The joy of Formula One racing goes way beyond the on-track action.
That’s right — you don’t have to care about engines or overtaking to enjoy Formula One, the world’s most elite and luxurious form of racing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the best parts of F1 take place off the track, in the sport’s prestigious circus of luxury and intricate dog-eat-dog alliances. I mean, what else would you expect from a sport affiliated with brands like Rolex, Moët & Chandon champagne, and fashion designer Hugo Boss?
When you get right down to it, F1 is essentially a reality TV series that takes place on race tracks with fast cars. It’s Real Housewives with hybrid engines. It’s one of drama’s best-kept secrets because your guy friends who watch it want you to think F1 is all about serious engineering and stone-faced driving. But as a long-time F1 fan myself, I can tell you with confidence: there is so much more to this form of global open-wheel racing than you might expect, and you should absolutely start watching it for the same petty rivalries, off-track opulence, and voyeuristic pleasure you get from a binge session of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
A Little Bit of History
Some F1 fans are absolutely obsessed with the history of racing, but I’ll tell you all you need to know. F1 evolved out of something called ‘Grand Prix racing,’ which was basically a phrase used to denote specific, challenging international races in the pre-World War II era. These races were mostly contested by wealthy aristocrats, since that was the demographic that could not only afford to buy a car in the first place but who could also afford lavish travel and expensive upgrades. It’s always been a race to see who can spend the most money.
F1 officially became A Thing in 1950 and has been taking place ever since. Each era came with its own unique set of challenges, like unsafe track conditions, confusing regulations, and, unfortunately, a lot of death. It’s that latter bit that generally engenders the “macho” stereotype that surrounds racing; some folks like to compare racers to gladiators duking it out for glory. But the fact of the matter is that death doesn’t reflect well on the shiny veneer of glamour that F1 has worked so hard to build, so the nature of the sport has changed drastically from that mindset since the early 2000s. Racing is still dangerous, of course—but anyone who still calls F1 drivers ‘gladiators’ is living firmly in the past.
A Luxury Getaway
Nothing compares to the pomp and circumstance of a Formula One race. The elite of the elite flock to races behind the wheel of their luxury cars for an afternoon spent drinking champagne and dining on lobster served up over a close-up view of F1’s intricate, industry-changing machines. And you can even get a little taste of the action, too.
Seriously. F1 has its own travel subsidiary called F1 Experiences, which allows you to choose a track you’d like to visit and includes tons of goodies: hospitality, photos with drivers you meet in your tours through the garages, and often a gift bag that can include anything from bluetooth speakers to gorgeous watches. These trips can also include your hotel stay, air fare, and ground transportation if that’s something you’re interested in.
Some tracks also include incredible experiences. If you head to Monaco for the iconic Grand Prix through the streets of the city, you can go ahead and stay in a yacht in the harbor overlooking the track—but if you want a seat in the track proper, you can buy one that also includes an art tour of the city. It can cost you a pretty penny—anywhere from $500 to $13,000 just for the track access, depending on the package you select—but if you’re anything like me, you can justify the cost in the form of bottomless champagne.
If you’re on something of a budget, that’s fine, too. Find tickets to a covered grandstand on race day and make the most of your trip by planning a gorgeous vacation around it. If you’ve wanted to visit the French countryside, the brightly-lit streets of Singapore, the Austrian Alps, or the nightlife of Austin, Texas, an F1 race is a perfect excuse to see each of these places in fine form.
Interested? Here’s the full F1 2021 calendar to help you start planning your dream vacation:
- March 28: Sahkir, Bahrain
- April 18: Imola, Italy
- May 2: Portimao, Portugal
- May 9: Barcelona, Spain
- May 23: Monaco, Monte Carlo
- June 6: Baku, Azerbaijan
- June 13: Montreal, Canada
- June 27: Le Castellet, France
- July 4: Spielberg, Austria
- July 18: Silverstone, England
- August 1: Mogyoród, Hungary
- August 29: Stavelot, Belgium
- September 5: Zandvoort, Netherlands
- September 12: Monza, Italy
- September 26: Sochi, Russia
- October 3: Marina Bay, Singapore
- October 10: Suzuka, Japan
- October 24: Austin, Texas
- October 31: Mexico City, Mexico
- November 7: Sao Paulo, Brazil
- November 21: Melbourne, Australia
- December 5: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- December 12: Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi
And if you’re just interested in watching the series on television to get a feel for it, you can catch races on Sunday mornings on ESPN.
Drivers and Teams You’ll Love (and Love to Hate!)
Now, no drama is complete without a cast of characters to root for and cheer against—and F1 has plenty of that. This year, 10 different teams are competing for the overall World Championship, which is the highest honor in the motorsport world. Each team is composed of two drivers who do all the racing… but don’t think for a moment that it’s only about the drivers. Yes, the men behind the wheel have their own delightful personalities that we’ll talk about in just a second, but the real drama comes in when you consider the dynamics of each team. And of course, we’ll provide that for you, too!
Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
Mercedes is like that girl in high school who was obnoxiously good at everything. She was smart, athletic, and never had a hair out of place. This team has been impressively dominant for the past several years, and it doesn’t even seem like Mercedes has to try. You’re either going to hate them or love them—there really is no in-between.
- Lewis Hamilton (No. 44): The G.O.A.T. Hamilton is at the top of his game, breaking records, winning races, and treading all over his competition with ease, and he’s also been using his platform to advocate for social chance and racial equality—and people hate it. But you know what? He is consistently the best-dressed man in the paddock, he’s friends with the Kardashians, and it’s pretty damn satisfying to watch him trounce the field, even on his bad days.
- Valtteri Bottas (No. 77): Valtteri is like the slightly-gawky friend the popular girl keeps around to make her perfection seem more effortless. He’s a good driver, but he’s not as spectacular as Lewis, and he has the personality of a butter pat until he’s forced out of his shell.
Red Bull Racing Honda
To keep with the high school analogies, Red Bull Racing is like the girl who continues to be petty and holier-than-thou after graduation just because she won prom queen in senior year. If there’s drama afoot, Red Bull Racing is sure to be involved somehow. But be warned: this is a team with very clear favoritism. This car is designed specifically for one driver; everyone else is expected to play catch-up or risk demotion.
- Max Verstappen (No. 33): Max Verstappen is Red Bull’s golden boy, and he’s been doing his growing up on the international stage since he was a teenager. If he comes off as a bit entitled, that’s because he’s pretty much had the racing world at his mercy for years. He’s a race fan’s racer, so he’s probably not going to be a favorite of someone looking for a little more pizzazz.
- Sergio Perez (No. 11): Always the bridesmaid, finally the bride. After approximately 1,000 years in F1, Perez scored his first win last season and has celebrated by moving to a team that is going to place his teammate’s needs before his. Let’s pour one out for Sergio.
Scuderia Mission Winnow Ferrari
Oh, Ferrari—the legacy team that’s raced in F1 since the very beginning and yet somehow manages to be a complete disaster. Mercedes is what Ferrari wants to be so badly but fails at every turn: bad strategy, slow pit stops, and absurd politics plague this team at every turn. I don’t recommend being a Ferrari fan, because otherwise its serial mismanagement will take its toll on your mental health. Just watch and laugh from a distance.
- Carlos Sainz Jr. (No. 55): Carlos has been looking for a new home after escaping the clutches of the Red Bull Racing junior driver program several years ago. He’s a wonderful driver you’ll want to follow on Instagram just to see what shirtless shenanigans he’s getting up to now.
- Charles Leclerc (No. 16): Charles Leclerc is a model. He’s been Ferrari’s new hope, and the team couldn’t have picked a better face to represent the brand. You want them to succeed just so see Charles smile. Which, unfortunately, does not happen a lot.
McLaren F1 Team
McLaren sees its roots in Bruce McLaren, a legendary racer from New Zealand, but you’re going to notice this team straight away for its papaya-orange livery and its two gorgeous drivers that also have a keen sense of humor. If you’re in the market for a new favorite team, I highly recommend McLaren: it probably isn’t going to win races because Mercedes and Red Bull are so dominant, but you’re going to have so much fun you won’t even mind.
- Daniel Ricciardo (No. 3): The don’t call him “the smiling assassin” for no reason. Daniel is known for his goofy sense of humor and impressive moves on the track. You’ll want to have a beer with him and let him take you to a concert.
- Lando Norris (No. 4): Lando Norris is a certified cutie. The kind of adorable where you’d just like to keep him in your pocket. I probably wouldn’t want to have a beer with him, but he’s very nice to look at—and an exceptional racer to boot.
Williams, Williams… this former championship-winning team has struggled to finish anywhere but the very back of the grid for the past several years, and now it doesn’t even have the benefit of Claire Williams as deputy team principal (the daughter of team founder Frank Williams) to paint its dramatic downfall with slightly more beautiful colors. You’ll love them for trying so hard and getting so far, even though in the end, it doesn’t even matter.
- George Russell (No. 63): You likely won’t see much of George on track (sorry, Williams is slow), but you’ll want to follow him on Instagram because he seems like a genuinely nice boy with a genuinely nice face. Expect big things from him in the future.
- Nicholas Latifi (No. 6): Nicholas Latifi is inoffensive, but that’s mostly because his family is bringing the money keeping Williams afloat. You’ll probably forget he’s zipping around somewhere out in the back of the pack.
Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team
The Aston Martin name is new to the team this year, thanks to a buy-in by Lawrence Stroll, part-owner of the team and father of driver Lance. You can forgive the nepotism because Lance is actually a fairly decent driver, and his teammate Sebastian Vettel is one of the legends of the sport after his impressive four championships with Red Bull Racing. This is another team that has enough brief flashes of brilliance to keep you motivated during the races where everything goes completely wrong.
- Sebastian Vettel (No. 5): Now here’s a man you want to get a beer with. Sebastian summarily dominated the entire F1 grid in his prime and has since grown increasingly disillusioned with the politics of F1, which means he does not give one single goddamn about saying things other people might stay silent about. You just know he has all the juicy gossip and that he’d need only the gentlest prodding to get him to spill.
- Lance Stroll (No. 18): Picture a wholesome frat boy. You know, the one who’s not afraid of a good kegger but who still calls his mom every Sunday. Congratulations: you’ve just pictured Lance Stroll.
Alpine F1 Team
Formerly known as Renault, Alpine has undergone a drastic name and personnel change for 2021, which makes them a little difficult to evaluate. The team has the benefit of a legend on their side with Fernando Alonso, but everyone is also probably going to get tired of Alonso by about the fourth race of the season, which will very likely mean the whole team will be miserable. They do have a very beautiful French flag-inspired livery, which is unfortunately why I will be riding the Alpine Pain Train this season.
- Fernando Alonso (No. 14): Fernando Alonso is a bitch, and I mean that with all the kindness in my heart. He expects the best of the best and will absolutely pitch a fit when he doesn’t get it. You’ll hate him. (You’ll love him.)
- Esteban Ocon (No. 31): Esteban Ocon seems like a nice person, but you’ll mostly just know him as being just over six feet of French accent and adorable face. Fernando’s going to get the spotlight on this team. Sorry, Esteban.
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
AlphaTauri is Red Bull Racing’s junior team, the place where young drivers are primed in the workings of F1 before moving up to Red Bull Racing proper. It’s also a dumping ground for the drivers that Red Bull deems not good enough for its top-tier program (sorry, Pierre Gasly). AlphaTauri pulled a race win out of its magic hat in 2020, but I wouldn’t count on it repeating that this year. This team is mostly just going to make you feel bad for the next Red Bull driver to get shafted by the main team.
- Pierre Gasly (No. 10): Do you want a heartbreaker in every possible way? You want Pierre Gasly. He’s beautiful enough to bring a tear to your eye, but he’s also been through the ringer. His best friend, Anthoine Hubert, was killed while racing at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium back in 2019. Just after, Pierre was demoted from Red Bull for failing to live up to the team’s absurd expectations. Then, in 2020, he won his first race, after which he wrote a touching tribute to his lost friend. He’s a star. You’re going to want to wrap him up and keep him safe forever.
- Yuki Tsunoda (No. 22): Want to feel old? Yuki Tsunoda is the first F1 driver to be born in the 21st century. He’s full of raw talent, and it’s going to be exciting to watch him refine it into some exceptional racing skills.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen
Alfa Romeo may share a name with an iconic car manufacturer, but it’s mostly just… there. I can guarantee you that Alfa Romeo will do nothing surprising, exciting, or fun during the 2021 season, aside from maybe have a first lap crash. Which, I suppose, is fine. Not everyone needs to be spectacular!
- Kimi Raikkonen (No. 7): Kimi Raikkonen just doesn’t give a damn. If you wanted a low-maintenance friend that would talk to you once every few weeks, at which point you’d meet up for a beer and probably some egregious activity like shooting guns on a dirt bike while exchanging four words, you’d love Kimi. He’s mainly just kicking around in F1 at this point because it pays good money and he has fun—which I can respect.
- Antonio Giovinazzi (No. 99): The long-haired Italian stallion of all your wildest dreams. Alfa Romeo isn’t fast, but Antonio will have your heart beating faster.
Uralkali Haas F1 Team
Oh, Haas, the double-edged sword. Haas is a newer team that purports American roots despite shedding almost every recognizably American trapping that might encourage fans from the U.S. to join in the fun. It seemed promising right out of the gate, but Haas’ performance dropped rapidly in 2019, a season where it was also duped by its title sponsor Rich Energy, which turned out to be an energy drink company without the money to actually pay for its name to be on the car. It’s all been downhill ever since.
- Nikita Mazepin (No. 9): Oof. I don’t even know where to start with this one. To put it simply: he has yet to complete a single lap of an F1 race, and he was accused of posting a video of himself sexually assaulting a woman on his Instagram, for which he wrote a Twitter apology that he later deleted. I highly recommend staying away from this one.
- Mick Schumacher (No. 47): Mazepin’s presence has unfortunately overshadowed that of Mick Schumacher, son of one of F1’s most impressive legends, Michael Schumacher. Mick seems like a nice kid. He’s like the son you always wanted or the nephew that’s always an angel because you can give him back at the end of the day.
The Real Housewives-Style Drama to Follow
I’ll be honest: some of my favorite parts of Formula One take place off the track. Yes, on-track battles are fun, but nothing quite compares to the drama that follows an event. You’ll have Red Bull Racing’s team owner filing protests against everyone that seems to have gained a performance advantage in between weekends, just to force The Powers That Be to confirm their cars are not illegal. You’ll have Ferrari coming up with about 1,000 different excuses as to why it performed so badly during the race: one weekend it’s the engine, the next it’s the drivers, the next it’s a fault in the brake system. You’ll definitely have Fernando Alonso coming up with a laundry list of faults in his Alpine. You’ll have Mercedes calling Valtteri Bottas a good wingman for Lewis Hamilton, followed by the implosion of the media after the fact.
There’s no better example than the Mercedes team of the recent past, composed of childhood friends Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. With such a long legacy between them, these two drivers were constantly at each other’s throats both on and off the track, and the media absolutely ate it up. You’d have Lewis saying that, no, actually, he was never friends with Nico. You’d have Nico refusing to follow the team orders that would prioritize Lewis on the track because Lewis was closer to winning a championship. You’d have both drivers throwing hats at each other after the race, then pretending like nothing happened afterward. It’s the kind of drama that F1 fans thrive on, and you’ll very likely see more of that drama this year with Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri.
Want Another Taste?
If you’re still a little skeptical that you could enjoy F1, then I have a great recommendation for you: try out an episode or two of Formula One: Drive to Survive on Netflix. This is a documentary series where each season follows a different year of racing, starting with the 2018 Championship. And while there are certainly engine noises abound, this series is an incredible way to gain a quick—and massively entertaining—understanding of the sport. Drive to Survive has provided viewers with a totally unprecedented look at the ups and downs of a racing season, from teams going bankrupt after spending lavishly to the intra-team competition going on between drivers battling for a contract extension. The producers of the show do a wonderful job of teasing out the storylines of the year, and the end product could rival The Bachelor.
Seriously. You had the team principals from two different teams criticizing each other’s engines and fighting in press conferences. You had a team principal mourning his driver moving to a different team like a scorned lover. You had so much drama in Haas, with the team principal taking his criticisms right to his drivers, who then smashed up his office. You had the consistently changing tides at Red Bull Racing, where the team owners just suddenly decided they liked a different driver a whole lot more.
The drama never ends, and Drive to Survive the best way to get a taste of F1 without having to commit to a race.