10 Tips for Taking Your Kids to a Formula 1 Race
My children have been watching Formula One racing pretty much since they were born. They don’t often watch an entire race, but they like the starts, pit stops, overtakes, crashes and podium celebrations (pretty much the same parts as everyone else, I guess). A typical response when I ask if they want to watch a race with me is, “Call me when it’s time for the Champagne.”
The two oldest kids are five and seven years old, but they already know most of the drivers, can identify the different teams and recently we were out and passed a UPS store, which the five-year-old, Michael, pointed at and said, “There’s a Ferrari logo.” UPS, of course, is a Ferrari sponsor and their logo is on the side of the cars. This happens relatively often. When Ava, now seven, was two or three, she saw cases of Red Bull at the grocery store and said, “Sebastian Vettel!” (So F1 advertisers, your sponsorship dollars are working.)
I didn’t attend my first F1 grand prix until I was 17 and, although I already enjoyed the sport, once I saw—and heard—the cars in real life, I was truly hooked. So I’ve always wanted to bring the kids to let them have that experience and see the cars and drivers we always watch on television in the flesh (or carbon fibre, I guess).
The issue is that I started covering F1 for Bleacher Report when Ava was three and I’ve covered each Canadian Grand Prix (the closest race by far for us) since then for either B/R or Vice Sports. So opportunities to bring the kids to the track have been limited. They did come to the Thursday pit lane open house a couple years ago in Montreal, but that wasn’t too interesting for young kids and I could only spend a few minutes with them as I had to run to an interview with Nico Hulkenberg.
This year, though, thanks to some last-minute confusion, I didn’t get my media pass until Friday afternoon, which meant I was free for a full day of on-track action. Unfortunately, Ava had Girl Guide camp that evening, but I told Mike we were going. We left early Friday morning from Ottawa, arrived at the circuit just before the first free practice session, stayed until midway through the second and were back in Ottawa before bedtime. We also had time for two stops at the accreditation centre, where Mike was smitten with the girl working at the desk, but that’s another story.
Based on our experience at the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix, as well as my previous decade-and-a-half attending races, here are 10 tips for taking your kids to an F1 grand prix—and saving a bit of money:
1. Don’t actually go to the race.
Wait, what? Race day is the busiest day of any grand prix weekend, for obvious reasons, and while the race action is more exciting than practice or even qualifying, you will have a much better experience on Friday, particularly with kids in tow. Tickets will be cheaper, meaning you will have a better view; there will be more room for restless children to move around; fewer people means shorter lines for food and washrooms; travel to and from the circuit will be easier; and the F1 cars are on track for three hours, compared with just an hour and 45 minutes or so during the race.
2. Buy your tickets from a secondary seller.
Often, fans wanting the best seats at a grand prix have to buy a full weekend package, rather than just for the day or days they want. But many of those same people also have to work on Friday, or maybe they only want to show up for qualifying and the race—the sessions that “count.” Luckily for you and your kids, that means some of those great seats will be available for the Friday sessions at bargain prices. Mike and I bought our tickets from StubHub just a few days ahead of time and we got amazing seats at the hairpin for a fraction of their face value. They were better seats than pretty much any other time I had been to the grand prix and we didn’t have to worry about bringing chairs and arriving early to get a good general admission spot.
3. Be prepared to miss some of the action.
Let’s face it: No matter how into F1 you are, you can only watch so much free practice. The times are essentially meaningless and yeah, it’s cool to see the cars and drivers up close, but three hours in one day can be a bit much even for adults. It will be too much for your kids. But each practice session is 90 minutes long. Halfway through, if your kids are getting restless, don’t try to force them to sit and watch. Go for a walk, take a bathroom break and grab a hot dog. Since it’s Friday and the grandstands are half empty, maybe check out a different vantage point, if your tickets allow for it. Mike and I watched the whole first practice, but about halfway through the second session, he had had enough. I had to go pick up my pass anyway, so we took off and beat the crowds back into the city.
4. Bring your own food and drinks.
Most (if not all) F1 circuits allow you to bring your own food and drinks to the track. Not only is this a huge money saver, but it allows you to bring things you know your kids will eat. And they might even be a bit healthier than the hot dogs, fries and pizza sold at the circuit.
5. Save your merchandise purchases for when you get home (or make them ahead of time).
It’s very easy to spend $60 on a driver hat when your adrenaline is coursing after watching the cars rip around all day, and you want the kids to fit in with everyone else wearing their favourite team’s colours at the track. However, the souvenir stands at the circuit are, unsurprisingly, not the place to find deals. One of the best places to shop for F1 merchandise is actually the official F1 store. They always have different sales on, their shipping is quick and relatively cheap (or sometimes free) and if you can wait until the end of the season, you will find some real steals. But if you or your kids do want to get outfitted for the race, order ahead of time—it will still be a better deal than at the track.
6. Be prepared to walk (and carry your kids).
If your kids are small enough that you can still carry them, chances are you will have to at some point during your F1 experience. Grand prix circuits are big and you often have to walk a fair distance from whatever mode of transportation you take to the track to get to your seats. Mike was actually really good about walking, but I still put him on my shoulders a few times, especially at the end of the day on our way back to the metro. Even if your circuit of choice allows it, I would not recommend bringing a stroller—you may not be walking on a paved path the whole time, you will be playing slalom with the crowds and where are you going to leave it while you’re in your seats? It should go without saying that everyone in your party needs comfortable footwear, but I have seen women show up at the track in heels.
7. Bring ear protection, at least for the kids.
At my first grand prix, 2003 in Montreal, the cars still had V10 engines. We laughed as we arrived at the circuit at how many people were selling ear plugs along the way. After the first car passed us on its warm-up lap, the laughter stopped and one member of our group was quickly deputized to run back to the circuit entrance and buy ear plugs for the group. Since the switch to hybrid V6 engines, there has been plenty of talk about how quiet the cars are—and they are quiet, compared to the old V10 and V8 engines—but they are not quiet compared to watching on TV, for example. You might be tempted to forgo ear protection, and most adults will be fine without it, but if you got a deal on those great seats close to the track, you will want something to cover your kids’ ears, which are more sensitive. Mike already had good-quality ear protectors and he wore them most of the time the F1 cars were on the circuit, but even the cheap plugs that squish into your ears will work fine, as long as your kids are comfortable wearing them.
8. Keep the kids engaged.
Maybe your kids are old enough to watch for different lines and driving styles as the cars approach your corner, or maybe they are younger and you just want to teach them which teams have which colour cars. I had my small digital camera with me and Mike asked if he could take some photos. He had a great time trying to catch the cars in his frame and it kept him interested in the action much longer than if he had just been sitting there watching the cars go around. Explain different aspects of the cars or circuit to your kids and try to answer any questions they have—the more knowledge you can share, the more interested they will be.
9. Explore the the circuit and off-track events.
As mentioned, a couple years ago the kids came to the pit lane open house in Montreal. It is a fun event, but they were a bit young for it. They also got to stay up late that night and take in some of the grand prix party scene downtown. Whatever race you are attending, check ahead and plan a few things that look fun or interesting for the kids aside from the on-track action. With Liberty Media now in charge, there seems to be an increase in activities to engage fans, so finding something for your little ones shouldn’t be too hard, no matter which race you attend. This year, Mike and I checked out the vintage F1 paddock and he was fascinated by all the older cars…he just walked up and down the line, staring at them. Of course, when one of the owners asked if he wanted to hop in the cockpit of an old Tyrrell, he was too shy—much to his dad’s dismay.
10. Have fun!
This one might seem obvious, but remember to just relax and have a good time. With a big, outdoor event, not everything will go perfectly—maybe it will rain or your kids will get bored after 20 minutes or you’ll spend a couple hours fighting crowds on the way to or from the circuit. In the end, it’s all part of the experience and something you will laugh about in 20 years when you are taking your kids and grandkids to watch Max Verstappen win his eighth world championship.
Matthew Walthert is a freelance writer and former F1 columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MatthewWalthert.