“Hey babe, I want to take my boyfriend to F1 in Mexico for his birthday. Any advice???”
My friend Ariana’s text echoed a familiar sentiment from car enthusiasts — and, more recently, from new fans of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series: “I know Formula 1 is cool, and I’m into cars, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how to go see a race.”
They may not know about the glorious Brazilian charisma of Ayrton Senna or follow the Balenciaga-draped exploits of Sir Lewis Hamilton and his English bulldog — but the underlying appeal of superstardom, fast cars, celebrities, models and wealthy fans surrounding the best drivers in the world endures.
When organizers confirmed that the Miami Grand Prix will take place on May 8, 2022, it made the idea of seeing a race even more attainable for many Americans. With world-class food and nightlife and easy access for racing fans from Central America and South America, Miami makes perfect sense as an F1 destination.
Before you go
The F1 racing season typically runs from March to December, with the most historic races — Monaco, Silverstone in England, Monza in Italy — dotting the calendar. Upcoming races in Austin, Texas (Oct. 22-24) and Mexico City (Nov. 5–7) are good candidates for fans new to the sport.
“A lot of Formula 1 races have great tracks, but there are so many commercial pressures on them for the TV audience — and the ultra exclusive guest — the average man can feel like he is left wandering around looking for a hot dog,” says Justin Bell, a British racing driver, television host, and son of former F1 driver Derek Bell. “But Austin has fan areas, playgrounds, all sorts of vendors. They really allow you to go there as a dad with his kids and have a great time.”
The race in Monaco — the most prestigious and glamorous on the racing calendar and a premier global event, bar none — is also easy to access for first-time racing fans. Whereas certain grand prix such as Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Azerbaijan can be difficult to access unless you’re an invited guest of the organization or royal family hosts, even people without tickets can still get swept up in the excitement in Monte Carlo. The race literally runs through city streets.
“Monaco is the most concentrated Formula 1 experience,” says Ted Gushue, who estimates he has been to at least 20 F1 races. “In Monaco on race day, there are no Tom Cruise lookalikes — that is Tom Cruise.” The St. Moritz-based writer and photographer plans to attend the race in Saudi Arabia in December.
“In Monaco during race weekend, everyone is partying, having dinners, and it is such a small place that you end up meeting people at bars and them saying, ‘Hey, come back to my boat!’ It’s really a magical experience.”
It’ll pay to bone up on the F1 drivers and teams before you go. That makes it more interesting to watch who does what during the race. The Drive to Survive series has been invaluable to new fans of the sport as it dissects the challenges, gossip, camaraderie, and competition among such drivers as Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo and Monaco’s Charles Leclerc. Follow Hamilton especially carefully; he holds the record for the most wins ever in F1. But the Belgian-Dutch driver Max Verstappen and the Finn Valtterie Bottas are close on his heels this year as they vie to grab trophy glory for themselves.
Getting tickets is easy online, provided you plan far enough in advance. (The United States Grand Prix later this month is officially sold out, although plenty of tickets can be purchased from vendors such as SeatGeek, Stubhub, and Ticketsmarter.) Prices generally range from $100 to $500. Parking passes can cost an additional $40 to $400.
Some of the higher-priced F1 experience packages allow for more access to drivers, pit crews, suites, and vantage points during race weekend; they make the experience feel exclusive and glamorous. They also can include passes to the easiest, closest parking lots to access. So it’s worth it!
“Every race is different, but the only universal is that the Paddock Club pass is generally worth the expense, because it comes with a lot of bells and whistles: You get paddock tours, you get to meet drivers, have autograph sessions,” says Gushue. “Some of the world’s greatest hospitality experts are inside the Paddock Club, which means it’s always always always a top-tier experience. The food is incredible. And it is always the same staff all over the world, so (you can get to know) a lot of the staff.”
It’s also the only way you’ll be able to access alcohol at the races in the Middle East, which are held in countries where public alcohol consumption is forbidden.
But at many races, once you’ve had the full elite experience, sometimes the less expensive, general admissions tickets offer an even closer way to see the actual race—in proximity, noise, and even feel. (If you’re on the fence, you can feel the force of the cars as they blow past.) In this way, F1 is like baseball and every other pro sport: People in suites typically end up watching the race (or game) on the TVs in said suite.
The typical price of a full F1 race weekend, which runs from Friday (qualifying rounds) to Sunday’s main event, including tickets, hotel, and spending cash, will easily cost $1,000 at the bare minimum and goes way, way up from there. (Race-day Paddock Club tickets alone cost $2,000 or more.) “Budget Planners” in official F1 guides offer more about the cost of attending a race.
If you really want to dip but a toe into the F1 waters, buying access to qualifying rounds is the least expensive option. Those tickets can be had for as little as $21.
It’s really just logistics
If you don’t plan to buy a ticket package or experience that offers guides to help navigate the weekend, join one of the many online F1 forums and social media chats to ask for advice.
A race weekend isn’t like going to a baseball game; you don’t just go to your seat and sit. A typical F1 race track covers three to four miles in one lap, with multiple access points that pose a high degree of navigating complexity for fans as well as drivers, who cover nearly 200 miles in a single race. It’s even more complicated when the course stretches through the streets of a massive city, as in São Paolo or Singapore.
Tickets are broken into levels of access, with lots of room for walking and moving within your section, even — especially — if you have a general admission ticket. So it will really make things easier if someone can show or explain the intricacies of the location you’ll visit.
For example, Monte Carlo is an exception to the paddock rule, with some hotels offering better views of the race track than any VIP access passes. “At Monaco, the Paddock Club is actually not the best location for viewing the race,” Gushue says. “The best location is Casino Square, in which case you can book a room at the Hotel de Paris and get access to watch it from the Hotel de Paris, which is complimentary with the room. Which means you have your own Paddock Club with a better view!”
“You need a plan when you get there,” says Bell. Often, just walking the race course can take hours. “It would be so good to connect with someone, maybe with a car group, because you need someone who has been there. It’s a logistical thing, and that can tire you out.”
Questions to ask include: Where is best to park; which entry gate is closest to your seats — or the team you want to watch; and which turns are the most exciting to see during the race?
To get to the race, study whether public transit may be faster to get you trackside than driving. And if you’re booking airplane tickets for a race abroad, be sure to consider regional airports, which can often be closer to the racetrack than the main international airport.
Beware of staying at hotels close to the racetrack. What you make up for in time saved, due to proximity, you’ll likely lose in a lack of amenities. Racetrack hotels are like airport hotels: not exactly centers of culture and society. Camping is an option at most races for those on the most spartan budgets (and for the most die-hard fans), but part of the beauty in F1 are the global cities it visits. It’s a shame to miss that, says Atif Kazmi, F1 enthusiast and founder of lifestyle publication Porhomme.
“F1 is for the event’s city, as much as it is for the track,” says Kazmi, who has attended multiple Grand Prix races in Texas and Montreal. “It’s an opportunity to soak in the host city’s rich history and culture, and that’s partially why traveling the circuit can lead to so many unique experiences.”
While you’re there
On race day, plan to arrive early. This will allow you to watch the support races before the main race, walk the track to see which angle or corner will give a great view, and do the famous pit walk that allows fans to see inside each team’s garage.
Buy a program, which will have maps and driver profiles inside; it will also say where drivers will sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, what sorts of bands or singers might be performing, and other ways to get the most out of the day.
“Look into meet-and-greets with your favorite racers,” Kazmi says. “These tend to be first come-first-serve, and chances are you’ll get an intimate moment with the racers. From there, you might score some tickets from giveaways being held.”
Don’t get locked into sitting just at the start/finish line. Most of the excitement during the race — overtaking, crashes — happens elsewhere. Formula 1 is more like a fair than a basketball game; ticket-holders have the freedom to move around and even bring their own seats to set up wherever they want. A little research before the event will divulge which corner is noted for the most action.
Food options at F1 races vary widely. Exclusive boxes and packages deliver the full Champagne-and-caviar life, while base tickets will have holders standing in line at food vendors selling hot dogs and cotton candy. Those with dietary restrictions or strong preferences when it comes to food (or who hate paying for overpriced victuals) will want to bring a picnic lunch.
Other common-sense advice applies: Races last from 90 minutes to two hours, often during the most intense sun of the day. So bring or buy lots of water while you’re trackside. Staying hydrated will be key to avoiding heat exhaustion. Make sure to use plastic bottles — glass is not permitted in racing arenas — and carry them in a soft tote or light backpack.
Sun protection is essential. Slather on high SPF sunscreen at regular intervals, even if you’re wearing sunglasses and a hat (and you should). If you don’t mind the additional weight, a small umbrella for sun protection can save you from sunburn following a weekend outside.
Bring and use protection for your ears — the higher quality, the better. F1 races typically reach 140 decibels, just below the level that causes permanent hearing loss. Wear comfortable shoes; racetracks span hundreds of acres of land. Bring an extra mobile phone charger and even a small foldable map of the area around the racetrack.
I wish I had those items the first time I attended the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. With my cell phone dead and my friends accidentally separated, I ended up walking, then hitchhiking, and then riding back to my hotel on the back of a friendly stranger’s Vespa. It took hours simply to leave the race.
It made for a great story but a very long day.
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com