ABU DHABI // The shimmering shell of the Yas Hotel dominates the skyline, but Bernie Ecclestone believes it is the man-made marina on Yas Island that provides a piece de resistance capable of eclipsing even the hallowed quay of Monte Carlo.
The Yas Marina Circuit, which cost in the region of US$400 million (Dh1.47 billion) and opened its gates for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, is the centre of attention once more as the Formula One season approaches one of the most exciting climax in its 61-year history tonight.
Ecclestone, the F1 chief executive who was influential in the February 2007 decision to bring the motorsport showcase to the UAE, said he is amazed by the standards set by the circuit. He is in no doubt that few international cities - if any - can compete when it comes to providing such grand facilities. With a "blank canvas" of an empty island, track designers had free rein to propose a unique circuit that could rival the best in the world.
With run-off areas that protrude under the stands, underground pit exits and a paddock that backs on to a luxurious docking area for some of the world's most expensive yachts, Ecclestone believes the designers achieved their goal.
"I was shattered to think that this is a better-looking marina than Monte Carlo," said Ecclestone from a seat in the plush paddock. "There are a lot of people who would like to, but there are not many people who can follow this.
"Forget the finance, the effort these people have put behind it to get to where we are in such a short period is incredible. I mean, it is not just a case of building a race track; they have built an island as well to put the race track on."
It seems fitting, then, that Abu Dhabi is where the most important race of the season will take place.
The season-ending race is a coveted place on the F1 calendar and there was whispered disappointment when the provisional 2011 schedule revealed Brazil's Interlagos to be the final race venue and Abu Dhabi the penultimate event.
Ecclestone said he has "never understood" why grand prix organisers desire the season-ending race, but added nothing is confirmed yet and that Abu Dhabi could yet secure it for next season.
"It is a big risk being the last race of the championship, because you just don't know how it will unfold - it could have all happened in Brazil [this year]," he said.
When asked whether there is a possibility for Abu Dhabi to close out the season next year, Ecclestone replied: "We'll see. It's not scheduled to be, but whether we can change it or not … Let's have a look and see."
India will host its first grand prix next year, taking the number of races on the calendar to 20 and resulting in a longer season.
Demand is high, with Russia and Rome both vying for future races, but Ecclestone said it would be difficult to include new venues without sacrificing others. Events in Turkey and China have struggled for spectators in recent years.
"I think 20 races it about as much as we want," he said. "We would have to have a good look at more than 20 and see who we would be willing to lose. Sometimes it takes a bit of time.
"Here is not so bad, but when we first moved out to Bahrain, if you had said three years before that 'Formula One', people would have looked at you and said 'What the hell is that guy talking about?' So it takes time.
"Don't forget in Europe these races have being going on for 60 years. I am surprised, though, how quickly people here have got behind it."