Formula One racing is seen by many as the absolute highest form of motorsport in the world. The pageantry and prestige of Formula One (aka F1) is second to none, and the series travels to all the corners of the globe to determine who will be crowed the world champion. From Abu Dhabi to Malaysia, Montreal to Germany, wealthy Monaco to college town Austin, Texas, there’s an F1 Grand Prix not too far away.
An example of the international crowds found at F1 events: Mexican fans at the Grand Prix of Montreal supporting an Italian manufacturer — Photo courtesy of ph-stop
The Whats and Wheres of F1
The “formula” in Formula One refers to the rules package that all cars and teams must comply with in order to compete. 1950 saw the formation of the FIA, (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) a French organization that sanctions many forms of motorsports. It soon standardized the various single-seater formulas it oversaw across Europe and thus created Formulas One, Two, and Three, One being the most prestigious. F1 races occur as Grand Prix events (French for “Great Prize”).
Grand Prix were held all over Europe in the early 1900s, as races from one town to another, using public roads and early, often unreliable, automobiles. Over the years, the cars became faster and sturdier, and the public roads gave way to purpose-built racing facilities. Today, the series competes on the finest multi-turn racing circuits in the world, some of them computer-generated to create the most stunning racing possible.
A few street circuits still persist, however. Street circuits are a mainstay of open cockpit single-seat racing, both in F1 (and here in the States in the form of the Indy Racing League). Street courses are built on public paved roads, and sometimes even incorporate airports, using temporary concrete barriers and fencing to create a track. Street events are also a favorite among fans for the tight racing as well as the visual spectacle of seeing the cars fly through the downtown areas of major cities. Street races are still held by F1 in Singapore; Australia; and most famously in Monaco.
One of the turns of the Monaco Grand Prix street circuit showing the yacht club that is stationed next to the track. — Photo courtesy of Tim_Big
The Monaco Grand Prix is usually held on the last Sunday of May, a day that is widely regarded around the world as 'the greatest weekend in motorsports' because the same day sees the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600. The Monaco Grand Prix has been on the F1 schedule every year since the series was established. It is also F1’s most prestigious event, and winning there is often seen to be just as significant as winning the world championship.
What to Know Before You Go
When traveling to an F1 race, it’s important to know the customs of not just the region you’re visiting, but the F1 culture itself. In a massive section of the grandstands of nearly every race you’ll spy a sea of red shirts and flags known as Ferrari Nation. Ferrari is the only car constructor to have competed in every racing season since F1’s inception, and naturally they have the largest budget of any of the teams and the most championships. Ferrari's top driver, Fernando Alonso of Spain, is also the second highest paid athlete in the world.
As in so many college football rivalries, you either love or hate Ferrari; there is no neutral ground. Wearing Mercedes silver when surrounded by Ferrari red “Testarossa” colors could make for an unpleasant afternoon. It's possible to find out prior to ticket purchase where the Ferrari Nation will be seated, so take note.
A new 2013 Ferrari being tested in Spain — Photo courtesy of Simon Williams
Also, don’t let the international flair of F1 turn you away. English is the de facto language of F1. All drivers must be able to speak it since all radio communications between the drivers and teams must be done in English so that they can be monitored by the officials.
Even if you’re not a motorsports fan, traveling to an F1 race is a spectacle in and of itself. With drivers and teams from all over the world, every race is an international spectacular, with an audience as colorful as the cars. In the US, the Grand Prix of the United States is held on a new track in Austin, Texas. A second race, the Grand Prix of America, is being planned for 2014 at Weehawken Port Imperial, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, Manhattan its sexy backdrop. Either race will be a show to behold in the sixty-three year old tradition of Formula One racing.