Advisory editor’s note: I’ve been a Formula 1 fan since I saw Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren take the fight to Michael Schumacher’s dominant Ferrari in the early 2000s. As a new F1 season kicks off amidst the sands of Bahrain today, here’s a guide to the sport and where to watch it should you decide to go in person.
A globe-trotter’s guide to F1
Written by: Advisory editor Sooraj Rajmohan
Formula 1’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to some savvy social media strategy and a Netflix documentary, so we totally get that feeling of wanting to jet off to an exotic location and catch a race in person. So which one should you pick?
But first, why is Formula 1 a big deal?
Formula 1, or F1 for short, is the highest category of open wheel motor racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). That’s a mouthful, I know. It’s been around a long time, with the first ‘grand prix’—as the races are called—held in the UK way back in 1950.
For some participating teams, like Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren, the sport is a way to show off their pedigree to prospective owners of their road-legal sports cars. For the likes of Red Bull Racing, it is a very serious branding exercise (yes, a team owned by an energy drink company has won six F1 world driver’s championships). Other automobile manufacturers have also been known to purchase existing teams and rebrand them as their own to grab a slice of the pinnacle of motorsport.
Okay, what if I want to go watch a race?
Admittedly, F1 isn’t the world’s best spectator sport, but the choice of amazing locations gives fans and travel enthusiasts plenty to look forward to. The F1 season works a bit like a high-profile concert tour. The 10 participating teams, 20 drivers and additional reserve drivers–and hundreds of support staff–travel to exotic race-tracks across the world to compete against each other. If you want a peek into how this crazy feat of logistics is achieved, here’s a great explainer:
F1’s growing popularity has led to increased interest from regions like the US and countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to host their own Grands Prix. Most racetracks also organise concerts featuring high profile names and fan experiences for ticket buyers. Below are some of our top recommendations for races worth packing your bags for:
Monaco Grand Prix, May 28: Considered one of the crown jewels of the Formula 1 calendar, Monaco (much like Ferrari) is an iconic symbol of the sport. The second smallest country in the world—where every third person is a millionaire—is known for glitz, glamour, and impossibly tight racing. Many F1 drivers live in this tiny country as well–since it is a tax haven and has an easily accessible harbour where they can moor that fancy yacht they own. Point to note: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc is a native Monagasque.
The big selling point: Monaco is also one of F1’s ‘street circuits’, where public roads double as the race track during the race weekend. The larger size of modern F1 cars compared to their predecessors has turned the tight track into more of a procession route than a race. But if you want to experience peak opulence, rub shoulders with the who’s who of the world, and catch a race by the bay, there really is no better alternative. Here’s a fascinating flashback into Monaco’s history with F1:
Outside the track: Haute Living has a comprehensive guide that tells you where to ‘stay, play, dine and wine–and empty your wallet doing it.
British Grand Prix, July 9: The UK’s iconic Silverstone racetrack is located at the site of a former Royal Air Force bomber station, and holds the distinction of having hosted the first race of the Formula 1 World Championship in its current avatar. Watching the drivers navigate the circuit’s long, flowing corners is an absolute treat, and the circuit has a great track record when it comes to organising events for attending fans.
The big selling point: Silverstone is very close to the factories of popular teams Red Bull and Aston Martin, and the home race for Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton—a seven time world champion considered among the sport’s modern legends—as well as McLaren’s rising star Lando Norris. If you want an iconic atmosphere and witness local support, Silverstone is high up the list.
Outside the track: The circuit is a little ways from London–which gives visitors the chance to take in some British countryside. It’s also quite common for people to hitch a trailer to their cars and make a camping trip out of the event. Aviation and motoring enthusiasts can also plan a visit to the Brooklands Museum to get a taste of British heritage in these domains—including a tour of the Concorde!
Belgian, Dutch, and Italian Grands Prix (July 30-September 3): We’re grouping these three together because of their relative proximity to one another. And a tour of the three races makes for a brilliant European holiday. If you’re a nature lover, Belgium’s iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, nestled in the Ardennes forest on the country’s eastern edge, should be on top of your list. High speeds, fantastic views, and unpredictable weather usually offer up great racing.
For a more race-fuelled atmosphere, Zandvoort in the Netherlands is the home race of reigning world champion Max Verstappen, and his supporters always make sure to turn up and paint the place orange.
For the complete F1 fan experience however, Italy’s Monza racetrack is the place to visit. Dubbed ‘The Temple of Speed’, this iconic location is Ferrari’s home race, and you’d be hard pressed to see any colour other than the company’s iconic scarlet hue across the stands. Ferrari supporters, known as the ‘tifosi’, can be a raucous bunch, but Monza offers a glimpse of passion for motorsport in its truest form.
Outside the track: The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is a short drive from Brussels. The nearby town of Spa, which the track derives its name from, is renowned for its natural mineral springs, making it a popular tourist destination for Europe’s elite to unwind. If you arrive on a weekday, find a nice thermal bath overlooking the hills, or head to Musee De Circuit De Spa Francorchamps and try the simulator for a virtual lap around the circuit.
Zandvoort is fairly close to Haarlem, a city that encapsulates much of the cultural history of the Netherlands. It’s popular for its beer and for giving its name to Manhattan’s Harlem borough. Amsterdam—and its bevy of attractions ranging from Dam Square to the Anne Frank house—is close by as well.
Monza is located just north of Milan, so you have plenty of options to show up to the circuit in designer wear of your choice. Motorsport enthusiasts can also take a detour to Modena to visit Ferrari’s factory and museum and take in some of Italy’s famed racing heritage.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, November 26: Located on Yas Island—one of the best-known tourist spots in the region— the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has all the ingredients for a great time. This is the final race of the season, so there’s always the chance of greater suspense and tension if things go down to the wire. It’s also timed to start in the twilight hours and end in pitch darkness with flood lights illuminating the track–all of which adds to the spectacle.
Outside the track: Then there’s all the things to do around one of UAE’s most popular tourist destinations, including a visit to Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster. If all this works up an appetite, this handy gastronomic guide to the region by National Geographic should have you sorted out.
Psst: If you want to get as close to the action as humanly possible, F1 and individual teams offer their own packages that provide 3 day track access, accommodation options, pitlane access, gourmet food, and chances to interact with drivers and staff. But be ready to pay for that up close experience. The cheapest of these all-inclusive packages start at a little over $3,000 for races like Hungary, average somewhere around $5,000 for our picks above, and go up to an eye-watering $15,000 if you’d like to watch the inaugural F1 race in Vegas.
That sounds fun, but I also want to learn more about F1…
To be honest, Netflix is a good starting point if you’re new to the sport. The docu series ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ is now in its fifth season, and presents a compelling—if fairly over-dramatised—account of an F1 season. You get a taste of what to expect in the trailer below:
For a detailed look into one of the sport’s great rivalries between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, Ron Howard’s 2013 film ‘Rush’ makes for a great weekend watch.
Formula 1 is also one of the most underrated team sports. The drivers get the glory, but the technical team is a case study in how to design, operate, and run a high performance sports team. If you want to nerd out on what it takes to achieve success in a high pressure environment, Total Competition by Ross Brawn—one of the sport’s most decorated technical directors and team principals—is a great read.
For an in-depth view into the mechanical side of things, Adrian Newey—the designer behind some of McLaren and Red Bull’s most successful cars—has a fantastic book aptly titled ‘How To Build A Car’.