Meet the Couple Who Traveled to Every F1 Race in 2023

What’s it like to attend every single race in a Formula 1 season? We caught up with David and Michelle from New Zealand, who did just that last year.

David and Michelle Harrison took a sabbatical from their jobs, mortgaged their house and left their home in Christchurch last February. They didn’t return until late December, having attended all 22 races held during the 2023 Formula 1 season. We spoke to Michelle and David to learn more about their experience.

  • Images kindly supplied by David & Michelle. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.
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How long have you been following Formula 1? 

Michelle: On and off for quite a while. I grew up in South Africa, so I used to go to Kyalami with my father. That’s what got me into the sport. I also went to the race in Adelaide when I was younger. David used to watch the races on TV, but we were busy raising three children. Right before the covid lockdowns, we started watching Drive to Survive together and rediscovered our shared passion for the sport.

What made you decide to attend every race on the 2023 Formula 1 calendar?

David: I remember one day during lockdown, we talked about what we would do if we won millions in the lottery. And we agreed that we would attend every race in the Formula 1 season. But it was just a dream. The more realistic plan was that we would wait until we retired and sell our house. Our children had already moved out and we were going to downsize. We planned to use the extra money for travel.

Michelle: In 2022, I lost a colleague. She was my age, and she died just six weeks after being diagnosed with a serious illness. I remember coming home and saying to David that we might be dead before we retire. If our dream is to go to every race on the F1 calendar in one year, why are we waiting until we retire? That spurred us into action, but instead of selling the house, we took out a loan against it. Then the planning began!

How did you plan such a huge trip?

David: The first step was to go to our respective employers and ask for the time off. We both work in the education sector, and were lucky to be given leave by our respective employers. Once we had been given approval by the bank to take out a loan on our house, it was all systems go.

Michelle: We locked in tickets for every race, with the exception of Japan and Qatar, which had not yet gone on sale. We also booked accommodation for every race weekend from Thursday to Monday, because I knew that the prices would get crazy closer to the time and we’d have less to choose from. The rest of the trip, between the races, we just winged it. We booked places to stay as we went. 

David: We booked our return flights from New Zealand to the Middle East with Emirates, leaving in February before the season started in Bahrain and returning in December after the final race in Abu Dhabi. The only other flight we booked before the season started was from Europe to Montreal.

How did you decide which tickets to buy for each race and where did you buy them?

Michelle: We did a lot of research. I spent a lot of time on F1Destinations.com! We mainly bought from the circuits themselves, but also used some resellers. But not having been to any of the racetracks before, we would definitely do things differently next time. We wouldn’t choose General Admission (GA) again at some tracks. But at others, where we had grandstand seats, we would have preferred to be in GA. We have that knowledge now. 

David: Nothing beats the firsthand experience of being there, walking around the track and talking to fellow fans. And that’s what we tried to do on Friday at every race. We walked as much of the track as we could to actually take it all in and check everything out, rather than just staying static in the one place.

Did you stay in hotels the whole time you were away?

Michelle: Absolutely not! People don’t believe us, but we were on a really tight budget. It costs a lot of money to travel for such a long period of time. We stayed in a lot of affordable accommodation, like Airbnbs where you sleep in someone’s spare bedroom. We camped at some races. We also stayed in backpacker hostels. Occasionally we did stay in hotels and apartments, of course. We were open to anything affordable.

Any really memorable places you stayed on a race weekend?

Bergamo was a really good one. It was beautiful. We stayed there for the Italian Grand Prix in a small guest house, or pensione. We booked it because it was cheap and it turned out to be the most beautiful place, both physically and geographically. And the person running it was so kind, which was a nice bonus. But overall, we wouldn’t recommend staying in Bergamo for the Italian Grand Prix, because it was a nightmare getting to and from Monza

Which races did you most enjoy attending and why?

Michelle: Every race has its own charm and each destination has something wonderful about it, but if I had to choose one race it would be the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Before the season, we planned a month in Azerbaijan as we knew that there was no chance of the Chinese Grand Prix happening. We spent a few weeks in Sheki, up north in the mountains, and it was amazing. One of the highlights of our year. It’s a stunning country with such kind people.

There’s also a huge juxtaposition because it’s a wealthy country but still has a lot of poverty. The rural areas are very Russian and male dominated, stuck in the 1980s, but it was the friendliness of the locals that we remember the most. We also loved Baku and really enjoyed the race weekend. Because we were there for so long, we felt very invested. We stayed in the old city and watched the circuit get built and then dismantled. Our accommodation was a 2-minute walk from our seats in the Filarmoniya Grandstand.

David: I really enjoyed Las Vegas. I know it got a lot of bad press when the practice session was canceled on the first day and all the fans were told to leave. The organizers should have handled that better. The timing was too late, as well. It was cold and dark in our grandstand on the first few days, and there was no real atmosphere. But the actual race itself was really good. They made a street circuit that’s wide enough for overtaking. We sat in the Sphere grandstand, so we also got to see some great concerts. Away from the race, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked Vegas. Casinos are not really our thing, but we loved walking around the city.

Michelle: Another favorite race was Monaco, mainly because it rained during the race and made it more exciting. The whole grandstand cheered when it started to rain. We also had no idea how crazy the party on the track would be. We always go on the track after the race, but the atmosphere in Monaco was next level. 

Which races were the best and worst organized?

Michelle: The Middle Eastern races were super efficient, in our experience. Not so much Qatar. There was no shade in the Fanzone, they ran out of water and there weren’t enough food options. But everything was clean and there were lots of people trying to help. Jeddah was good from the fan experience perspective. They were handing out free water, the toilets were immaculate, lots of food to choose from and the Fanzone was great. Saudi Arabia was definitely up there as one of the best organized.

David: Hungary was one of the worst. It was very hard to get to and from the track and it’s really hot. It’s never a good start when you arrive at the track and you are all hot and sweaty, then have to deal with heavy-handed and rude security guards at the gates. We were in General Admission at the Hungaroring and there was no shade and no big screen TVs. Not enough water either, just a few filling stations for up to 100,000 fans. We had friends in one of the grandstands and they said the security was bad. Lots of people occupying seats who didn’t have tickets for the grandstand. 

Michelle: The security guards on the gates were also over the top in Spielberg. I really don’t like it when they separate genders at the gates, which they did in Austria and also at Zandvoort. More than once I queued up for a long time, only to be told to join the back of the female queue when I got to the front, which was really frustrating.

Which races had the best atmosphere and friendliest fans?

Michelle: We thought the best fans were in Spain and Mexico. They were so passionate and friendly. It didn’t matter which team you were supporting or where you were from. They exuded this pure passion for racing. We had General Admission tickets in Spain. We had to get there at like 7am in the morning to reserve our place on the side of a steep hill. It rained and we were sitting in the mud. Everyone was cold and soaking wet, but the atmosphere was incredible. We had singalongs and we got talking to everyone around us. The excitement of those around us was infectious and we were able to forget about some of the event’s shortcomings.

What were your favorite non-F1 places that you visited between races?

Michelle: Because F1 race weekends are so full on, we wanted to stay away from big cities as much as we could for the rest of the trip. We did visit Prague between the races in Canada and Austria. We’d never been before and absolutely loved it. Such a beautiful city. But the rest of the trip, we tried to spend more time in small villages and rural areas. We wanted to discover the culture and meet the locals. That was a big part of the trip. 

David: It’s hard to choose highlights, because there were so many. But we had an amazing week in the Cinque Terre region of northwest Italy. There are five villages on the coast which you can only really access by taking the train and then walking. It’s really remote and stunning. Toledo in Spain was another highlight. Without knowing, we happened to be there during their Corpus Christi celebrations. It was a big religious festival with people there from all over Spain and lots of unique processions. It was incredible to be part of that.  

Did you upgrade to trackside hospitality at any races?

Michelle: We only bought hospitality tickets a few times. We thought we would treat ourselves at Silverstone. We bought access to the International Paddock Enclosure on the inside of the first corner. Last year was the first time it was offered. Because of its location on the inner track, it took a long time to get there. It was a bit of a mission, including an internal shuttle bus. When you did arrive, it felt pretty isolated. It was a long way from the main Fanzone. The view from the grandstand wasn’t that good, either. We could only see a short section of the track.

But the worst part was that we had to pay for food and drink. We assumed it was included, as we had paid a lot of money. We were not the only ones there that thought everything was included. The food vendors in the enclosure were also really expensive, and there were no other options nearby. After such a bad experience on Friday, we didn’t even go back to the enclosure on Saturday. We preferred to watch qualifying in the Fanzone. We did go back on Sunday, but it was still a disappointment.

I should point out that the rest of our weekend at the British Grand Prix was excellent. We loved the atmosphere, and the fact that the party continued at the track after the racing had finished. It felt more like a music festival, and we did actually see some great concerts like the Black Eyed Peas. So many other tracks shut everything down and kicked everyone out after the racing had finished. 

David: We also upgraded to the Orange Tree Club at the São Paulo Grand Prix [pictured above], and it was a much better experience. The view from the grandstand seats was excellent. It was right where Charles Leclerc crashed on the formation lap. Food and alcohol was included, and we had no issues getting into or out of the circuit. 

Did you do any races with Formula 1’s official travel programme, F1 Experiences?

Michelle: Yes, we purchased packages from F1 Experiences for the races in Australia and Canada. We had the basic Starter package in Melbourne, which included some trackside activities on Thursday and grandstand seats for the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately, because of delays to the on-track action, we didn’t get started until much later than planned. We had to wait around for a few hours and when we did get into the pit lane, all the garages were closed. We also did a tour of the track, but it was in the dark. It was just a big letdown. The one good thing about Melbourne was that our seats in the Schumacher grandstand were superb, but we felt like we paid a lot for them given the disappointment of the extra activities.

David: We decided to give F1 Experiences another chance in Canada, and it was superb. They redeemed themselves. We had an F1 Live package in Montreal, and the experience at the track on Thursday was amazing. We did the track tour and the pit lane walk, but they also had everything set up on the track. There were car displays, guest speakers, and free flowing food and drink. The vibe was really cool and though it was busy, there were not too many people. They even gave us rain ponchos when it started to rain a little. It was a huge improvement over Melbourne.

At which races did you camp?

Michelle: We camped at Monaco and Spa. At Monaco, we were with a British company called Camping F1. We really enjoyed the experience and everything was well organized. The campsite was up in the hills near Monaco and they provided transfers to and from the circuit. The people working for the company were great, and we had also booked with them for Austria and Belgium. Unfortunately, they went bust right a few days before the Austrian Grand Prix.

Not only did we lose all the money we’d paid for Austria and Belgium, we had to find alternative accommodation near the Red Bull Ring only a few days before the race. We ended up paying an extortionate amount, €2000 each, to stay in a shed in the carpark of the Ringrast hotel near the circuit [see picture above]. We were there with all the Formula 1 truck drivers, who thought it was hilarious that we’d paid so much when they were getting paid to sit around in their cabs and do nothing. 

David: We also camped in Belgium. After the disappointment of losing our money to CampingF1, we were lucky to find GrandPrix.camp, which is run by a wonderful guy from the Netherlands called Rudy. 

What were your favorite and least favorite F1 cities?

David: We’ve talked about how much we liked Baku. We didn’t enjoy the trackside experience in Hungary, but Budapest was a beautiful city. We loved how the Buda and Pest sides of the city on either side of the Danube River had their own distinct architecture and charm. It felt very similar in feel to Prague, which we also loved visiting last year. It’s not strictly an F1 city, but we also loved returning to Vienna, which we hadn’t visited in a long time.

Michelle: There was really only one city and race that we didn’t like very much, and that was Miami. If we did this again, we would actually consider not bothering with Miami. We didn’t really know where to stay in Miami, and ended up in an Airbnb in north Miami, which was basically someone’s garage. We wanted to stay somewhere that would be convenient for getting to the track, but it was literally the wrong side of the tracks. It was a low socio-economic area and no one spoke English at all. We didn’t feel particularly safe.

Did you ever feel unsafe anywhere else?

David: No. We took more precautions in Mexico and Brazil, for example. We didn’t wear jewelry, things like that. We made sure we stayed in the touristy areas, unlike in Miami! But we never felt unsafe. We used the Metro in both Mexico City and Sao Paulo, which were both clean and efficient. You do need to walk alongside a favela to get to Interlagos, but there was a big police presence. The locals were just trying to make some money selling drinks and merchandise, they were not threatening at all.

Michelle: We made lots of friends on public transport going to and from the race throughout the year, just as many as at the track. People help each other out with directions and you get chatting.

Which airlines did you fly with?

David: Before leaving New Zealand, we only booked our main return flights with Etihad, as well as flights to Montreal with Air Canada. The rest of the trip, we booked our flights and other forms of transport as we went along. In Europe, we flew a lot with Wizz Air and they never let us down. For long-haul flights during the season, we tried to use Star Alliance where we could. But at the end of the day, it was all about the cost. 

Michelle: I’m not sure exactly how many flights we took last year, but it was a lot. And we only had luggage go missing on two occasions. We had Apple AirTags and they were a godsend. United Airlines did misplace David’s bag when we were flying from Houston to Mexico City. It turned out there was someone else with the exact same name flying through the airport on the same day, and they mixed up the bags. But it did turn up eventually.

What other modes of transport did you use during your travels?

Michelle: We took lots of trains and buses. More buses, because we were on a budget and they were usually cheaper than trains. We used FlixBus a lot in Europe and they were great. We loved being able to see more of the countryside. But we made a big mistake booking with FlixBus in the USA. Over there, the buses are actually operated by Greyhound. We booked several round trips, from Houston to Austin, and Houston to New Orleans, and found out that we were pretty much the only people on the bus that hadn’t just been released from prison! The ex-cons found it hilarious that this couple had traveled all the way from New Zealand and were taking the bus with them. I also have to say that the roads in the USA are terrible. They are falling apart.

You’ve already mentioned Baku, Las Vegas and Monaco. Which other races would you most like to return to and why?

David: We both loved Silverstone, despite the ticket issues. Michelle really enjoyed Belgium, though I wasn’t so keen on Spa because it rained almost the whole weekend [apart from when the images above were taken! – Ed]. We weren’t very lucky in Europe last year, it was a very wet summer. We also both really enjoyed the Austrian Grand Prix, and also had a great weekend at Zandvoort

Michelle: I was a bit anxious about the Oranje Army at Zandvoort, because we had seen lots of Dutch fans at other races in Europe and some of them were really obnoxious. Really drunk and rude at times. But it turned out to be a completely different ballgame at Zandvoort because most of the Dutch fans visit their home race with their families. They were on their best behavior and we really enjoyed socializing with them. It was great fun.

David: We would definitely go back to either Mexico or Brazil again. Even if we had to drop all the other races, we would go back to Mexico City or São Paulo in a heartbeat.

You had different opinions about Belgium. Any other races that you disagree on?

David: I loved Singapore, but Michelle not so much. Everything is so easy there, like getting around. It was also the one race of the season that wasn’t won by Red Bull, which was a bonus.

Michelle: I didn’t like the spectator zones in Singapore. We had Combination tickets, where you sit in a different grandstand on each day. And we didn’t have Zone 1 access on Saturday, so I couldn’t attend the driver interviews on the stage, which was really disappointing. It was the first time we’d really come across the idea of spectator zones, and I didn’t like the concept. Mexico and Brazil were similar, where you had self-contained areas and were not able to go and explore the rest of the circuit, which we love to do. Don’t get me wrong, Mexico was amazing. We sat in the Foro Sol Stadium section and the atmosphere was amazing. But it was also really crowded when you were not in the seats, there was little shade and it took a long while to get out.

How did you deal with the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola?

Michelle: The floods in and around Imola were awful. People lost their lives, so we were really conscious of that. It felt a bit strange to be enjoying ourselves in Bologna while all this was happening. Bologna holds a special place in our hearts, because it’s where David proposed to me many years ago. And it was our wedding anniversary on that weekend, so we were happy to be back in the city. Our accommodation was terrible, though. It felt like we were staying in an illegal broom cupboard. This is what happens sometimes when you are traveling on a budget. But it didn’t matter because we love being in Italy and Bologna is a stunning city. 

David: We got refunded for our race tickets and even our trains, which was a nice surprise. Trenitalia was very good. We didn’t speak Italian and they were dealing with hundreds of people, but they were very patient and we got all of our money back.

How much did the entire trip cost you?

Michelle: It cost us a lot of money. We’d prefer not to say the exact amount, but we did take out a mortgage on our house to pay for it. We were on a budget the whole time, but it does cost a lot to travel non-stop for almost one year. Accommodation every night, food, getting around. And F1 race tickets and accommodation are horrendously expensive. 

Are you still planning to go to races in the future?

David: Not this year, but we’d love to do the whole trip again, seriously! We hope to make enough from the sale of our house to take another year out and do it all again. It really was the most phenomenal experience.

Any advice for people considering doing something similar?

We met so many people on our travels that said they would love to do something similar one day. You’ve got to just do it. Stop talking about it and just go for it. 

Learn more about David and Michelle’s incredible trip on their website, f1-adventure-before-dementia.com. You can also see more of their photos and videos on Instagram.

3 thoughts on “Meet the Couple Who Traveled to Every F1 Race in 2023”

  1. Fantastic story. I’ve been to quite a few races but would love to do them all in the one year like this couple did.

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