About a month ago Craig at Craigblog wrote a post about F1 merchandise. It was quite a coincidence because at the same time I was on the verge of buying the first piece of F1 merchandise I had bought for a very long time.
Since the turn of the decade I have watched Formula 1 pretty much as a neutral. Of course, I prefer some teams and drivers more than others. In case you’re wondering, my favoured teams are BMW, Red Bull, Renault and (at a stretch) McLaren. Out of the drivers, I like Räikkönen, Heidfeld, Kubica, Alonso, Coulthard, Webber, Barrichello and (at a stretch) Kovalainen.
When I was younger my attention was grabbed by Stewart Grand Prix. Jackie Stewart’s was a famous name that I could latch onto, and the Scottish iconography appealed to me as a young Scot. I also loved the fact that they were a new team, seemingly with the odds against them, but did a fairly solid job.
Rubens Barrichello’s drive to 2nd in Monaco in 1997 was exciting to watch, and for a second I thought they were going to win when Michael Schumacher briefly ran off the road at Ste Devote. Mostly though 1997 was a year fraught with reliability problems. 1998 brought a further dip in form.
But the 1999 season as a whole was brilliant for Stewart GP as Barrichello once again shone. Who could forget Barrichello leading at the Brazilian Grand Prix? And then Johnny Herbert took a fantastic win at the Nürburgring. This team was only three years old, yet was in a position to fight for good points hauls, finish 4th in the championship and even win a race. That’s more than the team’s subsequent owners, Ford (as Jaguar) and Red Bull can say for themselves.
Besides Stewart, I developed a soft spot for Jordan. I loved the way they came back from a disastrous start to 1998. Halfway through the season they hadn’t even scored a single point. Then things started to look up during the British Grand Prix. I can remember watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Jordan’s 1998 season. Eddie Jordan was nervously pacing around the Jordan pit area mumbling, “I need this feckin’ point… Come on, I need this feckin’ point so much.” He got that feckin’ point.
Just a few races later Jordan Grand Prix scored a magnificent 1–2 in Belgium, with Damon Hill heading Ralf Schumacher. It was the team’s first win and it ushered in a new, though fleeting, era of competitiveness for the team.
The 1999 season was a joy to watch, not only for Stewart but for Jordan and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in particular. The German driver took an amazing six podiums including two wins, particularly memorably in France. For a long while it looked as though Frentzen was a genuine championship contender, though in the end it was not to be.
In retrospect, the work the Jordan team put into the 1999 season diverted their attention away from the future. Ian Phillips said as much in the latest Inside Line podcast — the championship run burnt the team out, and they never recovered.
In subsequent years the Jordan team drifted ever further into mediocrity and it became more and more difficult for me to like the team. 2003 was particularly painful. Giancarlo Fisichella took a flukey win in Brazil, but that disguised a truly awful season in which the team otherwise scored the miserable total of three points. If the previous year’s scoring system would have been in use, the win would have been their one and only points score.
To compound matters, in 2003 Eddie Jordan got into a needless legal fight with Vodafone which he was seemingly never going to win. From then on Jordan struggled financially. That team is now known as Force India and has had four different owners in the past five years.
However, the late 1990s were great Jordan-supporting days. And along with supporting the team comes the merchandise. I had two Jordan caps (one generic Jordan and the other Damon Hill, mimicking the Hills’ famous helmet design). I also had a Damon Hill t-shirt that commemorated the “place in history” that Hill took by taking the first win for the Jordan Grand Prix team. I also have a 1:43 diecast model of Damon Hill’s Jordan 198, the car he drove in 1998 and helped secure Jordan’s famous 1–2 in Belgium.
That is not the only F1 merchandise I bought when I was younger. I also had an Orange Arrows cap. I think I got it because I liked the colours. I am sometimes surprised to see people still wearing Orange Arrows gear from time to time, around six years after the team folded. I also had a rather colourful Ferrari t-shirt commemorating their 1999 Constructors Championship victory. What can I say? The folly of youth.
In addition to the Damon Hill 1:43 diecast, for a period of five years I decided I was going to collect 1:43 scale models of every single Formula 1 world champion. So in 1998 and 1999 I bought two Mika Häkkinen McLarens and from 2000–2002 I bought three Michael Schumacher Ferraris.
To spice things up a bit I bought models of Alberto Ascari’s 1952 Ferrari 500 F2 and Nelson Piquet’s 1981 Brabham BT-49C. But I got bored after that.
Grand Prix Legends were looking for excuses as to why diecast models don’t sell so well nowadays. I think the reality is that 75 quid for a 1:18 model that will only gather dust on a shelf is a bloody rip-off. Back in the day I think I spent around £20 per 1:43 model. I don’t think that’s something I would do today.
Aside from the normal annual purchases of video games (when available) and the season review DVD, I have not bought any Formula 1 merchandise for a while.
I have bought this jazzy BMW Sauber t-shirt to express my support for the team. Like many, I have been wooed by the methodical, grounded approach of the team’s principal Mario Theissen and its drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.
The win was coming for a while, and the fact that it was a 1–2, just like Jordan’s maiden win, was the icing on the cake. The team’s recent dip in form won’t deter me. Now, for the first time for several years, I am not a neutral. I am supporting BMW Sauber.
It’s strange because I was never a supporter of the Sauber team at all. Nor was I keen on BMW when they were in partnership with Williams. But the magical combination of BMW and Sauber under the leadership of Mario Theissen has attracted me to them to the extent that I am a card-carrying, t-shirt wearing fan.
So which teams do you support, and do you buy merchandise to show that support?