A black, V6 sports car sat outside in the carpark as I went to meet Thomas Maher, founder of the website FormulaSpy.com. Later, I would learn that this model of car is just one of 350 in the whole world.
“I just need to finish this article,” he tells me, tapping furiously on his laptop. “And publish, share on Facebook, and done…” he mutters, more to himself than to me.
Thomas is uploading a story on the morning’s Chinese Grand Prix race to his new brainchild. The Formula 1 site, which is still in its infancy, is enjoying huge success from racing car fans across Ireland and the UK, just four weeks since it was first launched.
Although not a popular sport in Ireland, the car culture and Formula 1 has built up a small community of followers within the 32 counties. Formulaspy.com is slowly beginning to bring this community together.
Cars are by no means a passing interest for Thomas, as he has followed the sport closely since he was nine years old. “Formula 1 wasn’t quite as unpopular when I first became interested in it as a sport. This was around 1997 and Eddie Jordan and the Irish team were still in it. RTE were showing it on television,” he says.
“I started watching the very first race of the ‘99 Brazilian Grand Prix and I decided whoever won that race, I would support them. Mika Hakkinen won and I’m still supporting him 14 years later.”
From this interest, FormulaSpy.com would eventually be born.
The time lapse between Thomas deciding to start a website and actually getting around to doing it was a long one. Eventually it took a huge loss in his life to make him take the plunge.
“I always used Formula 1 websites, but I remember thinking the standard of writing on those sites was quite poor. I thought to myself, I could do that, but I never really applied myself.
“Then at the start of last season, a friend encouraged me to start a Facebook group to bring Irish Formula 1 fans together. Shortly after that, my friend died. So it took a kick in the teeth to get me started.”
From there, the Facebook group began to grow until it reached 100 people. Then as the Formula 1 season drew to a close, Thomas met Aaron Day, a 20-year-old website developer from Dublin.
“At that stage, I had started a basic forum with a cheap website domain. Aaron approached me on Facebook and asked me how I would feel about making a proper go of the website,” Thomas tells me, “Between our skill sets, we were able to pull together a website that I am fairly proud of.”
The website was first launched on March 7th, and since then it has had just under 5,000 views, as well as 5,000 followers between Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Thomas says that it’s taken a lot more time and expense than he ever imagined it would when he first came up with the idea, but it’s still all worth it in the end.
“On average, I spend about three hours a day on the website, but that will probably grow over time. On Grand Prix weekends like this, it’s a lot busier. Today, there’s a race on so so far I’ve put up 12 articles. I have to do an analysis piece later tonight which will take about 3 hours because it’s all research.
“It’s very time consuming. But to be honest, even if there is no prospect of it never becoming profitable, I’m really enjoying it.”
Formula 1 season lasts from March to November each year, with championship races taking place in venues across the world, from Monte Carlo to New Delhi. However, when the season draws to a close, the car racing world gets very quiet. This doesn’t worry Thomas too much though.
“Obviously in the off season it will be more difficult for us to grow because there’s no news, there’s nothing to report, there’s only so many times you can analyse something that has already happened. But I’ve Introduced features like Classic F1 where you look into something that happened 40-50 years ago.”
The Carlow man has every faith that the success of the website will continue to grow.
“We’re hoping over time, consistency will develop because we’re still only finding our feet. Over the year we are hoping to grow to 10,000 fans and to get to 500 unique hits a day. If we get to that by season end, then we’ll be flying by 2014. We want to make this a full time career eventually and be full time Formula 1 journalists running a proper Formula 1 website.”
A longer version of this article was submitted for my Feature Writing class, as part of my Journalism course.