Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Venue: Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi
Race sponsor: Etihad
Date: 1st – 3rd November 2013
Formula One probably peaked in terms of race venue design with the Yas Marina Circuit, one of the first elements of a massive US$40 billion development of manmade Yas Island and undoubtedly the most technologically advanced and spectacular Grand Prix venue of all.
Woven around a manmade port and the visually stunning Yas Hotel, the exterior of which changes colour on demand and provides stunning imagery during a Grand Prix, the circuit itself may not quite live up to the surroundings, but Abu Dhabi has undoubtedly made a statement with its purpose-built Formula One venue.
“It’s a top three Formula One event now along with Singapore and Monaco in my opinion,” says Jim Wright. Mark Gallagher adds: “It’s a delightful event. Infrastructure is perfect, the hotels are fantastic.”
Where once Yas Marina Circuit stood alone on a deserted island, some 20 minutes or so from the heart of Abu Dhabi, it is increasingly surrounded by hotels, restaurants and other leisure facilities such as the Yas Links golf course. The Ferrari World theme park has become a particularly distinctive feature, sitting alongside the circuit. The overall Yas Island project is a fundamental part of Plan Abu Dhabi 20130, which was launched in 2007 by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council as the strategy for the emirate to become a hub for tourism and business.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, run at 5pm local time with the start taking place at sunset and the end of the race under floodlights, has been a major corporate success. “It’s normally sold out, very strong,” says Jim Wright. “There’s great warmth towards the event from the local community and business, great awareness of the event because they do a very good job of promoting it and they’re also smart enough to combine racing with entertainment.”
Mark Gallagher adds: “It’s a great event to visit. The market itself is not a huge one but for international companies who will have an EMEA region Abu Dhabi is a very appealing event for that Middle East/Africa market to bring people and to run consumer marketing programmes.
“It really is a super event and it is the reason, long-term, why Bahrain might ultimately struggle. It’s always been questionable whether the Gulf region can sustain two events.”
While the circuit and event is funded by the government as part of its strategy to use Formula One to promote Abu Dhabi, the man tasked with running Yas Marina Circuit day to day is Irishman Richard Cregan, a former Toyota Formula One team manager who has more than a little motorsport knowledge to impart.
The circuit hosted its first Formula One race in 2009 and, as well as the annual Grand Prix, has become home to an annual young drivers test as well as a variety of other motorsport and community events. Cregan, speaking in 2011, told SportsPro magazine that now the 50,000-capacity circuit has bedded in, day-to-day maintenance is the challenge. “It’s a permanent venue so it’s quite different to a lot of Formula One circuits in the sense that all the grandstands are permanent and require a lot of maintenance, purely because of the harsh conditions of the environment: you have high humidity in the summer and that in itself means you have to have a lot of maintenance. It’s a continuous process.
“The other thing that is happening is our landscaping is maturing nicely. We invest a lot of time and effort to make sure it’s very, very presentable.”