Formula One is one of the toughest sports for autograph collectors. With so few races (relative to the number of games in other sports) spread out across the globe, even dedicated fans are lucky if they can attend more than one or two grands prix each season. And even if you can get to the track, it’s not like just anyone can waltz down the pit lane for a quick autograph and photo.
However, collecting F1 autographs is by no means impossible, even if you are not receiving regular invitations to teams’ hospitality tents. Race weekend is obviously the place to be if you do want the opportunity to meet a driver, and some races are better than others: in Montréal and Monaco, the teams are scattered at hotels throughout the city, whereas at more remote races, drivers may never leave the circuit. Even so, corporate sponsors often have various meet-and-greet events for drivers and fans throughout the weekend. It pays to check local newspapers and tourism/event websites in the days leading up to grand prix weekend. Also, following the teams on Facebook or Twitter can alert you to upcoming signing opportunities.
I have four F1 autographs (so I am hardly an experienced collector), and I got them all in different ways. The first was from Nick Heidfeld in 2005, when he and Mark Webber were driving for BMW Williams. At the Canadian GP, we heard that he and Webber would be participating in a Q&A at a downtown mall on Saturday evening. Mrs. Parade Lap (well, she wasn’t at the time) and I wandered over. Webber was his usually candid self, cursing a few times during the interview portion. When that was finished, both drivers signed a few hats to toss into the crowd. I had my hands on one of Webber’s before someone climbed up my back and ripped it from my grasp. Afterwards, I still managed to get close enough to the stage to get Heidfeld to sign my ticket before they left.
The next autograph I received was from Sébastien Buemi, the current Red Bull/Toro Rosso reserve driver (and runner-up in the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans). As a Swiss-Canadian, I have been cheering for Buemi since his arrival in F1 in 2009. Earlier this season, he made an offer on his Facebook page: anyone who entered their address would receive an autographed card from him. It took a couple months, but it arrived and, as you can see from the envelope, it was postmarked from his hometown of Aigle, in southwestern Switzerland. Not bad.
The next weekend, I met Emerson Fittipaldi on Crescent Street at the Canadian GP. We had missed David Coulthard, one of my all-time favourite drivers, but it was incredible to meet a double world champion (very briefly – “No photos!”) and get his autograph. In addition to many excellent bars, Crescent Street is full of sponsor booths on race weekend, and there are opportunities to meet different drivers each year.
Finally, I also have Adam Parr‘s autograph, the former CEO of Williams F1. I purchased his book, The Art of War – Five Years in Formula One, and it came autographed and numbered 208 of 2500. Not bad. I realize his book has been out for a while and TPL is behind the times, but I will have a review of it once I get a chance to read it.
There are also tons of autographs for sale all over the internet. Personally, though, I don’t think I would buy an autograph (Parr’s excepted, although I did not buy the book for the autograph – it just happened to come with it). Unless you are buying from a reputable source, you have no way to know whether it is authentic. And even if it is, most of the fun is in actually getting the autograph yourself, whether it is through the mail or by actually meeting a driver.
If nothing else, this shows that there are plenty of ways to get autographs from drivers and other people involved in F1, especially if you are at a race weekend. However, even if you don’t make it to a race or live in Europe, where random driver appearances throughout the year are more likely, all hope is not lost. In part two of this post, TPL is going to conduct an experiment in mailing autograph requests to all the current F1 teams – stay tuned!