ABU DHABI // The driver slips into the narrow seat, elbows tucked against his sides, with little room to manoeuvre. Sitting barely inches from the ground, he feels every bump on the track and the tug of every curve as the engine whines behind him, the car appearing to travel at 300 kph. The simulation, which will be set up at the F1 FanZone on the Corniche, offers an unusually realistic sense of what a Formula One driver will experience racing around Yas Marina Circuit during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It is one of numerous sensations that fans will be able to share this weekend at the FanZone, starting two weeks' activities and events on the Corniche building up to the Grand Prix itself on November 1.
A series of car-related films will be broadcast on a giant screen on the beach from next Thursday night, while several days of live music, with acts such as Myriam Fares, Soul II Soul and Timbaland, commence on the evening of Tuesday, October 27. The six simulators, shaped like the nose cone of a Ferrari F1 car, are expected to be one of the main attractions at the FanZone, located adjacent to Khaleej al Arabi Street along the Corniche.
"It's the closest you will get to driving an actual F1 car," said David Sanderson, the event director for Fast Track Middle East. "We wanted people to have an experience they had never had before and get a real feel of what F1 is about. "If you go over the gravel, you feel it. If you hit something and your wing comes off, you feel the difference in the aerodynamics of the car. If you are using slick tyres, you can feel the difference."
The FanZone, which opens today at 3pm, is sponsored by Mubadala, the strategic investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government which bought a five per cent stake in Ferrari in 2005 and has sponsored the Italian team since 2007. Fast Track Middle East handles marketing and sponsorships for Mubadala's Ferrari interest. At the FanZone entrance, visitors will be greeted by holograms of the Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen, who will drive his final race for the team in Abu Dhabi, and Felipe Massa, who will not drive on Yas Island after fracturing his skull at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July.
"I have no doubt," says the hologram Raikkonen in his unmistakably Finnish drawl, "that Abu Dhabi is set to be one of the most exciting destinations on the F1 calendar." Further inside, visitors will get as close as they probably ever will to experiencing the life of an F1 driver or crew member. The simulators, built in Thailand over the past six months after being commissioned by Mubadala for the Corniche event, cannot replicate the tremendous forces pulling on F1 drivers. But those competing in the challenge on the Corniche will feel the bumps, scrapes and bends of the track they follow on the screen.
While the simulation, developed by a Canadian company, is not an exact copy of the Yas Marina Circuit, the "Welcome to Abu Dhabi" signs on the start-finish straight pass for the UAE track. Fans will also have a chance to experience what it is like to work on a pit crew, trying to change four tyres and refuel a car in less than 10 seconds. Teams of four people will go through a complete pit stop on a 2005-model Ferrari car, albeit one bearing the team's 2009 livery.
While a professional F1 team would be expected to pump 12 litres of fuel into the car per second and change all four tyres weighing up to 11kg each in just seconds, those trying the same task on the Corniche are unlikely to be able to perform to such a high standard. A substitute liquid will be used instead of fuel, making the Corniche pit stop considerably safer than its Yas Island equivalent. While the attractions on the Corniche will provide entertainment for the next two weeks, Sara al Shorouqi, the senior manager of marketing and communications with Mubadala, said the organisation hoped to inform the city about its involvement in F1 and the possible career opportunities that spring from that association.
"Our objective is to get youngsters interested in a sport other than football, but also get them interested in what goes on behind the scenes," she said. "We have gone to a number of grands prix and seen the collaboration in the teams and the leadership aspects of the teams. Because we are set to develop business leaders within the UAE, we wanted to look at how to develop leadership from a cool perspective."
The organisation is distributing 25,000 Ferrari caps boasting the Mubadala marque in the weeks leading up to the race, when a wave of red should be seen across the city and in the stands of the Yas Marina Circuit. This weekend a large screen on the Corniche will show the Brazilian Grand Prix, which will determine whether the race in two weeks in Abu Dhabi, the final event of the season, will be the title decider.
The British driver Jenson Button leads his Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello by six points in the contest for the world championship, with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel two points further back. The first practice sessions from Sao Paulo will be screened today from 5pm, with the race beamed live from 9pm on Sunday. The race will be preceded by a Brazilian parade along the Corniche beginning at 6pm.