Fast, Fab and Furious

At the apex of auto racing is Formula One, guaranteed to challenge your conception of auto sport, the fans and, frankly, anything associated with four wheels. This is a multi-billion dollar spectacle of the extraordinary. Superlatives abound.  It’s definitely worth the ticket so, with the 2017 season in full swing, this is a checklist adventure waiting to happen!

Let’s start with the cars. These are not souped-up Corvettes, or anything else you could possibly image. Formula One cars are as close to art as one can get in the automotive business. A typical F1 car is made from 80,000 components with absolutely zero tolerance for error.  The life of an engine is 2 hours!  Not the 20 years of your refined German sedan. The cars weigh less than 1,200 lbs. and accelerate up to 100 mph and back to zero in less than 4 seconds. By comparison, even a Porsche takes almost this long to reach 60 mph — in only one direction!

F1 brakes are built to withstand temperatures of more than 1800°F. In fact, they are so good, and stop a car so fast, that full-speed deceleration is compared to a regular car driving through a brick wall at 180+ mph. The g-force generated in an average corner is enough for most people to pass out. Clearly, this is not your father’s Ford.

The Cars

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy an authentic, first-class experience, mingling with the famous, the fabulous and the ferocious fans.  Many come for the parties, the copious champagne and the see-and-be-seen scene. However, a little techie know-how, can go a long way in making this event even more deliciously racy.

Formula One officially started in 1950, as the world championship for single seat, open wheel racing.  Its roots date to the European Grand Prix championships of the 1920s and 1930s.  During its first year, the championship was held across six Grand Prix courses in Europe and the Indianapolis 500 (officially dropped as part of the championship after 1960). 

Races, or Grand Prix, are now held around the world on custom-built road tracks and adapted city locales like Monaco. Twenty races comprise the 2017 F1 schedule for what is the world’s most eminent auto racing happening; four are still held on the same tracks used during the inaugural 1950 season.

Drivers, Crew & Co.

As if one competition isn’t enough, the championship now involves two contests: one for the drivers (recognizable famous names even for non motor-heads include Britain's multiple winner Lewis Hamilton), and one for the constructors — such as Ferrari (Italy), Mercedes (Germany), Red Bull (Austria), Williams and McLaren (Great Britain). The “formula” in the event’s title refers to a very strict set of rules all participants (drivers and manufacturers) must abide by.

The technical innovation going into the creation of the cars is appropriately likened to research at NASA (or Space-X these days). The custom-built car entering its first race will end up a very different car by its final race. Built entirely from scratch for the season, it will be rebuilt and finessed by the world’s finest auto engineers to achieve mechanical perfection, losing and gaining components as it goes.

The Scene

Thankfully, all this ingenious effort and money (a mid-tier car costs around $120 million to make and run) isn’t wasted on fun alone, as the results find their way down to our daily drivers and road cars for years to come, from materials, to safety, to performance and even gas mileage improvements. 

Alas, someone has to drive these land rockets!  The drivers are among the top athletes in the world. Every millimeter of their body, for every nanosecond of the race, becomes an acutely aware machine, focused on one goal while battling extreme vibration, acceleration, deceleration and G forces. It’s insanity.

Admiring spectators, meaning you, enjoy an international jet set scene that takes them from Italy to Abu Dhabi, Monaco to Mexico. Every city offers a different track, setup, festival vibe, people-watching, culture, and local attractions. In Abu Dhabi there are roof top gardens and air conditioned lounges with panoramic views of the race and marina. In 2017, once again, it’s Formula One’s only twinkly twilight event.

Grande Dame: Monaco

One of the most prestigious auto races in the world.

One of the most prestigious auto races in the world. 

Monaco is the queen bee of settings. The first Grand Prix race ever took place here in 1929. Also, the race here runs through the streets. The locale? Sultry seaside Riviera glamour. Equally historical is Monza in Italy, set in a former royal park and offering a chance to mingle with the passionate Italian tifosi, or Ferrari disciples.

In some places, the whole town turns into one huge festival like in Sao Paolo or Austin where parties cost a fortune to attend, but celeb spotting is likely. On the other hand, some famous names in racing like Germany’s Nürburgring are geographically far from any action other than the race — not as conducive to wild after parties.

Tight Fit

View from above: Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona

View from above: Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona 

Just to give you an idea of the price for attendance, a three-day Abu Dhabi Formula One Paddock Club ticket (the last race of 2017) will cost you $5,400. A 3-day VIP package for the US Grand Prix (October 20-22) is a mere $2,369. Perhaps not as coveted (nor as costly) as a ticket to Monaco, you can still make a trip to Texas a lifetime experience that's utterly doable.  

Would it be sexist to also mention that Formula One is known to attract beautiful women, from the grid girls to the international crowd including models and socialites? Grid girls, if you’re not familiar with the term, are the race queens that are part of the pit crew. They might hold umbrellas over the drivers to shield them from the sun or rain, while others are walking advertisements.

Sophisticated patrons will tell you they much prefer observing the dames in the audience. And those ladies, in turn, find that many guys in attendance aren’t too shabby looking. But hey, it’s a party, people check each other out as much as they check out the cars and drivers. There’s adrenaline and other brain chemicals flying high. It’s a seductive and fast world that is definitely worth exploring, at least once.