UAE: Meet 'F1 couple' who mortgaged New Zealand home to see all 23 races

They took a loan against their house and travelled the world for all the F1 races this year with their last stop being Abu Dhabi

By Husna Murad

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Published: Sat 9 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 10 Dec 2023, 7:24 PM

How often do we come across people willing to sell their house and leave their job to travel the world? David and Michelle Harrison broke fan records as they packed up their life in New Zealand and went to every single race in the globally renowned Formula One World Championship, known as the pinnacle of motorsport.

While watching the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, David and Michelle’s old love for F1 rekindled with great fire. What they once thought would forever be a longing from the shadows, turned into a love story that broke all societal rules set for age and adventure.

“We thought why not now? We are 58 years old. We're getting it done while we still can,” said Michelle.

The husband-wife duo took a yearlong sabbatical from their employment. To afford their massively expensive undertaking, they applied for a loan against their house, bought a phone with a great camera, and booked flight tickets to conquer all the 23 Formula One circuits.

“Michelle works at a university office and I’m a primary school teacher,” said David. “We’re just normal people who decided to have an adventure before we get too old and things like dementia set in.”

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“We always said that one day, when we retire, we'll sell the house and see every single race on the grid. And then the pandemic came and we thought, why are we waiting to follow our dream?” Michelle added.

The FIA Formula One World Championship has stood as the most famous racing series since its inaugural season in 1950. The 2023 Formula One season, consisted of 23 races set up across 20 countries.

Toll of the tracks

Threading through mountainous hills, spanning across deserts, and racing through metropolitan highways, F1 tracks give their drivers and spectators every weather and terrain imaginable. The excitement of the race was often challenged by the sweltering heat of the summer or the sudden drops to freezing temperatures.

“The cold in Vegas surprised us. We got rid of all our winter gear before going there because we thought that the desert would be hot. When we arrived in Vegas, it was six degrees and the race was at midnight. But the really exciting track and the usual craziness of Vegas made up for that,” said the Harrisons.

For dedicated fans vying for more than a glimpse of the high-speed F1 cars zooming by, the treks from their hotels to the racing circuits were a battle of wills.

“There were hours of walking, and traipsing, and going up and down stairs, and queuing, and public transport. Sometimes you’re walking almost five to six kilometres to get to the track while carrying bags with water and food,” said Michelle. “A lot of people just don't have the energy.” But for the Harrisons, achieving their dream was worth the aching feet.

People and races

Planning their travel across 20 countries came with a handful of technicalities to consider. But, when reminiscing about the races, David and Michelle were full of nothing but enthusiasm for all of the Grand Prix circuits.

According to the couple, Azerbaijan took their breath away with the F1 circuit winding through beautiful Baku streets, while “in Mexico, the people were really passionate and really fun”.

For the Harrisons, to be in Monaco and to see the iconic track that they had watched on TV for years was surreal.

When they reached the race in Qatar, the Harrisons won a special visit into the paddocks — the working area of Formula 1 circuits with access strictly limited to the teams, sponsors, media, and employees.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

“We saw so much in the paddocks. It was a dream come true when all the drivers walked by, and I got really close to them,” said Michelle as she proudly showed footage that she had taken of the F1 drivers and cars in the garages. “I was just standing there videoing for hours.”

That’s where Michelle was able to meet Esteban Ocon, the French racing driver for Alpine.

“I saw him and I was so starstruck. I went up and I put my hand out and I said pleased to meet you,” gushed Michelle.

Awesome Abu Dhabi

With UAE being the last race in the F1 2023 season, the Harrisons prepared for the most exciting race of the year. Speaking to Khaleej Times, David and Michelle were especially appreciative of the Grand Prix arrangements at the spectacular Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates.

“Abu Dhabi’s fan zone is really fabulous. They had the most beautiful hospitality tents where traditional music played and they served dates and chai,” they said.

When you're a fan sitting in the blazing sun all day, lots of shade and plenty of water are so important and, according to the couple, the facilities set up in Abu Dhabi were immaculate with the most friendly and kind staff across the global circuits.

“We would go again in a heartbeat.”

The Harrisons were gifted with free VIP passes at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where they fulfilled their dream to see the Aston Martin crew up close during the pit stop.

Shared passion

People that you meet can make or break your adventure. Touring the different countries and meeting their people was just as thrilling as the races for David and Michelle. Being at every circuit cemented a special camaraderie with other fans.

“Here, it doesn't matter if I'm in my Aston shirt and you're cheering for Mercedes or Ferrari, we would have sat and had such a fabulous time together because we all shared a passion for racing,” said Michelle.

For the Harrisons, the most amazing part of their travels was the people that they met. “We have met the most amazing people everywhere we've been to,” they said. “We've kept in contact and come across such incredible kindness wherever we've been. It’s honestly restored my faith in humanity.”

When asked why they chose F1 and not any other racing event, the Harrisons were full of admiration for the racers and their teams.

“There's so much thinking and strategy before and during the race. The teams have to constantly change what their decision will be, when they're going to pit, what tyres they put on, and who they'll put in next. All these things are happening at breakneck speeds while other things are going on at the track,” said David.

The 2023 Formula One World Championship ended strong with the fan favourite and three-time world champion Max Verstappen winning the final round at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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