Deciding to go to a Formula 1 race weekend is a big deal, and if you’ve never done it before it can feel like taking an (expensive) leap into the unknown. After my first F1 weekend to the Belgian F1 in 2013, I decided to write a short guide including all the things I wished I’d known before I went.
So, if like me you’re a lifelong watcher and have never been before GO; it was one of the best experiences of my life (and don’t worry about the details)!
Getting your F1 ticket
A quick Google search gives you tons of places to buy your tickets from, with prices ranging from £100 to £150 for general admission depending on where you go.
I’ve previously bought them from the weirdly named Gootickets, as they were the cheapest. Pick-up was easy, they have a building in Francorchamps that’s only 5 minutes walk from the track entrance nearest the pit entrance and F1 village. You need ID for the person who picks up the tickets but it was all really easy.
I’ve also purhcased from BookF1, which had the added bonus of the option to also purchase a pitch at the trackside campsite. This site couriers the tickets to your home address and allows you to specify the last date they can arrive. They do say that most circuits print tickets between two to four weeks before the race.
Travelling from England, there’s a couple of options: driving, flying or going by train. We drove and the easiest way to do this is to get the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. We used Norfolkline and if you book early you can do the trip for about £70 return in a normal-sized car. The trip’s pretty quick and the ferry has got all the usual restaurants, bistros and duty-free shops. Beware though, you’ll be paying through the nose for food on here we spent £25 on two rather rubbish fish and chips and a hot drink.
Once in Dunkirk the drive couldn’t be simpler. The E42, a European road route which links loads of the motorways (A-roads), goes all the way from Dunkirk to Francorchamps. Plan in a bit of time for roadworks, we spent most of the journey cruising at 50km a hour. Here’s the map route you’ll need.
We stayed with Camping F1 in 2013 and 2014, at a site a couple of junctions down the E42 from Francorchamps. The camp site appears only for the F1, so expect a a row of vans with toilets and showers rather than the usual block you get at most camp sites. It also had a marquee with a bar, burger van and music played until about midnight (plus some pretty bad karaoke). The site does pre-erected tents but we took our own, but this did mean we didn’t get the ‘full package’. That meant no access to the free breakfasts they do on site, or the free bus service to the track.
Getting to the track
If you’re not staying trackside, you will have to travel in to the race, but don’t worry; the nearby villages of Stavelot and Francorchamps know what they’re doing when it comes to F1 season. We drove to Francorchamps and didn’t experience any traffic jams. Random fields and people’s gardens become car parks for the weekend, costing 10 Euros a day. Just drive into any one of these places and you’ll be herded into a car park before you know what you’re doing. The walk is nothing either and it gives you a good chance to stock up on food, drink and souvenirs before you get into the track.
Best place to watch the race
There are so many people at the track and yet, you can always find space. Here’s a good map of the track so you can get a feel for the layout. Getting there earlier helps, though we were too lazy to be there with our chairs at 7am. We got to the track about 11am on qualifying day and about 10:30am on race day and found spots easily. Take chairs or plastic-bottom picnic rugs because the track is so massive you will get tired of being on your feet!
After Qualifying a good idea is to walk as much of the track as possible, scoping out your spot for race day so you can turn up and get right to where you need to be. We came up with several possible spots, sort of based on access to big screens but mostly based on likelihood for overtaking or seeing a good portion of different race manoeuvres. They are:
- Kemmel Straight: There’s a couple of big screens along here, the cars will be going full tilt and there’s burger, waffle and hot drinks stands along it at regular intervals. We watched Qualifying on the Kemmel Straight, just at the top of Eau Rouge and Raidillon. This gave us a great view of the car comes up Eau Rouge (you won’t believe the change in height up that corner!) and go past you at full speed, often overtaking. There’s some big screens along here, but the space in front of those fill up first. If you’re going to watch from hear take ear defenders or ear plugs.
- Pouhon: There’s everything here including several big screens and the usual food huts. You’ll see the cars coming downhill from Bruxelles before sweeping round Pouhon corner. Cars tend to go wide here too so you’ll see some jostling to get back on track. There’ll be plenty of changes in speed and great potential for overtaking or running wide.
- Eau Rouge: There’s plenty of vantage points for Spa’s most famous bit of track. Just to see the cars climbing that hill is a joy and though most of the best viewing spots are obscured by the pricey grandstands, you can still see a fair bit of on track action.
- Bus Stop Chicane: Our choice for race day as it had everything. You’ve got the cars slowing down massively for the Chicane, you can see the pit entrance, there’s a massive big screen and you’ve also got a great view of the starting grid, the pits and podium. If you’ve got a general admission ticket you need to just find a space, we chose to sit above the Bus Stop Chicane in the trees, which gave a great view down onto the track.
The added bonus for sitting here was that at the end of the race the fence was opened up and we could run down quickly onto the track, go around the Chicane, up the starting grid and watch the drivers on the podium. If you hang around here you’ll also get to have a look into the garages and see the TV crews doing their post-race interviews. We managed to get the BBC team to take a lingering shot of us behind the fences and out phones soon lit up with friends and family who’d seen us.
Following the race
Unlike many other motor races, there’s no access to race commentary at the track. Loudspeakers along the track give updates in English, French and Flemmish, but the noise from the cars pretty much drowns them out. Apparently local radio does do a broadcast, though hearing it will be a problem if you can tune in. If you get in sight of a big screen it won’t matter because you get the international broadcast feed as you would at home on TV. I was amazed at how easy it was to follow the race; you soon notice if a driver’s it out of sequence from the last lap.
Many times I’ve been it has rained at some point during Qualifying or the Race, and not just an annoying interlude; they were full on biblical deluges. Some of the most impressive thunder and lightning I’ve seen is on the nights spent camping in the Belgium forests. If like me you take want to take food or a camera, invest in a waterproof bag or a roll of bin liners and that way you’ve got protection and something to sit on (or expect to pay 15 Euros for a flimsy poncho). There’s a reason Eau Rouge is so prominent at Spa, when it rains there’s rivers everywhere. It seems to have it’s own weather system and as quickly as the rain comes it’ll dissapear and it’s get warm. Best to pack for all eventualities as we sweated out one day in damp waterproofs!
Be prepared to pay ridiculous amounts of money if you want to eat and drink at the track. They do a good job of providing burger, waffle and drinks stalls at regular intervals along the whole of the track, but it’ll cost you. Expect to pay 6 Euros for chips, 10 for a burger and 3 for a can of drink. After Qualifying we headed into a nearby town and got ourselves picnic material and drinks for Race Day and probably saved about 40-50 Euros. They don’t check your bags or stop you bringing in your own food and drink; everyone around us had hampers and picnic sets.
Other things to do
Not only do you get the Practice sessions, qualifying and race for F1, you also get all of these for GP2, GP3 and the Porche Supercup. There is always something going on.
The path that cuts diagonally across the track from Pouhon to Bus Stop Chicane and Eau Rouge is a really handy way to quickly bypass the long walk around the hilly circuit. It takes you through the beautiful pine woodland inside the track and the trees echo with the sound of engines; it’s a weirdly calm oasis in the middle of all the noise and crowds. Heading towards the Bus Stop Chicane, you will walk past the motorhomes, garages and hospitality suites belonging to the support race teams. The path also links to the Eau Rouge/Raidillon side of the track via an underpass where the F1 Village is located. This sells merchandise for all the teams and some ex-drivers, as well as a couple of racing simulators so you can try your hand around Spa.
Leaving the track
Getting out after race day was an experience, they funnel all the traffic off down tiny back roads but it means the main roads don’t get totally jammed up. It took us about 30 minutes to get back to the motorway, though the queue of traffic northbound back toward Liège was slow moving for at least 3 hours after the race. Southbound was totally clear.
So there we go, a beginners guide to attending the Spa-Francorchamps F1. Hope it was useful!
- The legend of Spa-Francorchamps (sykose.com)
- Belgian Grand Prix: Soaking Up the Atmosphere at Spa-Francorchamps (bleacherreport.com)
- How to handle Spa – our step-by-step guide (bbc.co.uk)
- Pics from the 2014 Belgium F1