If you want to go to a Formula 1 overseas, you can go to a travel agent and sign up to a tour package or you can do it a bit DIY. The tour package is good, don’t get me wrong – someone organises your flights, transfers, accommodation, F1 tickets, transport to and from the track and if you want they will arrange some side trips as well. But it can be expensive, and if you aren’t afraid of a bit of planning and a few crossed fingers, then you can do it yourself with little issue.
We started off working out which F1 races we wanted to see, and then it all hinged on tickets. If you want the cheapest, but still good tickets then you have to know how F1 ticketing is set up. From what we can tell, there are either allocations of tickets, or it all depends on your ticket reseller. We’ve learnt from a friend that the earliest way to go about it is to buy them from the track website directly. We’ve bought Malaysian F1 tickets direct from Sepang International Circuit at the 50% off earlybird price a number of months before they were available on Formula1.com.
The same happened with Hockenheim. We bought tickets direct from the Hockenheinring website long before Formula1.com released them. We actually chose Hockenheim because Austria had already sold out via the Red Bull Ring track website. At Hockenheim we went for the Nordtribüne about halfway down the stands, with a great view of the first straight, first corner and the end of pit lane. If we bought them again I’d probably edge a tiny bit closer to seats with a better view of the television screens but discounting that the seats were fantastic. Earlybird price was €250 each for the three days. At Sepang we get similar seats for around AUD125 for the three days.
If you buy the tickets early, you can therefore often get decently priced appropriately timed flights without too much hassle. Mum booked us on an inexpensive Malaysian Airlines fare, into London Heathrow and out of Frankfurt so we could do some travelling around Europe before the race. We’ve travelled Air Asia X to Malaysia before, but with a long haul trip to Europe tacked on the end of that we were more than happy to spend money on comfort. Air Asia X is confined enough with a short five hour flight to Malaysia. To then tack a further 12-14 hours (depending on plane) onto the end of it in the same conditions did not appeal.
Once we’d bought our F1 tickets our next target had been accommodation. My hope was that we wouldn’t have to commute the hour train ride from Frankfurt to Hockenheim but I knew it could be a possibility – to book accommodation in Hockenheim for F1 weekend generally requires you to book it at least a year in advance. I went onto Booking.com and looked in vain for accommodation in Hockenheim from Friday to Monday, and then for anything in the surrounding areas, and two rooms were left in a hotel in Speyer. I booked one, because Booking.com allows you to book with no cancellation fee it seemed a safe risk. It was called Hotel Technik Museum Speyer. Speyer is an amazing town that dates from medieval times. It has a cathedral that is justifiably a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is about 10km from Hockenheimring.
A quick sidenote: There is a museum attached to the Hotel (that would explain the Technik Museum part of its name), and it is extraordinary. They have a 747, an Antonov AN-22, a Russian space shuttle, Russian submarine, more motorcycles than you’d expect, shot up Messerschmitts and Junkers, modern and vintage cars, steam trains, it goes on. It was the reason we subsequently extended our stay at the Hotel until the Wednesday we flew out. I wasn’t going to stay there and miss out on seeing all that. We also toured the Cathedral and discovered it was built around 1060. Speyer was worth the trip alone; we would go back there in a heartbeat. Probably on a bicycle tour.
Once we had the accommodation booked this was where the crossed fingers came in. We were betting that there would be some form of transport from Speyer to Hockenheim either just for the Formula 1 weekend or a regular bus route. When I booked the hotel we’d looked at Google Maps and noted that from Speyer to Hockenheim you could really just ride a bicycle – it wasn’t more than 10km via flat bike paths between the hotel and the Hockenheimring, and in retrospect if we’d turned up with a couple of days to spare before the race I think we would have rented bikes and taken that option. We also knew that the Hotel website had said that they rented bicycles, and we came to the conclusion that if there ended up being no bus, no taxis, no logical train route, and no rental bicycles left at the hotel or at the bike shop in town, then we still both had the ability to run the 10km from Speyer to Hockenheimring.
As it was, we caught a local bus (717) that would take us from the Domplatz next to the Speyer Cathedral and drop us off at the Hockenheim Rathaus (Town Hall). In the afternoon the closest they’d get – there was too much F1 traffic by the afternoon – was the Hockenheim Bahnhof (train station). It couldn’t have been more than between a kilometre to a mile between the Rathaus, the Bahnhof and the Hockenheimring; again, a seriously easy walk. Also because the bus cost €4 one way per person it was a damn sight cheaper than a €35 one way taxi from the Hotel Technik Museum to the Hockenheimring gate.
If you are staying in Frankfurt, then you can catch the shuttle bus from the track to the Hockenheim Bahnhof, or you could just walk the mile there instead. There were regular trains that went from Hockenheim to Frankfurt, and we were advised by someone who went to the German F1 at Nurburgring that the autobahn traffic leaving Nurburgring after the race was a three hour traffic jam, so Hockenheimring was far preferable because the train station was so close by.
I’m assuming that you are just going for the race, but if you want to travel around Europe, the train system is amazing. They’re all high speed trains, so the speed bobs around between 250 to 340 km/h. Go to http://www.sbb.ch/ and check out the times that it takes to get from one place to another – two hours to Paris Gare du Nord station from St Pancras station in London via Eurostar, instead of the trip to the airport, the required three hours prior to departure to negotiate immigration and security, an hours flight to Paris and then the transfer from Charles de Gaulle to your hotel. That’s a good six hours at least.
You can book train trips on the Rail Europe website. Don’t be afraid to play around with your times. We were going to travel on Eurostar to Paris around 10am to avoid some of what we expected to be peak hour travel from Victoria Station (near where we were staying) to St Pancras International, but if we took the earlier Eurostar train, we could book first class tickets for AUD70 less than we’d have paid for second class tickets on the later train. We figured the cost saving and included breakfast would be worth the potential extra hassle. To get to the F1 from Paris we bought tickets from Rail Europe before leaving Australia. We caught a train from Paris Gare d’Est to Karlsruhe in Germany, changed trains to a local service then again at small suburban station on to Speyer. Total travel time was about four hours.
On the Wednesday after the race we were flying out of Frankfurt airport, so to get from Speyer to Frankfurt we caught a taxi to the Speyer Bahnhof, caught the train to Mannheim, then changed trains to the line that stopped at Frankfurt airport (Flughafen).
We would happily go back there. Hockenheimring was so well organised, clean and friendly. The toilets were plentiful, and never seemed to run out of supplies. The only faults I could think of was the amount of cigarette smoking there (a 20 pack of cigarettes costs €6 in Germany, and can be bought from a vending machine on a street corner, whereas in Australia they cost around $25 and you have to find a shop that sells them), and the inevitable fizzy mineral water at the track. If you want still water bring your own; we bought two 1.5L bottles of still water from a supermarket in Speyer for 11c each, and the gate staff had no issues with us bringing in our own fruit and water. There is a beer garden at the track, and so many different food stalls you can have almost anything; a healthy sandwich to bratwurst in a bun, Nutella crepes and waffles to pretzels (brezels).
TL;DR two thumbs up, would go again.