There are a lot of packages about offering coach, hotel and ticket deals to European F1 Grands Prix. I used one of these companies when I went to Le Mans and Monaco as a teenager, but since then I have had a lot of experience travelling and going to Grands Prix abroad such as Melbourne and Singapore. Thus I fancied trying to arrange my trip to the 2014 Italian Grand Prix independently and saving a bit of cash in the process.
Flying vs Coach Tour
Whilst many of the coach tours to European races are great for what they are and for fans on a budget, they are not necessarily as cheap as flying. The pros of coach travel is that the tours are nearly always run ‘by fans, for fans’ and if you’re not a fan of air travel they are ideal. However they do involve spending a huge percentage of your trip sat on a coach and I think people sometimes assume that that is cheaper than flying without actually checking. The coach tour included two nights in France en route at the beginning and the end of the 7 day tour, accommodation by Lake Como in a 3* B&B, breakfast and transfers from Lake Como to the circuit and back for £595, without tickets, food or spending money. At face value this is not too bad, but again you’re spending a lot of time on a coach travelling from Lake Como to Monza and back each day. You don’t get to spend any time in Milan and the itinerary is naturally tight, so you get herded about like cattle a bit. I’d checked the website of the hotel the coach tour company used and it didn’t have twin rooms which I wanted, so we would have paid an extra £125 each just on single room supplements. I found EasyJet flights leaving Gatwick on the Wednesday before the race and returning from Milan Linate the Tuesday after for £147 each return. A tip – don’t try to fly home the day after the Grand Prix as the prices triple! A taxi from Linate to Milan centre costs about €20 and trains to the circuit from Milan Centrale Station are only €8 return and free on race day, so transfers add up to under €40 if there’s two of you.
Where to stay
With this in mind, I was keen to book a hotel near Milan Centrale Station to keep travel costs down whilst getting about the city. I found a couple of cheap and basic hotels that provided a twin room with breakfast for the days I required. They were all adequate for about £20-25 per person per night on HostelBookers, but then I found one for just a tiny bit more at £27 per person per night which had raving reviews, a great breakfast and generally looked far nicer than anything else in the Milan Centrale Station area. Plus, it was a 3* hotel, matching the quality I would have received on the coach tour; I was sold.
What tickets to buy
If this is your first Grand Prix, you’re probably unsure where to sit. It really depends on the circuit you’re going to, the prices and what you want from the experience. Firstly, a General Admission ticket will get you most things – at most F1 tracks you’ll be able to walk around the entire place (in Singapore you can’t get round the start line but there’s so much else to do there it doesn’t really matter). You’ll get the atmosphere, hear/feel the noise and have a hell of a weekend. However, spectator enclosures tend to get packed. For years myself, my Dad and my brother would sleep in the car in the Silverstone campsite before running in with deck chairs at 5am to get a good spot. I’m not kidding – seven hours before the race starts, the best spots will be long gone. With that in mind, a grandstand seat is always preferable, and a covered one is good if you’re going somewhere like Britain or Belgium where rain is likely. Try and find one near a key corner where the action often is, or by the startline, or at least somewhere that offers a view where you see the cars close up and for more than a couple of seconds. At Monza, I selected seats directly opposite the podium with views of the cars exiting the last corner and accelerating all the way down the main straight. Monza is the cathedral of speed so seeing the cars at pace was a must for me.
What money to take
The hotel I chose offers breakfast but not lunch or dinner, so I’ll need money for that – I’m estimating €25-30 a day. I’ll need cash for transfers as mentioned above, plus spending money for souvenirs and my time in Milan. I’m hoping to get to the San Sero on one of my days off.
All in all, my trip comes to £400 without tickets, food or spending money. That’s £200 cheaper than the coach tour and gives me far more flexibility and time to myself without spending four days on a coach. Be sure to check back in September when I review my first ever Italian Grand Prix experience!