This past week in Austin, Texas, more than 250,000 fans swarmed the city to attend the United States Grand Prix, the 16th stop of the 2014 Formula One season – the third ever hosted in the city and the only one in the United States this year.
Many of those pilgrims were foreign – global F1 viewership is 500 million, but in the United States it hovers at less than 10 million – and American promoters are painfully aware of that fact. The financial rewards of engaging North American viewers even half as strongly as their European and South American counterparts are massive.
But is it worth your time? You bet.
It's the perfect opportunity to beat all your friends to a cool, obscure sport with plenty of money and global hype behind it. You know, just like soccer before it went suburban.
Here are 10 reasons why it's worth getting in to Formula 1 now.
1. Improve your foreign language skills (and chances of meeting alluring foreigners)
According to F1's annual broadcasting report, which measures the number of people who have watched more than 15 non- consecutive minutes of the sport throughout the season, the largest market is in Brazil, where nearly 86 million watch each race. Spain and Italy also embrace it, of course, thanks in no small part to superstar drivers like Fernando Alonso (a Spaniard) and now-retired Italians Nino Farina and Alberto Ascari. Many of the teams associated with the races – Ferrari, Pirelli, Torro Rosso – are Italian or Spanish or another romance-language-speaking country. All this to say: if you enjoy speaking Italian or Portuguese or Spanish (or if you enjoy meeting young women or men from those countries), watching F1 could bring you in closer proximity.
2. Impress your friends
If you adopt F1 as "your sport" now, you will be the first on your block to understand the complex scoring of each race, to know gossipy details about whatever is the latest political intrigue among the ranks, and to know which drivers will probably leave which teams – and for how many millions of dollars – when the season ends. You too can feel superior as you watch races at midnight and spout profanities over the smallest slight to your favourite driver. Everyone will surely be impressed with your worldliness and taste.
3. Get on board now before everyone else does in 2016
Speaking of beating everyone to the punch: NASCAR owner Gene Haas has announced plans to field a North Carolina-based F1 team in two years' time. He's currently hiring drivers.
4. Yes, you can have nice things
Do you enjoy the finer things in life? Cashmere over cotton? Pellegrino over PBR? Oysters instead of Oscar Mayer? Might I then suggest F1 rather than NASCAR: F1's Billionaire CEO Bernie Eccelstone is one of the richest people in the world. It costs $400 million per year just to field a team. The cheapest tickets you can find for most races start at $130 – and that's to sit with the commoners in General Admission. That's a lot of money to swill, and familiarizing yourself with F1 by attending races, drivers' events, and after-parties you'll rub shoulders with some of the world's wealthiest. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.
5. See the world
There are 19 races on the F1 calendar over eight months in exotic locales like Melbourne, Shanghai, Sochi, Abu Dhabi, São Paulo, and Montreal. Take your pick and get there. (See also: Reasons No. 1 and 4.)
Just ask Eric Flores, a.k.a. Erok, about them. He's the guy Infiniti Red Bull hired full time to DJ its F1 parties worldwide. He spends months at a time in Berlin, Miami, and Singapore; he drinks copious amounts of espresso; he befriends star drivers and their pals. Perhaps that's something to which you aspire as well, at least for a week here and there – it's doable if you follow F1.
Side note: In Monaco last year it cost €800 to get into the Amber Lounge race-day after party. Not that money is any indication of how fun a party is (usually its inversely proportional), but it is at least a guarantee that the vodka will be top-shelf and the crowd will be dressed, ahem, very well.
7. See the future of your car
Every gear head knows the paddle-shifting technology Porsche, Mercedes, and Aston has these days sprung first at the hands of F1 drivers. (For you non-professionals out there, paddle-shifting is faster than manual driving but retains the allure and masculinity-enhancing feel of a stick. It makes you feel closer to the road, more engaged with the act of driving.) In the same way, the engineering that transfers braking to individual tires and adjusts suspension components to the nth degree first tested its mettle on the F1 racetracks of the world. If you watch F1 close enough, you'll get whiffs of what to expect in that next Mercedes AMG coupe you buy.
F1 is a chance to study race strategy at length and in minute detail. It will stretch your intellect. The Austin race, for instance, covered 308 kilometres over fewer than two hours. Each team completed 56 laps balancing a specific fuel load with engine and tire wear (each team was allowed 13 sets of brand-new Pirelli tires). Each team used to strategize how many fuel stops its drivers would take (less fuel equals lighter car but increased stops), though that rule changed a few years back. Pole position is crucial in F1, as is maintaining contact to certain drivers and amassing points over the season, not just winning random races. Fun Fact: Do you know why F1 cars weave and bob before coming to the starting lane? It's because the motion helps warm up the brakes and tires – a crucial element to helping the car perform at top potential from the first seconds of the race. Now you know.
9. Feats of derring-do
The press badge each journalist receives at the start of race week has written in bold letters "Motorsport is Dangerous." Someone retorted, "Only if you do it wrong." I disagree. When you have topless vehicles travelling at 320 km/h around a fenceless, curved, hilly track, it's inherently dangerous. In Austin, Checo Perez crashed within two minutes of the start of the race! Which makes it inherently exciting to watch. And I suggest you do – often.
10. You could witness the first woman in history to be named a starting driver for an F1 team
Susie Wolff is the 31-year-old development (back-up) driver for Williams-Martini Racing. She has raced motorcycles and karts (then cars) since she was 8 years old and earlier this year at the British Grand Prix became the first woman in 22 years to drive during a Formula One race weekend. She's focused, deliberate, diligent – and fearless when she drives. Look for her to be the (blonde) Danica Patrick of Formula 1. Jump on that before every other joker does.
Those are your 10. The next race is in Brazil (Nov. 7-9), and the final 2014 race is Nov. 21-23 in Abu Dhabi. The 2015 season starts mid-March in Melbourne, Australia. Now get going. And thank me later.
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