As part of a photo project, Lee A Johnson spent ten years visiting General Admission areas at F1 circuits all over the world. Here are his Top 10 circuits for General Admission.
All photos © Lee A Johnson. Learn more about Lee’s F1 photo project on formulanon.com.
Editor’s Note, December 2022: A lot has changed since Lee completed his photo project in 2019. Post-COVID, attendances at some of the races listed below have skyrocketed; prices for General Admission have also increased substantially at some venues like COTA (from under $200 USD in 2019 to $475 in 2023). The issue with General Admission when attendances increase is that it gets much harder to find a good vantage point. Another issue is that promoters have responded to greater demand for tickets by adding new grandstands, some of which have taken away viewing areas in General Admission. This was particularly pronounced at Monza in 2022 – the very poor organization at the Italian Grand Prix this year would no doubt have also knocked Monza much lower on Lee’s list. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Lee’s advice holds up!
Ever wanted to attend a Formula 1 race but not break the bank? It’s possible – most circuits on the calendar still offer “General Admission” (GA) tickets, giving you access to the open areas of the circuit where you can wander around and soak up the atmosphere. Some of these even give you up close access to the action; you just need to know which ones have that.
I spent ten years, between 2009 and 2019, visiting most races on the calendar as part of a photo project. The project was all shot from the GA areas of the circuits, so as part of that I thought it would be useful to others who might be considering visiting a race to list my top ten circuits on the current calendar for GA access. I’ve included some offcut photos from the project to give you more of an idea as to what you can expect.
In choosing the list I factored in several things: the views and access, price, atmosphere, venue and facilities, and overall experience. I’ve also included a “rest of” section to touch on those that didn’t make my top ten. When including prices, I have used those currently listed for the 2022 season, or an estimate based on previous years.
The global situation has impacted many sporting events over the last couple of years and most, GA tickets were cancelled at Formula 1 races in 2020 and 2021. Things are starting to open up again, and GA areas should be available at most circuits during the 2022 F1 season. Fans will be keen to attend races again. So here they are, my top ten circuits for the General Admission experience on the F1 calendar.
10. Red Bull Ring, Austria
The GA area at the Red Bull Ring covers roughly one quarter of the track and is up high on a banked area above Turns 3 and 4. This gives you nice views over most of the track and makes it easy to find a spot free of any obstructions. You probably want to bring a pair of binoculars however as some parts of the area are quite far away and there are only a couple of large screens. This can be a common theme in GA areas at any circuit.
A weekend ticket costs about €100, which is excellent value considering the cheapest grandstand ticket is twice as much. Access to the circuit is relatively easy and parking is free. Facilities are ok but not great, and when I was there in 2014, they were running a voucher scheme which meant food and drink were overpriced and annoying to get hold of. The voucher system is still in place, but you can also pay with your card inside the circuit.
9. Hungaroring, Hungary
The Hungaroring is one of only two circuits (the other being Monza) to have held a race in every one of the last thirty-five years, and it’s easy to see why – a large capacity circuit built into a natural amphitheatre that has easy access. The bonus is that the track often delivers great races. It can be very hot however, mid thirty ºC and higher. There are some shaded areas, but they tend to be in places where the views aren’t so good.
The natural contours of the Hungaroring means that there is lots of space in the GA areas, and the elevation gives reasonable views of the track from most of those. The GA ticket does limit your access to roughly two thirds of the track (and there’s no inside access at all), but the Bronze grandstands are only a little more expensive and also give you a grandstand seat. Worth noting is that this is a track with proper toilet facilities.
Much like Austria, Hungary features nice, banked areas in its GA section. You can easily find a view of most of the sections of the circuit, including several large screens, however some parts are flatter than others and you might find those areas several bodies deep when you arrive.
Since most of these areas are quite large the atmosphere tends to suffer a little. Some parts of the areas are also watched by security, who will not let you get close to the fence, and other parts appear to offer a good view but are obstructed by grandstands so don’t really count.
Hungary’s GA price is still less than €100 for a 3-day ticket. The circuit is easy to find with lots of free parking right next to it. Local trains are also available with shuttle buses for fans who don’t fancy the 2km walk from the train station to the track. Taxis are also a relatively affordable way of getting to the track.
8. Silverstone, England
Silverstone is the first circuit in this list that has GA tickets with full access to the perimeter. That comes at a cost, from £230 for a standard ticket to £285 for the new (for 2022) “plus” tickets that included access to restricted areas. That probably means the lower cost tickets are even more overpriced as these areas may have been accessible in previous years, but this is yet to be seen.
Regardless, £230 is by far the most expensive GA ticket on the calendar and although the facilities at the circuit are excellent the flat nature of the track means it is very difficult to get a good view of most parts of it, especially when the best spots are always full of other fans very early on. Silverstone also sells an “Inner Track” upgrade for existing ticketholders. These tickets are basically GA for the inner part of the track, and they are a very good way to beat the crowds and get a better view (as well as get close to the Paddock entrance, where you can meet the drivers). However, most of the big screens are the wrong way around if you choose this option so you won’t be able to see them.
Given the cost of the GA tickets here you’d be better spending a little more to get a grandstand ticket. The atmosphere at the circuit is usually pretty good and the track is one of few that allows fans out onto the circuit after the race, which is a definite selling point but that’s not unique to GA tickets.
Access to Silverstone is much easier than it used to be. The organisers have this sorted. Plenty of park and ride options if you don’t want to pay the rather expensive price for circuit parking. If you do decide to pay up for circuit parking, the lots are only a short walk from the gates. Traffic is also well managed, with only minor delays getting in and out of the circuit.
7. Circuit of The Americas, Texas, USA
COTA is quite similar to Silverstone, but I feel it has it beaten due to the elevation changes and plenty of banked areas allowing much easier viewing of the action. All of the exterior and a lot of the interior of the track is accessible with standard GA tickets. These cost around $200 in 2021 and sold out very quickly.
The facilities at the circuit are good, as you would expect, and the atmosphere the year I went was good too. The circuit is very busy on the Saturday and Sunday but not so much on the Friday. Concerts are held on the weekend, which artificially inflates attendance figures, but your ticket also gives you access to those concerts, making the tickets even better value.
One downside of COTA is that it is located in the middle of nowhere. Trackside parking is available, but expensive. Shuttle buses are also available from downtown Austin, but the queues to get home at the end of the day can be long and disorganized.
6. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia
My main memory of the Albert Park circuit is access being very good since it’s a public park right in the centre of the city. In fact, it’s possibly the easiest of all tracks to access on the calendar. Albert Park is surrounded by hotels so you can easily find somewhere to stay that will not be more than a short walk or quick tram ride from an entrance to the circuit. Public transport is also frequent and easy in the city should you need it – and trams to the circuit are free on race weekend.
I walked around the circuit at least six times over the four days. There’s plenty of good viewing areas, a decent and varied food offer, plenty of clean toilets, and lots of free drinking water spots. Albert Park seems to have some of the most up to date facilities.
Despite being towards the end of the summer the weather can be unpredictable in Melbourne when the race is held. There was some chance of rain while I was there, fortunately this fell either side of the race weekend. A little bit of rain might be a good thing if you’re not shooting photos however, one to cool down and also to spice up the race a little bit.
Tickets for Thursday to Sunday GA were most recently priced at A$185. Excellent value since that’s access for all four days. The circuit is a little flat but has some banked areas and parts of the GA areas have free concrete bleachers to give better views.
5. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is one of the more recent older circuits, if that makes sense. This means that while it may not feel state of the art it doesn’t feel dated. The facilities are very good (actual real toilets rather than Portaloos) and lots of food and drinks stands dotted at many places around the circuit. Food and drink is, of course, hugely overpriced and it hasn’t been possible to purchase alcohol in the fan zones for some years. Note that there are bag checks on entry, and you will not be allowed to take glass bottles into the circuit.
Walking around there is a lot of freedom and space in comparison to other circuits; the GA areas are wide, elevated, and close to the track. There are many places to see the cars, although some areas are obviously more crowded than others, but you can always find a view somewhere. Also of note are the many trees that create lots of shaded areas, very welcome in the midday sun.
Tickets cost around €130 for a weekend GA ticket, which gives access to most grandstands on the Friday. Even when walking around the circuit, outside of the GA areas, it is possible to see the track – for example the start/finish straight is easily seen. The atmosphere at the circuit really depends on where you end up. As some areas are quite large the atmosphere can feel a bit lacking perhaps.
4. Circuit de Monaco
Surprised to see Monaco so high on this list? A race which continues to divide Formula 1 fans, with many claiming (accurately in my opinion) that it has been unsuitable as a racing circuit for decades. But as a venue? An event? There is nothing else like it on the calendar, and it is worth a visit on a race weekend even if you have no interest in Formula 1.
There are three unique things that Monaco offers that push it so high up this list. The first being the atmosphere, it is absolutely bonkers ramping up through the race weekend and continuing until the early hours of Monday morning after the race. You step off the train at the Monaco-Monte-Carlo station and feel it immediately. It is the main reason I have returned to Monaco year after year.
The second is the density of the principality and track. In parts it feels like you could almost reach over to the other side of the circuit if it weren’t for all the steel and catch fencing in your way. Fridays used to see no track action, which will no longer be a thing as from 2022, and you could walk the entire circuit, including through the tunnel, and shake your head at the insanity of the place. It’s probably still possible to do this on other days, although having visited Monaco several times I have found that access changes from year to year, so this is not a certainty.
The third unique thing is the Z1 GA area – not to be confused with the Secteur Rocher area, which is high up on the hill near the palace and very poor for viewing any sort of on track action. The Z1 area is a small enclosure between the Nouvelle Chicane and Tabac corner. It allows you to get up against the catch fences literally meters away from the cars as they fly past. There is no other area like this on the F1 calendar; only the marshals and official photographers get closer to the cars when they’re on the track.
The problem with the Z1 area is that it sells out almost immediately with numbers limited to (I would guess) around 500. Tickets for the Sunday usually cost around €175, a bargain considering the cost of the grandstands at Monaco, and the area includes restaurants, bars, and other facilities with a big screen right on top of the area. You need to be quick if you want to experience this. For 2022? You’re probably already too late [yes, already sold out!]. Don’t worry though – you don’t need a ticket to visit Monaco during the race weekend. Just turn up at the train station and wander around the principality soaking up the atmosphere.
3. Suzuka Circuit, Japan
Suzuka is a classic circuit with lots of elevation changes and plenty of banked areas to view parts of the circuit. It gets high up the list mostly down to the experience of the race weekend and spending time in Japan. Visit the country for ten days to a couple of weeks, get yourself a Japan rail pass, and have an amazing time. The GA ticket is very good value at around €70 for three-day entrance (including free access to the grandstands on Friday).
Getting to the race takes around an hour on the train from Nagoya, and the last part of the route is complicated by the fact that the line is regional so not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. There are tents set up at the station to purchase your ticket when you arrive. When you do so, make sure to grab a return ticket from the tent at the other side of the bridge so you don’t have to queue after the race. You should reserve seats for the train from Nagoya in advance if possible, although I didn’t and had no problems.
The track is an older style circuit, and facilities are a little dated. Plus, there is a lot of walking. From the station to the circuit takes about 20 minutes, and then if you’re at the other end of the circuit you will walk for another 45 minutes. I walked around the circuit twice over the weekend, and probably covered around 20km in total as I was exploring a lot. The atmosphere at the track is fantastic. The Japanese fans are some of the most enthusiastic I met, and of course very creative in their headgear, and always happy to talk about F1 and pose for photos.
The one thing to keep in mind here is that the weather can be hit and miss. When it rains at Suzuka it really comes down, and this could potentially spoil the weekend if you haven’t dressed for it. It can also make the viewing experience cold and miserable – so check the forecast and be prepared.
2. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Another fan favourite for on-track action, atmosphere, and overall experience. One important observation from my many walks around the circuit in Belgium is that, although there are plenty of viewing points, the nature of the GA areas means that some are more crowded than others. In many places the crowd can be several bodies deep to the fence. So you might think that you’ll be able to get a spot easily, but that’s not guaranteed.
I spoke to a couple of Belgians at the circuit and they complained that it was too expensive and even though they lived near the circuit, they rarely visited the race. Despite this the race sees high attendance every year. A GA ticket for the weekend will cost you about €150 for the weekend, which is pretty reasonable compared to other popular tracks. Spa markets these as “Bronze Area” tickets, but they’re GA tickets which give you access to the entire circuit perimeter, the “Fanzone” with facilities, and views of most giant screens.
Spa has a lot of elevation change and is basically in a forest, meaning the pathways can be a bit uneven, so I would recommend good walking shoes. You will also want to take some sort of lightweight foldable chair as there are no seating options or bleachers in any of the GA areas. If there has been recent rain, then many of the GA areas can be quite muddy so sitting on the ground can be difficult. And yes, like Japan, the weather is unpredictable and often wet – this ruined the 2021 race day, and rain is in no way unusual at Spa. I think there is something like a 50% chance that there will be some precipitation on most race weekends and a good chance of a downpour. This ties in with my experience; I visited the circuit three times and it was raining for two of those visits, once just a shower before qualifying, and the other a constant light drizzle through the weekend.
2021 was very much an outlier, where the race was effectively cancelled, and it’s unlikely that the same situation will happen in future as the venue are making changes to the circuit to allow them to run races with lower risks in these conditions. F1 is an ever-changing thing, and the venues and circuits have to adapt. Something else to keep in mind when picking a race you would like to attend.
A final point here is that it can be difficult to find accommodation for the Belgian Grand Prix as the circuit is very rural with a limited selection of hotels and accommodation. Many fans choose to camp at the circuit, which is probably your best option if the weather forecast is good as the circuit provides specific areas to setup camp and (as far as I could see) some facilities for campers.
1. Monza, Italy
It was a toss-up between Monza and Spa, and Monza just took the number one spot due to it having more wide-open spaces with concrete and metal bleachers, much less chance of rain, and relative ease of access. The GA areas have plenty of seating and you are never more than a few metres from the track so really get up close to the cars. I would even say you don’t need to bother with a grandstand ticket.
Monza is a fast circuit, so you’re going to see the cars really fly – possibly that’s one downside so if you want to see overtakes you will need to find a place with a view over parts of the track where that’s more likely to happen, and of course lots of other fans will have the same plan so you need to arrive very early in that case.
Tickets for Monza are also cheaper than Spa, around €100 for a weekend GA ticket that also gives unreserved access to stands on the Friday. Monza has probably the best value GA tickets of any European race on the calendar. Monza, of course, has great atmosphere, and is known for the on-track invasion after the race allowing you to get up close to the podium celebrations. The facilities are perhaps a little dated, but no more than most European circuits.
Staying in Monza is difficult; there are limited accommodation options, and they are generally expensive as owners and hotels ramp up their prices for the race weekend. Most fans choose to stay further out and get the train to the local station, and then hop on one of the many park/ride shuttle buses. Many of the locals have this figured out and bring their own bicycles to get around the venue. Access is through the public park in the city. You can’t really get near the circuit on a race weekend, using your own car that is, so you will have to use one of the park and ride facilities. You are dropped in the park about 15 minute’s walk from the circuit and can see some of the old, banked corners as you walk to the circuit entrance; getting the chance to see and feel the history of the place as you arrive is very cool.
What about the circuits that didn’t make the list? Of those that are provisionally listed on next year’s calendar, here’s a few reasons why I wouldn’t recommend then for GA access. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada, is very flat and very busy. A lot of the catch fencing is blocked off with black tarpaulin, making many areas that could be good for GA viewing unavailable. This is probably done to ease the flow of fans around the circuit. There are some smaller areas here and there, but these are on the long straight. Facilities are somewhat dated at the circuit too.
Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain International Circuit don’t really feature GA areas. Bahrain definitely doesn’t and Abu Dhabi’s is a very small area in the centre of the circuit (Abu Dhabi Hill) with very limited facilities and not great views. Both circuits do not allow you to walk the perimeter and access is quite limited. You can find some spots dotted around these circuits to view action, but they’re not optimal.
Paul Ricard, France, is a shambles. Or at least it was when I visited it the year it returned in 2018. Terrible facilities, difficult access bordering on dangerous, and relatively poor viewing spots given the flat nature of the track. Perhaps this has improved however as the venue is still working things out.
Shanghai International Circuit, China, gives you access to about one third of the circuit but you don’t see much and curiously there isn’t a single big screen in any of the GA areas, so you won’t have a clue what is going on – facilities are also, surprisingly, quite limited and dated.
I didn’t make it to Baku, Brazil, Mexico, Russia or Singapore and my reasons for that were many but included the fact that their GA areas are either very small or simply don’t exist. If you’re planning to go to any of those then it’s probably best to choose a grandstand ticket.
As for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Miami, Turkey, Imola, and The Netherlands? They’re new to the calendar or back on it after a long break, and I’ve yet to make it to any of them. I’m not sure if I will as the photo project that drove my desire to visit so many races is complete, at least from a shooting point of view. The book is a work in progress that I hope to have published relatively soon. I’m still a fan of Formula 1, however, so maybe I will get to one or two of these races in the future.