This year’s Belgian Grand Prix will live long in the memory of F1 fans for all the wrong reasons. As much as I’m an advocate for going to see F1 live at the track, no one would envy the poor souls who endured Sunday’s weather affected Belgian Grand Prix.
Now the brollies have been folded up, wellys have finished drying out and the inquest has begun. Did race control make the right calls, was there really a race, and will fans get a refund on their tickets?
Scenes of spectators seemed to make up the majority of the 4+ hours of television coverage between the scheduled start time and the trophy presentation. They told a story of fans – wet, cold but generally in good spirits, excited for what would surely be a classic Spa race if the rain would only ease.
Sadly that wasn’t to be and the brave crowd shivered their way through a trying day of relentless rain for nothing more than a 2 lap safety car-lead procession. Something that the FIA has laughably determined was a race.
Not long after a subdued podium, outrage on social media shifted the narrative of stoic and cheerful fans to reveal a justifiable sense anger. While most were understanding of the dangerous track conditions that made having a race all but impossible, many understandably called for a refund. After all, they had paid to see a race, and this was certainly not that.
Despite the FIA’s insistence that there was a genuine attempt to have proper a race, there is a more cynical take on it. Namely that the two lap phony race which gave us a classified result also conveniently ticked a lot of contractual boxes. This was no doubt pleasing to the sport’s commercial rights holders but it leaves spectators without a right to a refund.
I’m not usually sympathetic to the conspiracy theorist wing of F1 fandom but it’s hard to write this off so easily. After all, if the rain was heavier at the time of the second start attempt than it was the first time around, why go ahead with it? As Lewis Hamilton said, “money talks”.
Having technically had a race meant Formula One had honoured it’s agreements with broadcasters, advertisers and promoters. However that has knock on effects for ticket holders. When a Grand Prix gets cancelled and F1 doesn’t race – as has been the case at the plethora of scheduled events since March 2020 – the venue doesn’t owe Formula One it’s hosting fee and can therefore refund ticket holders. The two lap ‘race’ effectively means fans have no legal right to a refund.
The glib response from F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali that it is what it is and the matter of refunds is between fans and promoters didn’t help calm angry fans. Besides rare cases where big government financial backing exists, circuits are already feeling the squeeze from Formula One’s exorbitant fees. Refunding all ticket holders out of pocket would quite literally bankrupt most circuits – a fact Domenicali knows full well.
Whatever the legal position, it’s clear to all that ethically those fans deserve to be compensated and many in the paddock have been very vocal on this subject. Thankfully F1 seems to be listening and it’s position has softened, since issuing a statement that together with the promoters they are “working through various options for ticket holders”
Clearly there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this whole debacle and Formula One is (usually) good at learning from it’s mistakes. And it needs to. At a time when F1 is struggling in the face of a global pandemic to hold races with spectators, encouraging fans to book race tickets and make travel arrangements in uncertain times, mishandling a situation like this not only hurts fans but could hurt the sport too.
Parallels can be drawn between this and the farcical US GP in 2005. When all Michelin-shod competitors pulled out and only 6 cars took the start at Indianapolis, the damage it did to the sport’s image had long-lasting repercussions for F1 in America.
Whatever comes of it one thing is certain. Everyone in F1, myself included, has not only sincere sympathy for the fans who stuck it out at Spa but also great respect for their patience and decorum. As miserable as the situation was, the scenes of smiling fans, dancing, cheering and making the best of a bad situation says a lot about F1 spectators and the special, festival-like atmosphere they create at a Grand Prix.
Moreover, there is a long history of effort, innovation and sacrifice to improve safety in Formula 1. Drivers, marshals and even spectators have given their lives along the way. The fans at Spa can take some comfort that their suffering was a sacrifice for the safety of all involved. F1 can still be a dangerous sport and sometimes not racing is the right thing to do.
Suzuka’s departure means a calendar reshuffle and a potential brand new venue hosting a Grand Prix this Autumn.
We recently bid Suzuka a sad sayonara as we lost the Japanese GP for a second year running due to the coronavirus pandemic. The venue near Nagoya is a long time favourite for fans and drivers alike and in an era where fans are still sorely missed at some venues, perhaps that is none more so than the passionate spectators at the Japanese Grand Prix.
It’s cancellation meant Formula One was left with a Japan shaped hole in the calendar which presented a problem for UK based personnel for which the race was an important buffer after red listed Turkey
In Spa F1 announced a revised calendar which sees 2021 reduced from 23 Grand Prix to 22 – which will still be a huge achievement in the circumstances. After completing the European triple header of the Belgian, Italian and Dutch Grand Prix F1 goes to Sochi as planned, followed by the Istanbul Park Circuit.
The Grand Prix in Turkey, itself a stand-in for Canada in July, was already postponed once due to being on the UK red list and could still be cancelled outright. Still a red-listed country, the event would be replaced by Mugello if a UK government review scheduled for September 16th preserves that status.
Rounds in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo are followed by an unconfirmed venue for November 21st. It is understood F1 is in talks with organisers in Qatar to bring a race to the Losail International Circuit; bringing races in the middle-east to 4 for this year. If a deal isn’t met it’s highly likely Bahrain will host a second event, possibly using last year’s Sakhir GP’s alternative layout.
The first Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia and the traditional season finale in Abu Dhabi make up the closing stages in December.
- September 5: Netherlands
- September 12: Italy
- September 26: Russia
- October 10: Turkey
- October 24: USA
- November 7: Mexico
- November 14: Brazil
- November 21: (TBC)
- December 5: Saudi Arabia
- December 12: Abu Dhabi
Yesterday came the long anticipated confirmation that the 2021 Canadian Grand Prix would be cancelled, to be replaced by the Istanbul circuit.
This latest 2021 calendar news means that for the second year in a row the Canadian round of the F1 Championship has been cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Canada maintains strict entry requirements, making access for teams, race control and foreign media logistically impossible.
F1 stated that “due to the ongoing international travel restrictions in place in Canada it became impossible for Formula 1 to enter the country without a mandatory 14 day quarantine”.
“We are grateful for the efforts of the promoter and the authorities in Canada, Quebec and Montreal in the past few weeks to try and make the race happen”.
Tickets for 2021 were not yet on sale but for anyone with a ticket from last year who chose to transfer will now have the option to go in 2022 or to receive a refund.
“We will work with the promoter to ensure those with tickets from 2020 & 2021 races get the options of a refund or to transfer their tickets to next year’s race and look forward to racing in Canada in 2022.”
While China never made it onto this year’s calendar in the first place, Canada is the only event from the original 2021 calendar that has been cancelled. Australia meanwhile was postponed, potentially being held in the latter part of the season.
Standing in for the stricken Montreal race is the Istanbul Park Circuit, making it the second year in succession the Turkish Grand Prix has been drafted in, last appearing in November last year.
The track which hosted the Turkish Grand Prix originally from 2005 to 2011 is a popular one with F1 fans and last year’s chaotic, wet race did nothing to harm it’s reputation.
Formula One has released it’s draft calendar for 2021 which targets an ambitious 23 Grand Prix and fans present in a ‘close to normal’ season.
Although some uncertainty remains, F1 spectators will be pleased to hear that the closed-door events and empty grandstands of 2020 should be a thing of the past by next year. Feeling bolstered by their success in holding a safe and responsible championship this year, F1 asserts the fan experience should be approaching normality in 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic.
According to F1 CEO Chase Carey, “We are planning for 2021 events with fans that provide an experience close to normal and expect our agreements to be honoured. We have proven that we can safely travel and operate our races and our promoters increasingly recognise the need to move forward and manage the virus.”
“In fact, many hosts actually want to use our event as a platform to show the world they are moving forward.”
The 2021 season is due to get going at Melbourne’s Albert Park in March and run until December. There are currently 22 confirmed rounds with a question mark over the Hanoi race in April which could stretch the season to 23 races.
The Vietnam GP has not been confirmed for 2021. Originally due to host it’s inaugural event this year until covid-19 forced it’s cancellation, it’s absence from next years calendar is due to a local political scandal.
The Hanoi slot of April 25th is still listed on the calendar with the venue ‘TBC’. If the race can’t be rescued in time, F1 may wish to replace it with one of the venues that substituted this year, or possibly a return to Sepang.
Grand Prix in Catelunya (Spain) and Interlagos (Brazil), both due to hold their final races this year have managed to hold on to a place on the calendar for another year. The Brazil round was slated for a move to Rio de Janeiro but delays in getting government approval for a controversial new circuit has put these plans are on hold.
Another circuit that was due to make a first appearance in 2021 was Miami. With a lot riding on the growth of the sport’s popularity in the US though and F1 keen to guarantee a successful launch of the new event, both Liberty and local promoters agreed to hold off until a clearer picture emerged of the pandemic’s trajectory.
“I think for a new race, we want to launch in the right way, and we thought the right thing was to try and go a little slower until we had a little bit better visibility, whether it’s vaccines, or treatments, or tests or what have you.”
“It’s more important we do it right than fast. And the virus obviously represents challenges, until you have a better sense of it”, said F1 CEO Chase Carey.
With Miami and Vietnam called off, the only new venue in 2021 is likely to be the night race in Jeddah. There has long been speculation of a new Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia at an Alex Wurz designed track in Qiddiya.
With that track still under construction however, F1 announced last week a street circuit in Jeddah will host the first Saudi GP as the penultimate round of the season before heading to Abu Dhabi for the season finale on December 5th.
- March 21: Australia
- March 28: Bahrain
- April 11: China
- April 25: TBA
- May 9: Spain
- May 23: Monaco
- June 6: Azerbaijan
- June 13: Canada
- June 27: France
- July 4: Austria
- July 18: Britain
- August 1: Hungary
- August 29: Belgium
- September 5: Netherlands
- September 12: Italy
- September 26: Russia
- October 3: Singapore
- October 10: Japan
- October 24: USA
- October 31: Mexico
- November 14: Brazil
- November 28: Saudi Arabia
- December 5: Abu Dhabi
Recent announcements mean this year’s calendar is starting to become clearer and Formula One says it is keen to see F1 fans return to the track side with some venues planning to allow a limited number of spectators to attend.
Three races in and while we’re all happy to see F1 back on our screens it’s been a bittersweet start to the 2020 season with grandstands eerily empty, the coronavirus lockdown measures and safety concerns forcing races to be held behind closed doors.
In May, F1 announced plans for racing to return with closed-door events starting with the back to back Grand Prix in Austria, followed by the Hungarian GP and another back to back at Silverstone. The Belgian and Italian GP were also confirmed though they too would be held without spectators present. Meanwhile races in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan were officially cancelled in June.
The Canadian Grand Prix originally planned for June 14 was postponed in April. This announcement abandoning all races west of the Atlantic all but extinguished the slim flicker of hope that the event might have been rescheduled.
Replacement venues old and new
All of these cancellations mean European venues have been drafted in to flesh out the 2020 F1 calendar, seeing the sport return to some classic venues and make first appearances at others.
“We are pleased that we continue to make strong progress in finalising our plans for the 2020 season and are excited to welcome Nürburgring, Portimão and Imola to the revised calendar,” said Chase Carey, CEO of F1.
It was half expected that Germany might see a reprise in 2020 as a stand in for cancelled races elsewhere but it was always Hockenheim, which held the race last year that was expected to stage the event. It is however the Nürburgring that will hold a Grand Prix, last having appeared on the calendar in 2013.
After weeks of speculation, Imola has also been confirmed and is expected to host a condensed two day format. The popular circuit last held a Grand Prix in 2006 and had been angling for slot in the F1 calendar before the current crisis.
Ferrari owned Mugello meanwhile will host it’s first Formula 1 race – the Tuscan Ferrari 1000 Grand Prix. What better way for the Scuderia to celebrate their 1000th Grand Prix than with an event in their own back yard?
Along with Monza, that makes for a tally of three races in Italy this year. If they are all closed-door, perhaps these events are where fans will be most missed, a Grand Prix in Italy just won’t feel right without the tifosi.
In late October F1 will make its debut at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portuagal. The last event to be held in the country was the Estoril GP in 1996.
F1 now has a confirmed 14 race calendar. That’s more than the 8 races needed to have an official championship and just one short of their 15 race target.
After the European season, where next?
After Sochi and the European run of new/old venues, where F1 goes from there is still unconfirmed. The Chinese Grand Prix, the first to be postponed in the halcyon days of January, looks likely to be cancelled.
Vietnam which has had low levels of virus cases may hold a Grand Prix after all, though it’s unlikely Hanoi will want to host it’s inaugural event if it had to be without spectators. Elsewhere in Asia, Sepang in Malaysia has been mooted as a possible venue to return for a one off race.
- July 5 Austrian Grand Prix
- July 12 Styrian Grand Prix (Red Bull Ring 2)
- July 17-19 Hungarian Grand Prix
- August 2 British Grand Prix
- August 9 70th Anniversary Grand Prix (Silverstone 2)
- August 16 Spanish Grand Prix
- August 30 Belgian Grand Prix
- September 6 Italian Grand Prix
- September 13 Tuscan Ferrari 1000 Grand Prix (Mugello)
- September 27 Russian Grand Prix
- October 11 Eifel Grand Prix (Nurburgring)
- October 25 Portuguese Grand Prix (Algarve)
- November 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Imola)
When can we hope to see F1 spectators in grandstands again?
There are plans to allow spectators attend the Algarve weekend, possibly in the thousands though it’s unlikely to be filled to capacity as social distancing rules will no doubt apply.
It remains uncertain whether other European venues added to the calendar will open their gates to spectators as well but talks between F1 and local authorities are ongoing.
It’s likely the first Grand Prix with fans in attendance this year will be at Sochi, where tickets are on sale and the race is still set for it’s September slot.
If you have been impacted by any of these cancellations contact your ticket provider to learn about your refund options.
My love of watching Formula 1 live and in person has taken me all over the world, but the one place I had never been to see a race before was the past. Until that was I had a chance to visit the Monaco Historic Grand Prix. Want to know what to expect? This is my experience of attending the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and some tips and advice for planning your trip.
Since 1997 this biennial festival of motorsport nostalgia has been hosting races for Formula 1 cars of yesteryear on the iconic Monaco circuit.
And make no mistake, this is no Sunday drive. Well okay, it is really but don’t be under any illusions. Just because they’re driving around in priceless museum pieces, these guys aren’t pussyfooting around like I or any other sane person would.
These are real racing drivers and once behind the wheel the competitiveness and ego take over and they really go for it, seemingly not afraid of putting a dent in these beautiful machines.
The Monaco Historic Grand Prix usually takes place two weeks before the actual Grand Prix and the double header is a great idea for any F1 fan who fancies a longer stay in the stunning Côte d’Azur. The next one is in May 2022 and you don’t need to risk tearing a hole in the space-time continuum to see it.
Schedule and Entrants
The event takes place over three days and mirrors a Grand Prix weekend with practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and races on Sunday.
There’s about half an hour between most sessions so just enough time to get some refreshments and get back to your seats. You certainly won’t have time to get bored between sessions. Races are 10-12 laps or 30-35 minutes, and 18 laps or 45 minutes for later F1 races.
In 2018 there were seven categories with cars ranging from pre-war Grand Prix cars to Formula 1 cars of the 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as a handful of early F2 cars and sports cars. And in case you’re wondering, yes these are all original cars – replicas are strictly forbidden.
|Series A||Pre-war Grand Prix cars
|Series B||Pre 1961- F1 and F2
Grand Prix cars
|Series C||Sports Racing cars -
front engine (1952 - 1957)
|Series D||F1 Grand Prix cars
(1961 - 1965)
|Series E||F1 Grand Prix cars
(1966 - 1972)
|Series F||F1 Grand Prix cars
(1973 - 1976)
|Series G||F1 Grand Prix
cars (1977 - 1980)
Looking at the participants I felt a tinge of disappointment that there would be no cars from the 90s. Hero worshiping Senna as a child as he fought wheel to wheel with Prost and Mansel, these cars always turn the nostalgia dial up to 11 for me. In the end though it was to be a completely different category of car that would be my surprise favourite this weekend.
Practical stuff – booking tickets, finding accommodation and transport to Monaco
Friday is a practice day and anyone can attend for free, no ticket required. Thanks to a last minute flight cancellation though I was on a train from Milan when practice got underway (thanks Ryanair). The F1 Spectator budget not quite stretching to the cost of a room at Monte-Carlo’s Fairmont, I arrived in Gare de Nice Ville Friday evening and checked into a hotel near the station.
I was back at Nice train station the next morning and took the 8.39am train to Monaco. One pleasing difference between this and the regular Monaco Grand Prix is how much more relaxed things are. There’s no big queue at the ticket machines and enough available seats on the train to bag a seat on the coast side and enjoy the views of the picturesque seaside towns of the French Riviera.
Once in Monaco temporary signs lead from the station directing spectators to the various grandstands. The signage wasn’t perfect and Monaco’s layout can be confusing even when you think you know where you’re going. Luckily there are plenty of staff on hand to ask directions. I followed the signs to Grandstand T, my grandstand for Saturday.
Qualifying Day: Stars ‘n’ Cars
By 9.15am I was seated in the grandstand, just in time to see qualifying for the early 1960s F1 cars. There’s a full program so things start early.
Saturday is a timed practice day that decides the starting positions for the races on Sunday. Just like the actual Grand Prix, grid position is everything here so Saturday can be just as exciting to watch as the race and it’s where drivers always push the limits.
I’d missed the session for the pre-war Grand Prix cars which started at 8.30am, but I’d decided (wrongly as it turned out) that I wasn’t so interested in cars from the pre-Formula One era – not as much as I was interested in an extra 45 minutes of sleep at least.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one making heavy use of the snooze button that morning as people tended to arrive at various times throughout the day. In the afternoon grandstands were a lot fuller but it was still possible to find spaces, even in the upper rows. The very back rows, which at Monaco have more comfortable seats, were usually snapped up by then though.
I took my favourite spot in T1 – the top row, at the end nearest the chicane. From here you have a fantastic head on view of the cars exiting the first Swimming Pool chicane and approaching the second as well as a clear view of the exit. Seats lower down on the same side are also really good and easier to get. The cars feel close enough to touch as they exit the corner bouncing across the curb and with no fence it’s a brilliant photo opportunity too.
Grandstand T is also a great place for people watching and looking out for famous faces. There were shouts of ‘Mika’ in the grandstand as the double world champion ambled down the pitlane. This was followed by sightings of Adrian Newey, Eddie Irvine and Riccardo Patrese.
It turned out that besides Newey (who was competing in his Lotus 49) they were all there for the F1 Heritage Parade where they would be doing some laps along with Karun Chandhok, Thierry Boutsen and Jarno Trulli who I hadn’t spotted.
You can read my full review of grandstand T and all other Monaco grandstands in the Monaco grandstand guide.
Race Day: Storm Clouds on the Horizon
On Sunday morning as I waited for the first pre-war machines to roar into life I watched a grey-haired couple being served a multiple course breakfast on the deck of their cruiser, while a deckhand was busily scrubbing down the starboard flank (as I’m sure it’s not called). I tucked into a slightly squashed croissant I’d hastily bought on the way to the station that morning.
What I lacked in breakfast, servants and boating terminology I comforted myself that I had a better view of the race track. Grandstand K – probably my favourite place to watch at Monaco. You can’t see the pitlane from here but the track action is second to none and the sound seems to surround you.
Sunlight sparkled in the azure waters of Monaco harbour like a scene from a postcard. At least that’s how the day started. Storm clouds were already gathering on the horizon, edging closer to the streets of Monaco.
When the series A race finally started I soon realized I’d made a mistake. These funny looking machines with their skinny tyres, the aerodynamic efficiency of a combine harvester and huge thundering engines were a joy to behold. What I’d decided were not worth getting out of bed for on Saturday were some of the most exciting cars to watch and even changed the way I think about Monaco as a race track.
Drifting through Tabac, almost floating with a grace and elegance that made later cars look clumsy and awkward. Suddenly Monaco made sense. These cars, much slimmer than later F1 cars, looked at home on the narrow streets . They are after all the cars this circuit was designed for when the first Grand Prix was held here in 1929.
The field was made up mostly of Bugatti’s, Maserati’s and ERA’s. A Bugatti T35B, victorious at the very first Monaco Grand Prix finished two laps behind and last.
1950s and 1960s F1 – Now in Glorious Technicolour
Next, Race D saw a close battle between Andy Mildlehurst’s Lotus 25 (1962) and Joseph Colasacco’s Ferrari 1512 (1964) with it’s distinctive blue wheels. The challenge from the Ferrari went down to the line, the Lotus taking victory by 0.6 seconds.
As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the pair had barely crossed the line when there was a collision at Tabac and the crowd in grandstand K were on their feet. Iain Rowly had lost control of his Assegai and hit the tecpro on exit, later collecting Kurt Delbene’s BRP in a tangle of twisted metal.
Later the Series E race was just as tense at the front between two cars from the 1971 season. The sight of leader Bjorn Wirdheim’s March 711 squirming through Tabac and the chicane lap after lap while fending off Stuart Hall in his McLaren M19A was a thrilling show.
Fantastic Machines and Where to Find them – Visiting the Paddock
The three hour break between the series E and series F race’s was a perfect intermission to check out the paddock. The paddock isn’t widely publicized, but a visit is an absolute must. Being able to wander around the paddock, get close to these F1 legends is another old worldy throwback to Formula 1’s more accessible past.
It doesn’t get very busy so you can get very close to the cars. Also, keep your eyes peeled and you never know who you’ll see; apparently a certain Mr. Eclestone was seen hanging around there on Saturday.
This is one area where you’ll most need ear protection – I was nearly deafened by James Hunts Hesketh as it left the box to line up for the race. True it’s one of the more pleasing ways to lose your hearing but I would still recommend bringing some ear plugs if you visit.
To get to the paddock walk along Avenue de la Quarantaine and look out for a door on the left with a gazebo marking the entrance. Walk down five flights of steps and exit on the opposite side of the building. Famous Monaco burger bar Stars ‘n’ Bars is to the left and paddock access is to the right.
Lauda than Thunder: That ’70s Race
The Historic Grand Prix is a prestigious affair and many in attendance really dress up for the occasion lending the grandstands an air of elegance and sophistication.
The effect of this was dampened (pun intended) when in the afternoon the skies had finally opened, a prolonged heavy rain storm precipitating the use of disposable plastic ponchos.
Whatever crimes of fashion the rain had caused in the grandstands, out on the track the racing was improved by the situation. The remaining 1970s cars would be competing on a wet and drying track, adding an extra frisson of excitement to proceedings.
The series F race got under way and the giant screen showed just how tricky the conditions were as Roald Goethe lost control of his Tyrell 007 all alone on the start / finish straight, hitting the armco.
The 1970s cars seemed to generate the most excitement in the crowd. Besides the appeal of the 3-litre engine cars being the loudest, they are cars many in the grandstand would no doubt remember from the period and filled with names and liveries that many younger fans would recognize.
It’s a period distant enough to seem romantic but recent enough to be relatable to modern F1. Seeing the day-glow Marlboro McLaren and Niki Lauda’s iconic Ferrari 312B I had to pinch myself. It was like Rush the stage show.
I had to pinch myself again at the end of the race for something not seen in F1 for a while – a McLaren 1-2 finish. Michael Lions in the McLaren M26 as raced by Jochen Mass in 1976 took a commanding victory, completing the race in 34 minutes.
With a drying track and a full grandstand the stage was set for the final race for the 1977 – 1980 series G entrants. Too dry for wets but too wet for slicks, conditions were clearly the trickiest they had been all day and the 18 lap race saw more drivers spinning, crashing and just generally looking a bit silly than any other. The race was won by Martin O’Connell in a 1980 ATS D4, bringing to a close a fantastic weekend of racing in Monaco.
The Monaco Historic Grand Prix deserves a place in the bucket list of any motorsport fan. Its a must for anyone who gets off on the history of Formula One, the evolution of F1 machinery or just misses the sound of a real F1 engine. And as I discovered it can give even a long time fan of the sport a fresh insight into Formula 1 and Monaco.
To kick off the new season, thanks to our partner F1 TV, we’re giving away a 1 year subscription to F1 TV Pro, worth $79.99/€64.99. Keep reading to find out about F1 TV Pro and how you can win.
What is F1 TV Pro?
F1 TV Pro is the ultimate companion app to follow Formula 1 at home or at the track.
- Watch live every F1, F2, F3 and Porche Supercup session and choose between onboard cameras.
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A subscription gives you access to all this with the F1 TV app and on the web.
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.
Food and Drink
Make sure you keep up your fluids and always keep a bottle of water with you. Some circuits will impose restrictions on the amount and type of beverages you can take into the circuit. Generally speaking 500ml of water contained in a clear plastic bottle should be OK. Inside there will sometimes be a water fountain where you can refill the bottle free of charge.There will be food available inside but the range will vary considerably from venue to venue and wherever you are it’ll be pricey. You might as well get organized and bring your own food. If it’s going to be hot, don’t bring food that doesn’t like high temperatures or is messy (hint: leave the bananas at home!). Picnic food works well along with a few musli bars for when you need a quick energy boost.
Like at any large event everything inside will cost a premium, and however prepared and disciplined you are, you’re always going to end up spending more than you expect, so budget generously. The long periods of waiting between the action is enough to push even the most frugal of spectators into an impulse buy frenzy.Of course there’s always food and drink to tempt you, not to mention the official program, entertainment such as simulators and go-karts, and merchandise galore at the F1 Village. Consider taking about 30 euros per person for food and drink and if you think you’ll buy merchandise, there’s no limit to how much you could spend.
ATM’s are available at a number of venues, but you’d be better off bringing plenty of cash in with you unless you like waiting in line.
For some of you budding photographers, capturing the perfect shot of a Formula 1 car through your lens is what it’s all about. Others will just want to preserve the memories of a great weekend with your mates and make your Facebook friends jealous.
Whatever level of photographer you are, bring enough battery power and memory capacity to last the day. There’s nothing worse than running out of power just as the drivers are spraying the champagne. You’re likely to take more photos than you think, given the difficulty in taking a good shot of an F1 car at speed. Don’t be surprised if you have a lot of pictures of empty asphalt. Also, bring a suitable camara bag that will keep everything dry in the event of a downpour.
If you’re in general admission you could be in for long periods of standing which if you’re not used to, can be grueling. Consider taking a collapsible chair or stool (if allowed by the circuit) especially for the periods between track sessions. If rain is a possibility, I would at least bring something waterproof to put on the ground in order to stay dry and comfortable.
An umbrella to protect you from the elements is a wise accompaniment for a day at the races. If all the walking gets too much you can fold it up and use it as a walking stick. I’ve also found that bringing an umbrella is one of the surest ways to garantee it won’t rain. Just keep in mind that large umberellas can really ruin another fans view so use it sensitively.
Dress for the weather. On a wet weekend a light weight rain jacket or poncho that can be easily carried during the dry spells is ideal. Otherwise wear light comfortable clothes and a broad-rimmed hat or baseball cap to keep the sun off.
A good comfortable pair of worn-in walking shoes is a must especially for general admission ticket holders. In between the excitement you should expect a lot of walking, standing, queuing…and more walking.
Sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day you could get burned standing so long in one spot. If you forget it, you’l find first aid stations dotted about the circuit which may be able to help.
However much you might love the sound of an F1 car, at some point you’ll probably need to block your ears. Not quite so important since 2014’s new engine regs perhaps but if you are very close to the track, at a high speed section or when several cars in close proximity it is still quite loud.
Ear plugs or ear defenders? Ah the eternal debate. Well, whether you’re the type to plug up or not they are available at the circuit, but if you’re getting ear muffs you may be better off (financially at least) buying them at a more reasonable price in a hardware store before you go. If you’re bringing the little ones I highly recommend them.
Watch, and Stay Informed
A portable radio is a handy accompaniment to stay informed and make the time between the action pass a little quicker. The radio can be tuned to the race circuit’s own broadcast if it has one, or whichever local or national station you prefer. Absolutely no sodcasting of the latest Justin Bieber song though.
A decent pair of binoculars are usually worth the extra weight. If you have a view of the pits or starting grid straight they’ll let you see all the action in a lot more detail. They’re useful too for reading that little pixelated writing on the big screens such as lap times, pit stop times, positions etc.
There’s a growing amount of apps available for your smartphone/tablet that make following the race easier.
Baby wipes are great for these sort of occasions especially if you’ve brought the rugrats. Perfect for a post lunch clean up or after touching that strangly sticky handrail. Also an idea to bring some toilet paper for, well, you know.
A good reliable pen for those autographs. You can bring a notepad if you wish, or just use whatever merchandise is to hand or the official program.