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How to see a Formula One Grand Prix on a budget

Every F1 race brings a three-day festival filled with a variety of events, sideshows and attractions

Yachts and boats were trucked in and set upon fake water at the Miami Grand Prix in May. (Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post)

Chances are, you or a few of your friends have gotten really into Formula One lately.

The global motor sport has cracked the American market thanks in part to the breakthrough success of the Netflix docuseries “Drive to Survive.” And while new fans have been enjoying races from their couches on Sunday mornings, many have been itching for the logical next step: attending a Grand Prix in person.

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The process, though, is not so simple. With a calendar that zigzags across five continents, and only a few races in the United States — the series will head to Austin for the U.S. Grand Prix on Oct. 23, in addition to races in Miami and Las Vegas next year — seeing a live Formula One race may require an extensive travel plan. For Americans who have never attended a race, the whole weekend can be confusing to navigate, not to mention expensive.

If you’re eager to catch your first F1 race but don’t know where to start, fear not: These tips will help you plan your trip — and hopefully save you a few bucks in the process.

Book ahead, especially for hotels

First thing’s first: You’ll want to figure out which race you’d like to attend and where you’ll stay. The earlier you plan, the better, because finding a hotel can be one of the trickiest parts of a Formula One trip.

Shortly after the official Formula One calendar is revealed (the 2023 schedule was released last month), downtown hotels in host cities begin filling up fast. Their prices increase as the race draws near — most hotels in Austin are north of $400 per night during the upcoming U.S. Grand Prix — so you’ll want to start investigating your hotel options early, almost a full year in advance if you’d like to find the best deals.

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If downtown hotels exceed your budget, there are other options: You may be able to find a good deal on an Airbnb from a host who may not realize there’s a Formula One race in town. Or you can look to stay in a neighboring city. For example: If downtown Austin seems limited, you can find some more affordable hotels in nearby San Marcos, only a half-hour drive from the racetrack.

If you’re traveling with a group of friends, splitting the costs can help your wallet.

Don’t sleep on Friday practice

An F1 weekend is much more than just the two-hour race on Sunday. Each Grand Prix is a three-day festival filled with a variety of racing series, sideshows and attractions, such as hot-air balloons, motocross stunt shows and rock concerts. Each racetrack creates a carnival atmosphere.

Most new fans feel compelled to attend Sunday’s race, but that’s not necessarily your best option: Those tickets are incredibly expensive (grandstand seats often exceed $500 per ticket), and the viewing experience can be lackluster. Many sections at each track do not have video screens, so you’ll often be relying on Twitter to figure out what happened to your favorite driver.

Suffice to say, it’s very different from watching on television.

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Typically for a fraction of the price (think $50 instead of $500), you can attend Friday’s Formula One practice day and catch on-track action while still soaking in the venue’s atmosphere.

The slightly reduced crowds mean you can get around much more easily and not have to wait in obnoxiously long lines, and you can often pick and choose where you want to sit, because the grandstands are not as packed as the rest of the weekend. If you’re attending your first race and are unsure how you’ll like it, this is a great test and a terrific experience that often gets overlooked.

Get tickets from the home track

Formula One is not like a Major League Baseball or National Basketball Association game, where you can hop on StubHub a few days before and pick up cheap nosebleed seats.

Face-value race tickets purchased through Formula One’s website sell out very quickly, but don’t lose hope: You can also find tickets at the independent website for each host racetrack (Circuit of the Americas for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin; Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix slated for June in Montreal).

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Some of these sites also feature verified resale portals, which is helpful, because resale sites such as StubHub, Viagogo and Vivid Seats don’t always have many options.

And be warned: Ticket prices for newer races — such as Miami, which debuted this year — tend to be very expensive, particularly on the resale market.

Do your homework for each Grand Prix city

Because Formula One is such a global series, each race varies wildly in security procedures, ticket prices, how to get to the racetrack, food options and accessibility.

F1 Experiences, a travel organization that offers all-encompassing ticket packages, features a free blog that provides helpful guides to each track and host city, as does the website F1 Destinations. Make sure to read up on the race you’d like to attend, especially if it’s an international one, so you know exactly what to expect.

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Additionally, it’s a good idea to search on social media, particularly on the Formula One subreddit (r/formula1), to get a sense of what fans were saying at last year’s Grand Prix. You might gain some tips and catch wind of any major problems that cropped up: Were there not enough water refill stations? Should you avoid the shuttle buses by taking the subway or driving?