Traveling the world, sought-after autographs – The life of an F1 superfan

Story highlights

Sarah Merritt support McLaren F1 team

Has a hoard of motorsport memorabilia

Travels to races all over the world

CNN —  

When it comes to memorabilia, Formula One superfan Sarah Merritt has it all.

There is, in fact, a room in her house full of the stuff – a shrine of posters, caps, helmets, photos and car parts, all dedicated to her favorite drivers past and present.

Many items are adorned with signatures that have been collected from all over the world.

“The first Grand Prix I ever went to was reasonably late, 2011 Valencia,” Merritt tells CNN’s The Circuit from her home in Chelmsford, south east England.

“We did Valencia twice in a row. Then after that I’ve been to Barcelona, Italy. Hungary I’ve done a couple of times which is a real favorite, I’ve done a fly-away to Singapore, I’ve been Abu Dhabi for Jenson [Button]’s last race.

“And of course I’ve had lots of visits to [the UK’s] Silverstone.”

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McLaren mad

It was through her late father that Merritt first fell in love with motorsport, but it wasn’t until a decade or so ago that her petrol-headed passion intensified.

Working in IT in London, she’s been able to fit events and race days around her day job. Following her McLaren team, after all, is more than just a pastime.

Formula One superfan Sarah Merritt shows her Jenson Button cushion

“McLaren is just part of me now and it always will be,” says Merritt.

“Perhaps like when guys support football teams and they’re passionate about that – McLaren’s my team.

“I love them to bits whether they win or they lose. Obviously there’s not been as much winning as we’d have liked but we’re all confident they’re going to come back again.”

Lewis Hamilton was the last McLaren driver to win the F1 championship when he took his first title in 2008, and it was the Brit’s success, combined with countryman Jenson Button joining in 2010, that drew Merritt to the team.

While Hamilton is today seen in a Mercedes livery and Button has retired from competition, Merritt’s love for the team has remained strong even if winning has proven hard to come by in recent years. The team last enjoying a GP victory in 2012.

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02:33 - Source: CNN
Silverstone's most iconic races

Signature hunting

Following the takeover of Liberty Media in January 2017, the importance of fans to the sport has been brought to the fore.

Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone dismissed appealing to a new, young fan base through social media, famously saying in 2014 that he’s “not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is.”

The new American owners, however, have vowed to make F1 more engaging for fans, both at race days and online, with the latter being a significant part of Merritt’s life.

“I think it’s really important to feel like you’re part of something in Formula One,” she says.

“You’ve got a community with other McLaren fans and what we call the F1 family as well. There’s fans all over the world that we communicate with and keep in touch with. It’s really important.

“Social media helps with that. Obviously, it’s a bit different to how it was in my Dad’s day. I’m about to talk to people about Formula One all over the world whenever I want to.”

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Merritt has been to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on five occasions. The oldest race in F1 history is regularly the best-attended of the season with many fans choosing to camp overnight.

It means packing for the weekend is serious business.

“Silverstone is a bit different because it is the British Grand Prix and you get such huge crowds, possibly bigger than other race circuits we go to,” says Merritt.

“I have a checklist that I follow and because I’ve done it for one year it’s there for every year. I just add to it.

“There’ll be a few other bits of memorabilia I’ll take with me just in case I meet a driver. I’ll always have a sharpie pen in my pocket to get things signed by drivers.”

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The marker pen proved invaluable at Silverstone this year. Former world champion Button was chased down and his signature on a miniature helmet secured, another treasured memento for Merritt’s F1 shrine.