder, which calls for a perfect storm of cash, connections, luck and your face having to fit – on top of the required ability, of course.
Photography courtesy Malte 89, Wilston and Praca Wlasna