It’s not easy being a Formula One fan—especially in the United States. Sure, Netflix and ESPN may have succeeded in bringing one of the world’s most-watched sports into a lot of American homes as of late, but it’s still a sport that involves weird hours, scouring to find races on TV, and fastidiously avoiding spoilers until you can see the results at a reasonable hour. The F1 fan in your life has it harder than, say, the average NFL fan. It’s time to reward their commitment with something fun.
Based on my own lifetime of F1 fandom, plus a lot of trips to races all over the world and possibly tens of thousands of dollars spent on F1 memorabilia (I can call it an investment, right?), I’ve come up with a few products that I believe are must-haves or must-dos for veteran and rookie F1 fans alike. From the traditional team replica gear and racing tours to the most interesting books, there’s something for everyone on this list. And it’s lights out!
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A Must-Watch Racing Documentary
The very first F1 race took place in Silverstone back in 1950, long before color television debuted in the U.S. and a very long time before TV cameras were made small enough to mount on speeding race cars. That didn’t stop a few pioneers in the early days of the sport, however, who would literally affix big recording cameras to drivers’ heads with duct tape. 50 Years of Formula 1 On-Board will take you on an unforgettable trip through the first half-century of F1 onboard footage.
From Fangio to Schumacher, it is one of the best racing documentaries you’ll ever watch. It even features commentary by icons such as Sir Stirling Moss (RIP), Sir Jackie Stewart, and Mario Andretti. Bonus: DVDs are old, so you can pick this up pretty cheap.
The Definitive Ayrton Senna Book
F1 has turned men into heroes and heroes into legends. One of those legends is Ayrton Senna, the charming and often polarizing Brazilian who went on to win the F1 world drivers’ championship three times—though some would argue four, had it not been for scandals and politics getting in the way. There are endless books on Senna and even movies, but one of the greatest to cover the racing superstar is writer Christopher Hilton—and one of Hilton’s best books on Senna (he’s written many) is Ayrton Senna: As Time Goes By.
Hilton leans into official recollections from the Senna family to paint a picture of what the driver’s life was like away from the track. He also narrates plenty of interesting conversations with teams and team bosses as Senna broke into F1, leading up until that dreadful day in San Marino. Furthermore, Hilton dives deeply into the complicated legal trial following Senna’s deadly crash, which actually saw members of the Williams team prosecuted for manslaughter. Once you read this, everything you watch or read about Senna will make a lot more sense.
A Guide to Understanding Kimi
Ask modern-day F1 fans about their favorite driver, and more than half will likely say, Kimi Raikkonen. The cold, distant, sometimes-funny Fin has built a cult-like following over the years mostly due to his no-fucks-given attitude. The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen by Kari Hotakainen does an excellent job at revealing just that: who Raikkonen really is.
From growing up in rural Finland where toilets and indoor plumbing were essentially unheard of, his start in karting, a stint in the military, and eventually first F1 contract, the book explains it all. I will add: this is not one of the great F1 books, but it is the best book on Kimi. So if you want to make sense of a person who hardly ever makes sense, take one of these and call me in the morning.
Learn More About F1’s Wild History
If you want to dig more into F1’s golden era, look no further than Michael Cannell’s The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit. He shines his light on two drivers: American legend Phil Hill, whose Cinderella rise from amateur mechanic to F1 champion seems unfathomable today, and the fearless German Wolfgang von Trips, who would lose his life that season. It’s a fascinating look at how different the sport was a few decades ago, and how lethal it often was. Racing is inherently a dangerous sport, even today, but Cannell’s book really drives home how these men gambled their lives every time they got in the seat.
F1 TV Subscription
Learning about the history of the sport and its many legendary drivers will only do you so much good. At the end of the day, you need to be able to tune in and watch on race day in order to see history be made before your eyes. This year, give the gift of F1 TV to yourself or your F1-loving friend or family member.
I personally have the F1 TV Pro, which gives me access to all on-track action in real-time regardless of where in the world the F1 circus is at. Yes, F1 TV was a bit of a mess in the beginning, but the bugs have mostly been fixed and the experience is actually quite good nowadays. Bonus: When you sign up for the Pro plan, you also get access to F1’s tv archives, so you can stream every race from 1981 until 2018.
A Racing Sim Setup
Watched a few races and now you want to do some wheeling yourself? You can always resort to your Xbox One controller as I did for my review of F1 2020, but you can also go much, much fancier (and expensive). In a world where only your bank account balance is the limit for home-built racing simulators, gaming companies are building equipment that exactly resembles the gear found in actual racing cars. Such is the case of the Thrustmaster Ferrari SF 1000 Edition, which is inspired by the steering wheel and control unit found in Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel’s F1 cars during the 2020 racing season.
You can buy it as an add-on to any existing Thrustmaster servo wheel unit you may have, or you can buy the entire setup if you’re just getting into sims. Either or, it’s a piece of eye candy that’s sure to deliver endless hours of fun.
Ampersan Shops 1:12 Scale Ferrari F138 Electric R/C Car
Sometimes it’s fine to put down the video game controller (or steering wheel) and head outside for some fresh air. When it’s time to do that, you can still continue having F1-related fun with this radio-controlled Ferrari F1 car. If you’re new to the sport, you’ll get a kick from this Ferrari F138 that dates back to the 2013 season, when Fernando Alonso still raced with the legendary Scuderia in search of a third world title. Nothing too fancy or complicated here; just pop in some batteries, set it on the ground, and pretend you’re the two-time world champ as you race around your driveway.
There are a couple of things that always go wherever your go: your phone and your keys. Sure, a wallet may be one too, but I tend to forget that more often than I forget the other two. For that very reason, a must-have for any F1 fan is one of these awesome Pirelli F1 tire keychains. They’re simple, but they look great! They are made from actual rubber and you even get to pick the compound tire. Hypersoft, Super Soft, Soft, or Medium? Your call.
Race-Worn F1 Gear
Feeling fancy? Maybe tire keychains aren’t your thing, and you’re looking for something much more legit to wow yourself and your fellow F1-loving friends. If that’s the case, I suggest checking out the Hall of Fame Collection, where you can find authentic racing memorabilia.
Much of the inventory at Hall of Fame Collection has actually been worn by F1’s greatest and comes with certificates of authenticity. So, if you care to own a race-worn helmet by Alonso or gloves by Hamilton, this is the place to go.
Wearing an expensive button-up shirt or jacket with a bunch of silly patches may not be the most fashionable thing to do—especially when the average person ends up thinking you work at a Shell gas station or are a UPS delivery driver (ahem, Ferrari fans). However, wearing team gear is the single most basic way of showing how proud you are of the team you dearly love. Whether it be Red Bull, Mercedes-AMG, or Ferrari, the F1 nut in your life will love whatever team replica swag you throw their way.
Go to a Damn Race
Listen, all of the stuff I’ve listed above is cool, but nothing beats going to an actual F1 race. You can play video games all you want, read all the books, watch all the documentaries, and wear all the team gear—but at the end of the day, it’s watching and hearing F1 cars lap a race track insanely fast that truly matters.
Now, if you just show up and bring your own folding chair to camp out on a dirt mound with thousands of other folks, you can do that. But if you want to live an actual experience that involves getting up-close and personal to drivers, cars, pit lane, and even five-star food, drinks, and accommodations, then you want to holler at the folks from GP Tours or F1’s Paddock Club.
No, neither one of these will be cheap, but I can assure you that you’ll have a hell of a time. I’ve personally been in the F1 Paddock Club and my dad’s booked GP Tours to go to Le Mans. They take the guesswork and uncertainty of going to a major event in a foreign country, and you won’t have to worry about losing your place on your dirt mound because you had to run to the port-a-potty. Highly recommended.