Nothing beats going to a Grand Prix and seeing Formula 1 cars in action, and if you’re reading this you may well be planning to attend a Grand Prix in the near future. Seeing a live Formula 1 race is a big event, and a memorable one. A bit of prior knowledge, and a plan for the weekend can go a long way to maximizing your enjoyment of the occasion and really get the most value from it.
If it’s your first time going to a Grand Prix you probably have a lot of excitement. You may also have quite a few questions about what to expect from a live motorsports event on the scale of an F1 race. You can find a lot of useful tips on The F1 Spectator about going to Grand Prix, but this guide is effectively ground zero; Grand Prix spectating 101.
In this article I’ll share tips and advice on how to plan for the weekend, find the best place to watch the Grand Prix, stay informed throughout the race, and much more.
Preparing for your weekend at the Grand Prix
Organisation and knowledge are key for the whole weekend, and it all starts before you even get to the track. Take a look at our checklist for the Grand Prix for an idea of what you might want to bring and visit the circuit’s official page for information on what not to bring. Each F1 venue has their own regulations but often there are restrictions on food and drink, chairs, ladders, and any item that could be a danger to yourself or others.
Check what the weather’s going to do over the weekend for a better idea of what clothing and protection from the elements you’ll need. Put all your devices on charge so you won’t suffer with a dead camera or iPad and make sure you have plenty of memory for your photographs.
Finally get out the cheese and pickle and make a few sandwiches. It’s going to be a long day.
Getting to the circuit
Aim to get to the track at least an hour before you need to. Public transport systems and road networks alike can be overwhelmed by the vast numbers attending a race weekend. F1 is in town and however many free shuttle buses are laid on there’s always going to be delays so be ready for them.
Have a look over the F1S circuit guides in advance for information about getting to the race track. If you’re getting there by public trasport, try to get all the transportation tickets you need for the 3 days all at once and save yourself the time and frustration of waiting in line every day.
Staking Out The Best Spot at the Track
Let’s face it, wherever you decide to watch the race from it’s going to be awesome. That said, if you’re anything like me you’ll want to spend a bit of time making sure you’re in the best possible place to watch the race from.
Most tickets to F1 events are sold as 3 day tickets to give you access to the circuit on Friday for practice sessions (Thursday at Monaco), Saturday’s qualifying and the race itself on Sunday. On Fridays at many Grand Prix, most or all grandstands are open to all ticket holders so whether you have a seat for the race or you’ve opted for general admission, it’s a good strategy to try out a few of the grandstands for the various angles they offer.
This way you’ll get to view the cars under various conditions – the breathtaking speed as they flash past you down the straight; the driver struggling to slow the car and battle for position in the braking zone; the lightning quick change of direction as the car sweeps through a chicane before getting on the throttle again and disappearing into the distance.
It’s all rather mesmerizing and it’s what you came to see. No one is saying you need to walk the whole track (though you might as well) – but you’d be missing out if you decide to drop anchor in one spot and refuse to budge.
If you’re a general admission ticket holder with a 3 day pass, you’ll have ample time over Friday and Saturday to walk the circuit and decide where you think you might want to view the race from on Sunday.
One of the best ways to enjoy Sunday’s action is to position yourself at a series of turns with a short walk connecting them and move around a bit even during the race as this will keep it more interesting. In any case, I would be clear where I wanted to watch the race by Saturday evening – that way you can make a bee line to that place early Sunday morning and get a good place before the late risers arrive.
If you’ll just be turning up on Sunday with a general admission ticket and have no idea where you want to position yourself you can refer to the F1S circuit guides for ideas of best vantage points.
Arrive early…but not too early
Fridays and Saturdays are fairly chilled but on Sundays the good places fill up quick. If you’re in a grandstand with reserved seating, don’t worry; keep pressing that snooze button and stay put. Otherwise though you will need to make an early start, get to the gates before opening and get in line. Generally the earlier the better, but there’s no point getting in line at 4 in the morning and getting the best seat in the house if it means you’ll be cranky all day and fall asleep during the formation lap, so try and strike a balance.
Staying Informed During a Grand Prix
image: Zach Zupancic
Watching F1 live at the track is a very different experience from watching it at home, and some first timers attending an F1 race find it frustrating not being able to follow the Grand Prix with quite the same ease. The position changes are just the start of it, then try and figure out who is gaining on who; is he really in front of that guy or has he just not pitted yet; will that driver get the undercut and gain a position…the list goes on. You’ll never be able to be as informed as you are in your living room, and at some points during a busy race, especially during rounds of frantic pitstops, you’ll be downright confused.
Just keep this in mind and don’t let it worry you. Remember that it’s more about seeing the cars, experiencing the noise and speed, smelling that motor oil and just enjoying the general atmosphere of the event. Attending a Grand Prix shouldn’t be thought of as an enhanced version of what you get with television but something almost entirely different. There are still plenty of ways you can try and keep up with what’s happening though and you’ll probably enjoy it more if you do.
Learning to identify the drivers
As with everything, knowledge is key. Knowing how to identify the key players in the race will help you keep up with all the changes of position and understand who is racing who. According to FIA regulation each car must display the number and name of it’s driver. Good luck seeing these though as it’s usually very hard to see these on a modern F1 car as they are often marginalised to make space for sponsors. Even professional commentators have a hard time keeping track.
Thankfully to make it a little easier for fans and commentators, the number two driver of each team must carry fluorescent yellow markings on the on-board cameras located on the roll bar of the car, above the drivers head. You’ve probably noticed these on television, they’re are usually quite obvious.
It also pays to be familiar with the drivers helmet designs. Really you only need to know one of the helmets from each team to be able to identify all the drivers as you can identify his team mate through elimination. So even if you didn’t know any of the helmet designs to begin with (very unlikely) you would only need to memorize 11 helmets, which shouldn’t be to hard. The official program (see below) should contain all you need to know to make that easy.
Try to sit in a position where you can see one of the giant screens, and tune your radio into the circuits commentary if there is no PA system. If you have binoculars you can use them to see the session information on the screen.
Put your tech to work…
An increasing number of fans choose to follow the race using dedicated F1 apps and Twitter. If you plan to do this and aren’t in your home country, just be wary of data roaming charges which are often extortionate. My tip would be to get set up with a pre-paid local sim card (usually free) and buy 5 or 10 Euros worth of credit to use during the trip.
If you’re not the tech savvy kind and don’t know your Apples from your Blackberrys, fear not. There’s nothing wrong with a good old pencil and paper. Using a stopwatch to keep a record of the gap between two or more drivers each time they pass you and recording it on paper is a great way to feel more involved in the race.
Of course the other option is just to not worry about it. If you think having to keep track of who is following who or who is gaining ground in which sector is detracting you from just enjoying the experience then just sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacle.
Get with the program
Official F1 programs are available for purchase at numerous points all around the circuit and are a useful source of information on F1 and the support events for the Grand Prix. You’ll be in for a lot of waiting around during the weekend so having something to read is always a good idea. If you are only interested in the program as a piece of memorabilia however you should consider waiting and buying one after the race when they will often be available at half price.
There’s No Champagne For the First to the Carpark
The checkered flag comes down, the cars pull in to parc ferme and it’s time to go home. Or is it? While many fans will immediately race to their car to sit in a traffic jam for the rest of the afternoon, the smart Grand Prix goer will stick around.
As the light dims and the team personnel get busy packing everything up ready for the next show why not make the most of it and soak up the special post-race atmosphere. At many venues now you’ll be given access to some or all of the track and it’s a great opportunity for fans to get up close and personal with a rumble-strip, pocket a few ‘marbles’ as souvenirs, or simply sit at the apex of a corner and contemplate all the legendary names to have driven over that hallowed piece of ground.
If gaining access to the track isn’t an option, you may be able to walk, sneak or generally blag your way into the grandstand opposite the pits and you just might get to see the champagne spray, drivers being interviewed and maybe your favorite TV pundits speaking to team personnel.
Speaking of…speaking, after the race is a great time to mix and mingle with other fans. You can debate the contentious issues from the Grand Prix, discus who was the driver of the day, and maybe get a few good tips and recommendations for your next Grand Prix.
I hope this guide will have gone some way to aid you as you plan your trip to the Grand Prix, or inspire you to go to one if it’s something you’ve been considering. For more information and tips for specific Grand Prix, be sure to have a look at the travel guides on The F1 Spectator. They have all the information you need about the circuit, ticket prices, directions to the venue and best places to watch. Happy spectating and see you at the track side.