Spain is a new country for me to soak in; it’s officially my 38th country I’ve been to in my short international travel experience of 11 years. A land of late nights, small bites, siestas, architects, and artists to learn about. Not only is Spain a new culture for me to visit and understand, so was the purpose of my visit – Formula 1 racing. I admit, I knew very little about Formula 1 racing when I arrived in Valencia. My only experience with fast cars was the Indy 500. I have vivid memories of huddling around the radio with my family as a kid listening to the call of the race on the radio over Memorial Day. Thirty years ago there was no live television broadcast of the race so the sounds of the cars and the crowd provided the fuel for my imagination.
My trip to the Formula 1 race in Valencia last weekend brought with it a whole first hand education on racing. Cars, teams, and drivers were the central focus of course but standing in the grandstand waiting for the race to begin, I found myself fascinated by the people around me just as much as I was fascinated by what was happening on the track in front of me. I started to see patterns in the crowd and attributed them to the racing fan culture.
The crowd was heavily weighted towards men, but there were a few racing savvy women representing the ‘other half’. There were even families with young children present cheering on their favorite Spanish driver, Fernando Alonso, driving for Ferrari. Upon scanning the grandstand I quickly determined that if you were going to be a part of the crowd at a Formula 1 race that you needed a few key things in order to fit into the F1 fan culture.
Like any sports enthusiast – you need to get behind your team and make it clear to the people around you who you are rooting for. Granted – the Spaniards didn’t take it as far as Americans – there were no ‘face painters’ in the crowd, but there was plenty of team apparel. It is important to back a team or a driver proudly.
The cameras come in all sizes and models, but as a fan you must have at least one with you to capture the sites and sounds of F1. This was an area that I could actually fit in to the culture as I was carrying 3 cameras! (SLR, iphone, and video)
You could hear the race from anywhere in the city miles away from the track, but to see the race you needed a ticket to get in. Tickets also come in all shapes and sizes – but the most coveted ones were big, glossy, and worn around the neck.
The sound of the highly tuned cars are one of the most exciting things about F1 racing. With sounds reaching over 110 decibels, if you don’t want your ears to bleed, you better wear protection. I found that ear protection came in many different forms in the crowd, high end bulky, to ear plugs with chords, to low end squishy.
You could feel it in the air, the intensity of the grandstand crowd was compelling. As cars downshifted to round the last corner of the track putting them into the grandstand straightaway, the crowd instinctively stood up to watch their favorites go by. Raising hands in the air, they cheered on the cars on as they sped by in a blur of color and noise. They then resumed intently watched the big screen video feed and hung on every lead change and tight corner as the cars made it through the winding course. There was an intensity that you couldn’t help but feel and catch.
Even though you may not be a Formula 1 ‘super fan’, with these few key items you’ll blend into the Formula 1 culture no matter what country you are in.
Disclosure: My trip to Valencia and surrounding areas was provided by Tour Spain and Valencia Tourism. However, all of the opinions expressed here though are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!