ABU DHABI // Moments before Sebastian Vettel embarked upon his lonely, untroubled road trip round Yas Marina Circuit, the four-time world champion was at the centre of a swarm of bodies unlike any he has likely seen on a Formula One track.
Forget Cameron Diaz in Monaco or Katy Perry in Singapore, much less Ronaldo in Sao Paulo or even Paul McCartney in Abu Dhabi two years ago. In the entourage stakes, nobody can compare to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
With a 20-deep throng of people surrounding him, Sheikh Mohammed walked the grid alongside F1 commercial rights owner Bernie Ecclestone, soaking up the atmosphere emanating from the sold-out grandstand and taking a keen interest in each of the 22 machines. He posed for photos with marshals and spoke briefly with the drivers, including the always-polite Vettel.
At the other end of the grid, Jean Todt, president of the governing body for world motorsport, was pressing the flesh, while Red Bull Racing’s resident genius Adrian Newey snooped around the Lotus and Ferrari cars with a notepad and pen.
Muse, the British rock group who had wowed fans the previous night at the du Arena, looked just as comfortable amid the mayhem of the grid. While Vettel, no longer the biggest draw on the track, was also no longer the only four-time world champion, either – Carl Fogarty, the world superbikes rider who also has a quartet of titles, also made an appearance.