Things To Do Before You Die>> Become An F1 Junkie

When the Speedhunters team was discussing the must-have inclusions for our Things to Do Before You Die special, one topic continually popped up in conversation. As you'd expect, that topic was Formula 1.

It's been interesting to see how F1 has established a new legion of younger fans over the past few years. Andy Blackmore and I were discussing this over lunch a couple of weeks ago, and he brought up a good point that the involvement of Red Bull, Honda and Toyota were big influences in bringing a new fanbase to what is arguably the pinnacle of motor racing.

Anyone who has had the privilege of being at an F1 race will likely have a vivid recollection of their first sighting, that first glimpse, of a Formula 1 car in action. I was five years old when I became a diehard F1 fanatic, but it would be over a decade before I was able to see a race in person.

It was a typically grey Melbourne day, the Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix. It was cold and wet; the type of weather that those new to Melbourne will instantly dislike. It had been raining on and off for the past few hours and the crowds were wrapped in plastic ponchos, shoes painted brown with mud. It was the type of morning you wish you were curled up in a warm bed, and I started asking myself why I didn't opt to watch the race on television instead.

I had taken up a spot on the hill between Turns 11 and 12 of the Albert Park street circuit, the high-speed left-right combo. It's a tricky corner in the dry, let alone in intermittent conditions like this. In the distance, I could hear them coming. The first car, a Jordan, came into view, the driver pausing on the throttle, its Honda engine cackling on over-run as he tentatively put a toe in to gauge the grip. Others enter with armfuls of opposite lock, the rears snapping out as slick tyres met damp asphalt.

The next to come through was Schumacher, back then in the lead Ferrari. You could hear the difference. You could see the confidence. Schumacher came in quick, dabbing the throttle progressively, feeling out the grip. I could see his hands flicking, catching slides before they became slides. And in an instant, he was gone, leaving nothing but a rooster tail of spray as he screamed off to the next corner to repeat the whole process again. 

While I've never been a big Schumi fan, in those fleeting moments I understood what made him so special. And this is why attending an F1 race is something you must do before you die. Watching the television coverage has its obvious advantages. You're in the comfort of your living room, there's no inclement weather to deal with and, if you wanted to, you could watch the race in your underwear without being vilified.  

No matter how many cameras there are, no matter how great the commentators might be, TV is still a poor alternative to being there in person. Television fails to capture the experience or the nuances of a race. The leaves being kicked up, how close they run to the Armco…

…And the driver errors as they overstep the limit. Seeing the best of the best dance these million dollar cars on the limit is something we all need to see up close. It's a birth right of every automotive enthusiast out there.

Of course, sometimes it all goes wrong for the drivers. I shudder to think how much the front wing parts on that cart would've cost! 

Some people are drawn to F1 because of how advanced the cars are. Technology plays a huge part in F1, with teams investing millions to shave every hundredth of a gram…

…And work around the clock to save every thousandth of a second. Some people have said that F1 has more in common with aircraft than cars, and it's hard to disagree with them.

Anything and everything in F1 that can be controlled, will be. Modern day F1 is all about controlling variables, minimising risk and leaving nothing to fate. The chase for perfection is truly relentless in Formula 1. 

While some are attracted to F1 because of the racing or technology, others are fascinated by the off-track drama. Some have called it a soap opera on wheels, which has to be expected when two competitive drivers are fighting for the same piece of track. Hamilton vs Alonso. Schumacher vs Hakkinen. Senna vs Prost. There have been so many teutonic battles that have become etched into Formula 1 folklore.  

Formula 1 is one hell of a big circus. Each team travels over 100,000 miles over the course of a season, loading up multiple cargo planes for the flyaway races. The pits are a constant hive of activity. Just as the teams have set up their garages, unloaded their equipment and put the finishing touches on their hospitality suites, the whole thing is torn down and shipped off to the next country.

It's daunting to think that teams were spending half a billion of dollars and employing hundreds, if not thousands, of employees just to go racing every other Sunday. It defies comprehension, but that's how things are in the world of Formula 1.

And while many outsiders see F1 as a battle between the drivers…

…It's actually a sport that requires seamless team work. The team itself, becomes part of the machine.

The F1 circus visits some truly amazing places. On one hand you have the old guard of notorious tracks. Circuits like Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone and Monza, that are all steeped in motorsport history.

On the other, you have new tracks in new countries, such as the night race that runs through Marina Bay in Singapore.

I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural F1 night race, and the experience was surreal. The perimeter fencing around the track effectively 'closes off' part of downtown Singapore creating a ghost town, with the track itself crossing two bridges while also featuring a tunnel that goes right beneath a grandstand.

Seeing F1 cars at night is something special indeed. Things that you can't see during the day are suddenly visible at night. Like the blue flames lashing out of the exhausts on down-changes, or seeing the drivers' eyes wide-open as they throw these cars into the apex. While I'm dying to see F1 cars tackle Eau Rouge or 130R, GPs like Singapore and Abu Dhabi do offer a unique experience. The choice is yours…

But what if you've already attended an F1 race? Then your next target should be getting into the exclusive Paddock area. Somehow. It's here, within the inner-workings of the F1 circus, hidden behind security measures that rival an international airport, that you see Formula 1 in a whole new light. A perspective unseen on television.

 It's where drivers are hounded by the media for the latest sound bite…

…While the teams go about the less glamorous jobs.

In the Paddock you're guaranteed to spot familiar faces and many a celebrity. For me, I had to decide between snapping a pic of Murray Walker or Maxi Jazz from Faithless.

You'll find influential figures – here its Flavio Briatore and Gerhard Berger, perhaps two of F1's last 'playboys' – locked in discussions. 

In the build up to the race start, you can cut the tension in the Paddock with a knife. The celebrities have retired to their air-conditioned vantage points, the drivers are being briefed in the garages. Only the crews remain, going through the routine of preparing for the race. 

It's the calm before the storm.

I think there are very few things on this Earth that can compare to the start of a Formula 1 race. A pack of F1 cars coming at you is like a wall of noise. A high-pitched, deafening roar that grows in intensity. Even if you're at the back of the track – heck, even if you're in the next suburb – the hairs on the back of your neck will stand on end. It's a terrible cliche, but there's no other way to describe it.

The sounds, the smells, the slivers of colour that flash by. The first lap of an F1 race is a shock wave that hits you square in the chest. The ground shakes as the drivers drop through the gears from 7th to 2nd, your ears bleed as they punch open the throttle. It's an overload of the senses, the onslaught so strong that you have to stop yourself from cringing.

And by the time you've gasped for air, the pack has gone. Leaving you with just enough time to catch your breath before the deafening banshee screams comes circling back again. 

As I'm writing this, I'm already longing to be trackside again. It's been a year since I last attended an F1 race and, like a true junkie, I've started to go into withdrawals. I'm dying for my next fix. Seeing drivers like Lewis Hamilton using every inch (and then some) of the track, braking unimaginably late, and loading up 5g through the corners is something that surround sound and HD simply can't capture.

While watching the races from the comfort of your armchair has its obvious advantages, nothing beats seeing the action unfold before your eyes.

I understand that F1 can sometimes be labeled a procession, that its racing feels robotic.

But in person, with your face squashed against the fence, surrounded by the fans with the F1 cars in front of you, it feels remarkably… human.

- Charles Kha

P.S. – If you've already ticked off attending an F1 race and managed to find a way into the Paddock, then the next thing to do before you die is to go for a ride in an F1 car. Here's my story of what that experience was like.

Photos by Getty Images, Mark Teo, Mark Bow, Red Bull Content P

ool and Charles Kha



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I've been an F1 fan since a young age as well, in fact it was the 1986 Australian GP that got me hooked at the ripe old age of 4. I only got to my first F1 race last year, in Melbourne, and I was instantly addicted. I vowed last year to never miss an Australian GP if it's at all possible. F1 cars in the flesh are like nothing else, and having an Aussie in the battle is even better.


Totally agree!


I've been a fan now for the past 3 years and love every minute watching the racing while keeping up with the points standings in what would be the most enjoyable three years of F1 to happen.

Consider the last three championships that have been and how the drivers got their championships. It could've been anyone's season and I've never been so thrilled to watch that last race which determines the final end.

Thank you SpeedHunters for this nice change of pace to your pages. I'm becoming even a bigger fan of your work and writing.


I attended the Long Beach Grand Prix when it was F1, in 1977. the tires were as tall as me, and I met Mario Andretti, who won. One of the most vivid and sacred memories I have or ever will. Good post!


I absolutely LOVE formula 1. Most of my friends don't understand why I'm such a big fan. I have yet to go to my first race, but hopefully I'm going to be able to attend the race in Austin next year.

P.S. I'm super jelly that you got to drive an F1 car. That has been a dream of mine for a while.


great write up!!


always had a soft spot for F1, there is a lot of money involved in it as we know, don't be put off by that though. but get yourself as near as dammit 'track-side' and i'm sure it will be an experience most petrol-heads will never forget, especially the first time you attend. i kept all the gubbings from my first outing.. tickets stubs, train tickets, receipts etc as memento's/memorabilia as a reminder of the experience. it's a-kin to building/modifying your first project - you don't forget it in a hurry - this definately deserves to be on the list! - Thanks.


Not to be a hater here.... But to f1 has just gotten too boring. Too many restritions. I understand that they need of for safety but cmon, it just gets too repetative. Just look at how much more exciting races were in the late 80's.


how about rallying?


I remember the 1995 Australian GP, last year it was ran in Adelaide, Australia (before Melbourne stole it :P). My first memory was the scream these things made, the sound echoing off of the concrete within the CBD. Then the flash of colour as they flew up the back straight...... It was awesome. I still loosely follow F1 nowdays, I just think that it's not as exciting as it used to be with all of these rules and regulations that have come into it.


I use to watch F1 every race, Live Telecast or on Track. I already loss interest in F1. No longer fun like it use to be.

The technology become backward.

To many stupid rules and regulations introduce.

Lots of politics.

Driver act like some stupid football players.

Nowadays I only read on newspaper for Qualifying and race result.

Coz F1 become boringgg...


oh man, shilling for bernie eccelstone and his corrupt cartel?

formula 1 and (prototype/lemans) cars have gotten incredibly lame since their peak from the mid 60s- mid 70s. everytime something powerful, innovative, NEW shows up, what do we do, corrupt racing governing bodies? BAN IT! hell, since its not enough to punish engineering and driver success after the fact, lets do it beforehand, by mandating ridiculous arbitrary BS rules to 'level the playing field'? this season, you have to pretend your driving aids only has 80s technology! this season, NA V8s only! this season, you have to use a turbo 4 cylinder! is this iron chef or "the pinnacle of racing"?


Great write up! Your first experience of F1 was the same as mine! Could relate completely


Why is there an Infiniti (Nissan) logo on the front nose cone of the red-bull racing F1 car?????


Done, done and done.


Aweosome way to redact.. Really impressive the way that F1 can make feel that kind of things, in my case everything relationated with cars makes my heart go to the revlimiter :P


Ive been interested in cars my whole life! I became interested in F1 in 2009 and I quickly favorited Vettel and Webber. I was born and raised in Las Vegas NV. When I heard that formula 1 was returning to the U.S. to race at the new Circuit of the Americas, My family and I decided that we will attend the race for my graduation present in 2012. This will be my first F1 race. I've attended many other events such as AMA Super Cross and Formula Drift. I can't wait until the U.S. Grand Prix!!!!!!!


Awesome article man! I love F1 and you really said everything that can be said. My dream is to watch the Brazillian GP in Interlagos it would be sick!


Wow.. What a great read! I can't wait to become a true F1 junkie!


I joined in on the F1 bandwagon after hearing of this new kid on the block named "Lewis Hamilton" and instantly became a fan. I was thrilled when he took the championship in 08 but switched my allegiance to fellow countryman Webber. After watching Button walk away with the title, I was mesmerised by Kobayashi's unbelievable poise on the track even as the world champion pressured him in Brazil, doing his best in the Toyota so as to not leave even the tiniest gap for him to pass. Those are just a tiny selection of memorable moments from three years of F1 obsession.

Whilst many have said that F1 has lost its soul, I think that many would agree that it is stronger than ever and exists in a different form compared to say, the 80s. I wish I was alive to witness the likes of Prost and Senna work their magic back in the late 80s to early 90s...


So with you. F1 Fan For Life. Watching a bootleg senna as I type this. Charles, lets meet up at F1 this year sometime. Abu Dhabi?


ive been an F1 fan for a few years now and im yet to tick this of the list BUT it will deffinately but done in the coming years...when i have enough money for a grandstand/paddock ticket :p!!!

i can already see im gonna like this new 'things to do before you die'!

Keep it up!!


Your bang on... the sights and sounds of an F1 race (or any session really) unfolding in front of you is totally different to what you see on TV. I've tried explaining it to friends before how loud, fast, intense they are but its hard to explain. Good write up.


First F1 race was the 1990 British GP at Silverstone, back when I was a young mechanic for Mika Hakkinen in British F3. Same Marlboro team gear as McLaren allowed F1 pit access and upset the Ferrari mechanics when I got too close.

No-one can really understand the acceleration of an F1 car, or the braking capability, until you see it in real life. It looks like it should defy physics.

Great post Charles.


If you are to be an F1 junkie for some time, your hearing must be slightly degraded, becasue my GOD those things are loud at high rpms.

And for those who "dislike" the current form of F1, I also miss the looks of old F1, when cars looked different, shape-wise, and when engineering wasn't really limited by rules. Such as Prost's Williams FW15C, who had jolly loads of driver aids and technologies similar to DRS and KERS. However, isn't driving a computer on wheels much more easier rather than driving a wild ferocious animal of an driver aid-less F1 car?

And for the record, I do like advancements in engineering, such as Brawn GP's diffuser during the 2009 season, while every other team called it "illegal." Now that's what you call "the edge."


The sound and the smell .... best article ever !!


i was born near monza, when I was five i attended my fist grand prix... and always in july when F1 used to make test in monza I always come to see and feel the atmosphere... beutiful...


Ive been to F1 races, but to be honest, i rahter see those races at home in front of the TV.

Ok there's nothing to compare it with but still...

At home you see so much more of the races, and the fact that F1 prices are just INSANE! its not worth the money.

but to be really honest....... since ive been to drift events on a regular base............ F1 is tooooooooooo boring!! But still a fan, just not that big anymore.


Been an avid watcher/fan of F1 since i was 8( now 30,lol) just the fierce competition, sounds of the engine, advancing technology and of course the rivalries. I've always wanted to get behind the wheel of one these cars, even for one lap, then i CAN die a happy happy man.


I saw the 2008 British GP at Silverstone, it's not the sight that gets you; it's the deafening sound.

The sound sends shivers down your back, and you really know you're watching something special. It just sounds incredible, watching on the TV will give you no idea as to what it's like to be there.

I'd love to go again, but tickets cost so much.


Nothing arguable about it :)


Great article Charles! Need to get myself to an F1 race!


Great post, Charles! I'm dying to hear in person the true menace of 3L V8 revving up to 16,000RPMS!


Syfon said:

"Why is there an Infiniti (Nissan) logo on the front nose cone of the red-bull racing F1 car?????"

Infiniti is Red Bull Racing's new sponsor. There are 'Infiniti' decals where the old 'Renault' decals were, but bear in mind that Nissan owns Infiniti and Renault, so it's all the same thing. Renault (which =Nissan=Infiniti) provides the engine to RBR. I guess Infiniti is trying to get its name out more


Any suggestions on how to attend an f1 race and or get into the Paddock Area without paying the ridiculous prices?

I am an engineering student that lives within driving range of the Canadian GP and would like to attend, Unfortunately it seems that it is WAY out of my price range. Any suggestions?


SomeRotard said:

However, isn't driving a computer on wheels much more easier rather than driving a wild ferocious animal of an driver aid-less F1 car?

but but but you just gave the example of "Prost's Williams FW15C, who had jolly loads of driver aids and technologies similar to DRS and KERS." you do realise that the williams you mentioned had ABS and traction control, neither of which the new cars have, and havent had for at least a few years? so in practice, these new cars with their much faster cornering and braking speeds and thus g forces would be harder and less forgiving than what youd imagine. think your comments through before bashing the new gen. im a massive fan of late 80s and early 90s f1 but its a whole new ball (car?) game now... f1 today is so far removed from f1 of old and as a fan of f1 you should realize that... just sayin'


Syfon said:

"Why is there an Infiniti (Nissan) logo on the front nose cone of the red-bull racing F1 car?????"

Infiniti is Red Bull Racing's new sponsor. There are 'Infiniti' decals where the old 'Renault' decals were, but bear in mind that Nissan owns Infiniti and Renault, so it's all the same thing. Renault (which =Nissan=Infiniti) provides the engine to RBR. I guess Infiniti is trying to get its name out more



It's actually the other way around, Renault is the majority owner of Nissan.


pstar: you're complaining about governing bodies banning this and that. Consider this: at Le Mans last year the ORECA 908 set the fastest race lap ever, even faster than the Group C days when the cars would do 240 mph. And there were no chicanes on the Hunaudieres straight. And the esses were faster.

Just imagine how ridiculously, how dangerously quick today's cars would be if they hadn't been slowed down. The same applies to Formula 1. The cars had to be reined in.


The month of May is drawing to a close, and that means that our "Things to Do Before You Die"


Although I've now landed on the other side of the world, I can still hear the banshee scream of Formula


Although I've now landed on the other side of the world, I can still hear the banshee scream of Formula


Although I've now landed on the other side of the world, I can still hear the banshee scream of Formula