Amy Fulton doesn’t look like the typical Formula 1 fan. With carefully groomed long black hair, and a wardrobe that consists predominatly of ladylike skirts, it can be difficult to envision her hanging with drivers, talking about engines, and getting muddy on F1 tracks. Yet Amy has chased the overwhelming roar of engines all over the world, following a sport under appreciated to those who have preconcieved notions regarding the crowd, noise, and skill levels. With the Australian Grand Prix nearing, Amy had a talk to Kait O’Callahan from Onya Magazine to explain her love of the sport, and why we have Foruma 1 all wrong. 

Amy Fulton with Heikki, taken in the crowd at the Australian GP

When did you start following Formula 1 and what attracted you to the sport?

When I was at school my brother would tape the late night races and watch them back the next day, so I sat through the odd race here and there but never actually had an interest in it. Then in 2005 I had a boyfriend who would watch the races every Sunday night so it became a habit to watch with him at his place. For the first few weeks I asked that many questions about what was happening that his flatmates started hating me for talking through the races but once I knew what was going on I quickly found myself hooked. I think people I knew back then were judging me for “only pretending to like it because my boyfriend did” but my love for the sport has lasted a hell of a lot longer than that relationship did!

Who do you support and why?

From day one I was a McLaren fan because I can get a bit patriotic and they were a team founded by Bruce McLaren, a New Zealander. Their car was black and silver as well, which are colours that bring out my Kiwi pride. In 2008 I started supporting McLaren’s new Finnish driver, Heikki Kovalainen. He moved to Lotus Racing in 2010 and I took my support over there too. McLaren are always fighting near the front of the race and Lotus (now Team Caterham) were fighting near the back so it meant I could support two teams without having to choose one over the other because they were never on the same part of track.

You’re a female fan in a sport heavily dominated by men. What is that like? Have there been any awkward or funny moments that have resulted from you being one of the only girls?

I made most of my F1 friends through www.sidepodcast.com, a website run by a husband and wife team. Christine, the female half of the duo, is the public face of the site. Perhaps this attracts females to the site because the community there seems very balanced. I don’t spend any time on other F1 sites to have anything to compare it to but I get the feeling other sites might be a lot more male-heavy. I do meet a lot of people who seem shocked that it’s my favourite sport because public perception is definitely that it’s a male domain.

In 2009, I convinced my brother to come to the race in Melbourne with me and behind us were two girls. One said to the other, “We are literally the only girls here because we like the cars, every single other girl here has only come because they’ve been dragged along by their boyfriends.” Her friend replied, “Yeah the girl in front of us looks so bored.” I couldn’t help but laugh because my brother was definitely not my boyfriend, and I was the one who dragged him along!

Why should more women get into F1?

I find trying to explain why I’m an F1 fan to a non-F1 fan really difficult. I think it’s the sum of so many small parts. On the surface there is the competitiveness of it – which car will be faster? Which driver in that team will be the best? The gaps between teams can be fractions of a second which can mean quite dramatic showdowns. Once you work out who your favourites are you have someone to root for and become so involved. Aside from the on track competition there’s also the stories behind the scenes. The personalities of the drivers and the politics behind the scenes often cause big headlines as well. It’s always fantastic to watch when two drivers quite openly hate each other, and it’s fascinating to see these relationships play out on the track at 300km/h. I’m sure a lot of people think we all watch just to see them crash but there really is nothing exciting about watching your favourite driver plough into a wall at those kind of speeds. People can die in this sport and it’s important that we never forget that.

Any good looking blokes?

Last year my personal favourite on the looks scale was Jaime Alguersuari but sadly he lost his Torro Rosso seat at the end of the year. Jenson Button from McLaren seems to be a hit with the ladies, but sadly I think he peaked when he was about 25. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes is also a very popular choice if blondes are your thing. I’m looking forward to checking out 2012 Torro Rosso rookie Jean-Éric Vergne in Melbourne because he doesn’t look too bad in some of the photos I’ve seen so I think there is potential there. I’m going to ignore the fact he’s only 21!

You’ve followed F1 all over the world. Tell us about the best and worst destinations you’ve visited, and where you’d like to go next.

While I was still living in New Zealand, my first trip to Melbourne set quite a high bar for other races to meet which I honestly didn’t realise until I went to a few other places. Melbourne doesn’t have the exotic location or the incredible history of most tracks I like to visit but there really is a lot that the Australian Grand Prix gets right. Over the course of a three day race weekend the F1 cars are only on track for seven hours so it’s important that races have lots of other on and off track activity to keep you entertained the rest of the time.

The other place I’ve been that got this right was Monza in Italy. The atmosphere there is absolutely incredible, being the home of Ferrari. The weather was brilliant, the food was great, it was only a short train ride from Milan and the drivers were accessible as they arrived and left the track each day.

The worst destination was probably Malaysia. A lot of F1 circuits are in the middle of nowhere so good access to them is a really integral part of having a good weekend. The distance from track to hotel in Malaysia combined with the popularity of the event meant it was a nightmare trip every day. The only public transit option is by bus so the roads are absolutely packed. The alternative – taxis – aren’t much better. They’re driving style meant I was quite sure I was not going to make it home alive! Malaysia did have its great points – it was the cheapest race I’ve been to, with the tickets costing a quarter of what they do in Melbourne. The layout of the track means from most grandstands you have an amazing view. However, the women’s bathrooms weren’t a place I’d ever want to go back to! The good still outweighed the bad though.

I’ve already got a trip booked to Germany in July so that’ll be my next F1 visit but the track I’d most like to visit after that is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada. There’s a new race planned in New Jersey for 2013 which is just across the river from New York City, so my tentative plan at the moment is to attend both of these races and spend the week or two in between travelling around North America.

The ultimate dream track for any F1 fan would have to be Monte Carlo, Monaco, and I already plan to one day have a May wedding so I can have a Monaco Grand Prix honeymoon. I know most girls plan their dream weddings in their head but I couldn’t care less about the wedding, I just want my F1 honeymoon! The small matter of me being single is just a minor detail to be ironed out eventually…

What has been your best experience relating to F1?

Last year I won a trip to the South Korean Grand Prix via an Air Asia Facebook competition. Even better, the trip included full hospitality for the weekend with Team Lotus. The South Korean race was only in it’s second year and most of the reports about the facilities from year one had been negative. Due to the race being avoided by a lot of people we really were looked after by Team Lotus. We got to watch qualifying from inside the garage while listening to their private radio channel for all the communication between the team and their drivers. But the real highlight for me though was watching the whole of the race on Sunday with Heikki’s girlfriend, Catherine. She’s my favourite F1 WAG because she’s as far away from the stereotypical WAG culture as you can get. After my friend Jeremy asked her if she’d pose for a photo she asked us if we’d like to sit with her for the race. She was amazingly down to earth and so friendly, after the race she even went and found Heikki for us so we could say hello.

And the worst?

It had always been a dream of mine to go to Spa in Belgium. I knew from watching it on TV for years that it always rains in Spa but nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for just how wet it is there. Sometimes the clouds would disappear, the sun would come out and you’d just start to get a little bit dry when boom, back comes the rain from what was seconds ago a clear blue sky. Sitting in a covered grandstand won’t help you because the rain doesn’t just come down, it also comes sideways and somehow it even comes up from below. It seems the organisers don’t mind the rain because there was absolutely nowhere to shelter. Going to Spa with 10 friends and having a seat at F1′s most famous corner, Eau Rouge, was a dream come true but it took me about a year to mentally recover from the rain!

Do you think there are any misconceptions regarding F1 that you wish to clear up?

I’d say the main things people who don’t understand F1 say is, “it’s so boring, it’s just people driving round and round in circles,” or “driving isn’t hard, they aren’t athletes, it’s not a sport.”

I can definitely understand this opinion because I held it myself once. You have to give it a chance and get to know it before you realise there’s a whole lot more to it. Firstly none of the tracks are circles, they all have corners. I’m not sure you’ve ever tried to take a corner at 250km/h but I’d imagine it’s a lot harder than it looks. The margins for error are so slim that the drivers need 100% concentration for the whole 90-120 minutes of the race, and not only that, they do need to be physically strong. While cornering the G-forces on their bodies mean it can feel like they are fighting five times their body weight. Imagine if your head was five times heavier and you had to hold it up. How strong would your neck muscles have to be? It’s like that feeling of being pushed back into your seat when you take off in an aeroplane, only its a lot more intense and it lasts for two hours. Drivers can sweat out up to 3kg of their body weight and normal people who have been taken for rides in two seater F1 cars often fail to remain standing when they get out of the car. Ayrton Senna famously struggled to lift his trophy over his head after winning his home race in Brazil because he was so physically exhausted he couldn’t move his arms.

Have you ever considered blogging about F1 and your experiences watching it?

I have tried so many times to start a blog but writing isn’t something I find easy. The reality is also that no matter how exciting the country you’re in or the track that you are at, the F1 viewing experience is essentially the same. I do occasionally write guest posts over at Sidepodcast.

What advice would you give to someone that has never seen F1 before and is attending the Melbourne Grand Prix this year?

My number one recommendation for the Melbourne Grand Prix is to get a four-corners grandstand package, which gives you a seat at a different part of the track for each day of action. These sold out a long time ago though, and understandably the first time F1 visitor is more likely to have a much cheaper General Admission pass. With a GA pass the most important thing is to select a good viewing spot. The hills at turns 10 and 11 are great spots because the slope means your view won’t be blocked by people in front of you. Also, if you have a Thursday GA pass you can go along to the F1 driver signings at the autograph stage in the V8 Village and get to see some F1 drivers up close and personal.

Take an FM radio and tune into the trackside commentary which is usually broadcast at 99.7FM. If you don’t find a spot near a screen and you don’t have a radio, or if you just have some spare cash I’d recommend hiring a Fanvision from their kiosk.

If you’re not going to be using any of these headphone options, be sure to wear earplugs. F1 cars are extremely loud. The sound is amazing and I love it but you can easily permanently damage your hearing if you don’t take the right precautions.

The Australian Grand Prix runs from 15th-18th March.

For tickets and more information, visit www.grandprix.com.au.