When one of my colleagues asked me a simple question a few weeks ago I didn’t realise the implications.
“Do you want to go to the F1 in Abu Dhabi?”
“Sure, why not?”
So tickets secured I didn’t really give it a second thought till last Friday. Then I started to get caught up in the hype. Facebook and Twitter were awash with people excitedly proclaiming that they too were going to spend a day or two at the race. Cool – I thought at least there would be a good crowd. Before I was really more excited about seeing the concerts – Kings of Leon and Aerosmith. I was a little sad that I didn’t get a three day ticket so I could have seen Jamiroquai and Beyonce too but as it turned out the two rock groups were plenty.
I am fortunate to have been to Silverstone a couple of times in the UK for the F1 and even luckier to have been given VIP paddock passes to both McLaren and Ferrari on separate occasions. This time as regular Joe Public in the grandstand would be a new experience and as it turned out to be just as fun.
On qualifying day we left Dubai in a minibus so we might enjoy a few drinks without consequence. In less than an hour we were parked and on the bus to Yas Island Marina Circuit. I was impressed, excellent road links, ample parking and plenty of air-conditioned buses. There was none of the traffic issues that I had experienced getting to Silverstone or any hiking through marsh-ridden bogs…
On the bus ride to the circuit friends who had been landscape architects on the Yas Island project accompanied us. They gave us the inside scope. The amount of details that hadn’t been completed were gleefully pointed out but that best efforts had been put in to give it a very presentable look. To the untrained eye it simply looked brand new. The sheer scale of the development is hard to comprehend. Here is a shot from the big screen of the development
Entry into the circuit through security was again painless – none of the multi-hour queues that had plagued the Dubai World Cup a couple of years ago. Once in the roar of thousand horsepower engines greeted us. Stuffing foam pieces into our ears (handed out by friends Emarati volunteers) we raced to our seats in the West Grandstand eager to get a view of practice session.
The new “Protec Barriers” used on the circuit meant that we literally on top of the action. We were placed at the end of the longest straight on the F1 tour just before a hard left hander. The West stand also provided views of the cars coming into the home straight and entry into the pit lane. With the big screen providing shots of the rest of the track it was easy to keep up with the action. Now with the modern miracle of 3G, iPhone and the BBC website we knew exactly what was happening.
The circuit simply looks sensational. The space craft looking Yas Hotel setting the scene with its wacky curves and twinkling lights as the night pulled in. The cyan blue painted run off areas also add to the futuristic look. After the qualifying session that evening I watched a replay in HD – the helicopter that had been buzzing around all night provided some amazing shots. My dad commented “It looked like something from a sci-fi movie” personally I thought it would not have looked out of place in the classic playstation game Wipeout. Here we are just in front of the track following the race:
Watching the qualifying was good but the following day race day was superb. It was nice to hear the crowd react to highlights and I would estimate at 90% capacity it was not a race in front of empty stands that we had seen this year in Beijing, KL and Istanbul.
Key moments of racing that had me on the edge of my seat were the start of the race, Hamilton getting pole in the dying seconds of qualifying, when Vettel exited the pit lane to take the lead or in the last lap when Button twice made a move to over take Webber but was repelled. Here is a clip I took of the race start – the engine noise is unbelievable:
It was exciting stuff and I have to admit to really enjoy seeing it live. Watching it on TV just isn’t the same and I admit to find it boring sometimes. Trackside it is different gravy.
As were spending all day at the circuit a few comments on the facilities:
1. Toilets – plentiful though the ones inside the stadium have a crazy design which creates a choke point on entry/exit
2. Food – generally awful. Overpriced restaurants selling poor quality dishes. The fast food stands were no better with the ones in the F1 village actually closing during the afternoon having run out of food. I brought six chicken shwarmas for the guys in the concert arena to essentially have paid $8 each for onions wrapped in bread. Very disappointing.
3. Drinks – no problems here. Innocuous tents simply labelled as no admission to under 21s provided everything a thirsty expat might need. Also water was free around the circuit – good job as it was hot before sunset.
4. The F1 village – sat just behind the VIP area it was a great place to hang out. Sponsor tents were setup with the Etihad one was particularly good with F1 simulators the major draw. The Marlboro tent had a big draw but I think this had more to do with all the promo models who just seemed to be hanging around looking cool
5. Entertainment – the organizers had a stage setup at one end of the F1 village and brought some really top class performers. It was a shame you had no idea where or when they would perform.
My personal favourite was Nathan Flutebox – I have been following this human beat box flute playing genius for sometime and it was a pleasure to see him live:
And the double dutch skipping antics of these young guys were really enjoyable to watch:
It is also amazing who you can meet at these events. I saw Richard Branson but was far happier seeing my friend from Gitex:
The organizers had really put together an awesome set of concerts. The venue was under one of the arches of the forthcoming Ferrari Experience theme park. It was an excellent venue and I imagine will give Emirates Palace a run for its money as the premiere concert venue in the UAE. I never really though that Kings of Leon would ever play in the UAE and there was no way I was missing them. We made the hike from the stand over to the concert, which turned out to be a mistake. As there were plenty of buses available.
On entry to the concert area all bags were searched and any “professional” cameras were forced to check them in at a porta-cabin. Later this turned out to be a nightmare; despite leaving the gig early there was a huge melee of people trying to collect their cameras. It took us more than an hour.
There was a little bit of British humour in the crowd waiting for their cameras with a little singing and one guy raising his camera bag like it was the world cup and giving it a kiss accompanied to a tremendous cheer from the crowd. There really needs to be a better system for this. It ended up leaving a sour note with many after an otherwise great day. After all – with the mass up take of digital SLRs which owner is going to leave their’s at home? The second day – I did.
Kings of Leon
I managed to gather up most of my friends who were at the gig and we enjoyed the show together. I admit to being a three trick pony as far as Kings of Leon going.
The crowd reacted well to there rock style despite clearly not knowing most of the songs. This all changed for their Anthem “Sex on Fire” and the crowd sang their hearts out. This seemed to get approval from their front man who performed enthusiastically and was determined to enjoy himself so far from his homeland. The crowd seemed happy and I was delighted having missed out on Coldplay last year.
Here is Abu Dhabi going crazy for them:
After the excitement of the race I was feeling a little fatigued. It had been a long day at qualifying in the heat and Kings of Leon the previous evening. So we turned to Strongbow to provide the necessary restorative powers and get us in the mood. This day we had been smart. We had lunch before getting to the circuit, we limited our hiking around the grounds in the afternoon heat, left the SLR at home and made sure to get on and off the shuttle at the right time.
It was clear that a lot more people were in attendance for Aerosmith than the previous night and without DJ bliss warming up the crowd there was an air of anticipation. I was pretty neutral to begin with and was secretly wishing I could have snuck home with one of my friends as my feet gently throbbed in my crocs. But when Steve Tyler burst out on stage delivering “Livin’ on the Edge” all thoughts of discomfort were immediately discounted.
Me and the guys stood around and rocked out to their great live set. Here is a clip of an Aerosmith classic:
Despite looking like he has nearly as much plastic surgery as the late Michael Jackson, I take my hat off to him and the rest of the band. They performed like they meant it and had energy that belied their years.
When we left I felt privileged to have witnessed one of the truly great Rock bands of my era. In fact when I got home I dusted off “Guitar Hero – Aerosmith Edition” it is clear that I don’t have the same pipes as Steve Tyler, but I enjoyed trying.
There has been a lot written about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It is an amazing feat of construction from sand to a space age race circuit with five star hotels and a marina in just 32 short months. Sure, there are some things that can be improved but that is par for the course here and lessons will soon be learnt and rectified. And when the F1 Ferrari experience theme park opens up it will without doubt be an amazing tourist destination.
Abu Dhabi really came of age onto the world scene last weekend and came out of the shadow of Dubai. There are a number of “must do” events on the expat calendar – The Rugby 7s, The Dubai World Cup and now the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.