What I Discovered at My First F1 Race


Since I couldn’t identify each driver on the track, I turned to my friend Google and pulled up a list of F1 drivers and their corresponding numbers. I’d watch the cars race around the turn near the Acura suite, and then look down at my phone. Up, down, up, down until I started matching them up like a memory card game in my head.

I also had the benefit have having some fans at my table who knew what was going on (Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained and The Drive’s own Jerry Perez, I’m looking at you) and I surreptitiously listened as they commented on the race. By the end of the race, I was following along at a reasonable pace.

What I Heard

As of 2014, FIA (the governing body of F1) decreed that the standard 2.4-liter V8 would be replaced by a turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 hybrid engine. The result is that the noise is no longer earsplitting, most certainly requiring earplugs, but still louder than the speakers in a movie theater, for instance.

All around me, people were talking about the impact of Drive to Survive. It doesn’t take a television analyst to see the correlation between F1 and the excitement of the crowd; there is no doubt the demystification of F1 in the U.S. will help grow the crowds even more.

In the Acura suite, during the last few laps the buzz grew louder and louder, and shouts of “Yes, Max!” reverberated downstairs by the televisions and upstairs on the open shaded platform. I was torn; do I stay upstairs and watch the cars race around Turn 13, or do I watch Turn 1 on the screens? I actually ran up and down the stairs a few times to decide. At the end of the race, I chose to watch it from inside, because the commentators were really getting into it and it was easier to follow anyway.

What I discovered

I recognize how fortunate I am to have had the chance to see the race from a vantage point not everyone can access. While I saw lots of happy people having a blast, that wasn’t the case across the board. It’s only fair to talk about the pros and cons of attending an event at COTA as a general ticket holder, like hours-long waits for shuttles, miles-long walks to parking lots, and less-than-optimal port-a-potties. 

One of our readers, Matthew Scalera, commented on Hazel Southwell’s post earlier this week that COTA was “so packed the venue literally felt inhumane.”

He said, “I was there, and the beers guys had no water, no beer, food was selling out. The food vendors had lines as long as drag strips. This year was way too many people, and I’ve been going to COTA since 2012.”

Another reader, Diego Martinez, was effusive: “Loved every minute of it. We have been to most of the F1 races held at COTA and I have to say that this year it was special and I believe most of the crowd felt that way. People were nice, people were respectful, people helped each other out and we made room for more and more people on the turn one hill (we really need a nickname for it). What an amazing time.”

And an intrepid student found a way to make it through a whole weekend without spending much more than the cost of the ticket. That’s almost impressive as Verstappen’s win.

“Yeah, that was probably the most remarkable sporting event I have ever been to, period,” pilot_paul_r commented. “Even as a college student, I somehow found the way to scrounge up the cash to go, and I do not regret it at all. An even more impressive feat was that I got through the entire weekend on only $7.85 in concessions.”

My experience was incredible, and I’m so glad I got to go. F1 race: check. Next year, I want to check out the paddock. 

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