Of the 11 teams contesting the 2013 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Toro Rosso will start Sunday’s race in eighth position in team points. They are unlikely to improve on that, nor are they expected to have one of their two drivers on the podium at the end of it.
What they can count on is a few more cheers than they would usually expect from the crowds that will fill Yas Marina Circuit and stand on Abu Dhabi Hill.
When the green flag signals the start of action Sunday, “Kullunna Khalifa”, a logo signifying UAE pride, will be on the side of both Toro Rosso cars for the world to see.
The symbol, literally meaning “We are all Khalifa” as a tribute to the President of the UAE, has been promoted by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), and will, by the end of the weekend, have potentially been seen by a television audience of more than 200 million.
“Kullunna Khalifa is something very important to us here at IPIC and we thought this was a wonderful opportunity to promote UAE pride,” said Khadem Al Qubaisi, the managing director of IPIC.
“The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a fantastic occasion for everyone in the county. It puts Abu Dhabi in the international spotlight and every year people work so hard to make it all happen.”
The message was designed to raise pride in the achievements of the country across many fields, and not just sporting ones.
However, its appearance on the side of Toro Rosso’s cars has more significance for motor racing and signals the UAE’s increasing involvement in Formula One.
This may be the fifth edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but, beyond Etihad’s obvious sponsorship, Kullunna Khalifa and IPIC’s involvement will be the most high-profile backing by an Emirati institution for any particular team yet.
Toro Rosso is sponsored by three Abu Dhabi institutions: IPIC, Falcon Associates and Nova Chemicals. The backing has come about due to Toro Rosso’s willingness to invest in motorsport in this region.
“Everything came together when we were discussing future projects,” said Franz Tost, Toro Rosso’s team principal.
“The Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi is something very special; the venue is unbelievable. So we discussed with people from Abu Dhabi what we can do for the future, for example to find [Emirati] drivers and to train them, and we were also thinking about building some tracks there.”
Tost believes it is too early to be putting a time frame on when the first Emirati driver will take part in a Formula 1 race.
“It’s always dangerous to talk of 10-year plans,” he said.
For Toro Rosso on Sunday there will be added pressure on Daniel Ricciardo, who will be leaving to join their sister team, the constructors’ champions Red Bull Racing, next season.
The big prizes for the season have been settled with Sebastian Vettel having already wrapped up the drivers’ title , but Ricciardo should get added attention as he prepares to become Vettel’s teammate.
Vettel remains the only driver to have won for Toro Rosso, at the Italian Grand Prix in 2008.
Ricciardo may not emulate that before he departs, but he will be looking to leave on a high, starting tomorrow.
“I really enjoy Yas Marina Circuit, it’s definitely in my top three races,” Ricciardo, 24, said after landing in Abu Dhabi.
“The fact that it’s the only twilight race on the calendar ensures there’s always a great atmosphere.”
Ricciardo’s goal will be to improve on recent performances in Abu Dhabi.
In 2011, driving for the now-defunct Hispania Racing Team, he started 20th on the grid and failed to finish the race after encountering mechanical problems.
Last year, with Toro Rosso, he scored one championship point while finishing 10th.
He will be hoping for an even better finish in his third-to-last race for Toro Rosso.
And he is not the only one who will be enjoying himself.
“We will have 150 guests and we’ve planned a big event,” Tost said.
“For us, it’s like a home grand prix. We have many friends over there and I said to our people that Abu Dhabi will become one of the most important races for us.
“It’s a very beautiful country, very beautiful track. It’s warm, it’s sunny, I’m always looking forward to it.”
Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE