ABU DHABI // The drivers have checked into their hotels, the cars are being rebuilt and the sporting event of the year starts today.
Thousands of Formula One fans will cram into the pit lane at the Yas Marina Circuit for their first look at the fastest open-wheel racers in the world.
The buzz began this week when the containers holding the cars landed from the Indian Grand Prix. On Monday, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management staff moved from their HQ at the track to the race control centre, where they work with Formula One Management.
“Once you move them over there and start meeting team personnel, Formula One Management and FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), you know it’s game on,” said Richard Cregan, managing director of ADMM, the track operator.
Scrutineering of the cars – examination by technical officials – begins today and three-day ticket holders can get up close to the cars during the traditional pit lane walk.
“Last year, 6,000 people came for the pit lane walk,” Mr Cregan said. “There’s people who have flown in from overseas who would have been here for maybe three to six days beforehand. This is the kick-off for the whole event.
“The families turn up as well and it’s a front-row seat along the pit lane. They can see the cars and the drivers and the garages are left open and the fans can see the drivers.”
General admission tickets have sold out and organisers hit their goal of 35 per cent for overseas visitors. Yesterday, they reported just 275 tickets remaining in the high-end Category 1 Al Dhiyafa, at Dh4,420.
The real action starts for ticket holders on Friday when the Australian V8 Supercars test the track’s 21 turns at 10.15am before the F1 cars get a shot at the 5.5-kilometre circuit. Yas Marina has one of the longest straights of any race in the season. Ticket holders will collect a wristband to see the Australian singer Kylie Minogue at the end of the evening.
The first of two Australian V8 races starts at 10am on Saturday, with the F1 cars starting their third practice session at 2pm.
Formula One qualifying starts at 5pm. Afterward, race fans can make their way to du Arena to see the Canadian rock band Nickelback.
The third V8 race will kick off race day at 1.30pm.
In an effort to get fans into their seats before the race starts, organisers have created a contest that will bring race-goers from each stand down to the winner’s circle to see the winning driver receive his trophy after the race. There will also be a chance to get into the Golden Circle at the night’s Eminem concert after the race concludes.
In-stand entertainment will wind-down at 4.20pm with fans urged to take their seats by 4.30pm. The race starts at 5pm.
ADMM has increased the variety of food available at concession stands and, according to Mr Cregan, there will be more varied entertainment.
“We’re looking at what customers want,” he said. “It’s not about what we think they want.”
After each Grand Prix, ADMM conducts a detailed survey of 1,000 fans and makes adjustments to the fan experience based on feedback.
“The survey covers 22 points from the signage, getting there, security, cleanliness, the quality of the food, the price, to the entertainment,” said Nick McElwee, the sales and marketing director at Yas Marina Circuit. “That is why we know the pit lane walk is very popular as it’s high up in the order of things they enjoy.”
The survey found an 86 per cent overall satisfaction rate in 2010 but after some changes, satisfaction increased to 92 per cent last year.
By the time the race starts, more than 5,000 staff will have been involved directly with the race and the buildup.
“There’s a lot of unsung heroes out there,” Mr Cregan said. “There’s a huge amount of people behind the scenes including all those known entities to the smaller guys.”
While confident everything was under control for the big event, he was still hoping the flowers in the paddock would bloom by the time the world’s eyes fall on the track for a fourth time.
“Everyone from the guy who made those flower beds look pristine has helped deliver this,” he said.