ABU DHABI // The cars are packed away, the fans have gone home and another Formula One season is at an end. And yet the real work, in many ways, began yesterday. No longer is the Yas Marina Circuit purely an F1 venue, and no longer is Yas Island accessible only to those with a pass to the Grand Prix. It is now as open a part of the capital as Hamdan Street or the Corniche.
And its key feature, the Yas Hotel, is available to everyone. While the entire Yas Island development is far from finished, phase one - completing the circuit - can now be ticked off. A series of races early next year will be the next time the circuit is used. First will be the Masters Historic Racing Series, featuring classic F1 cars from the 1950s and 1960s, from January 21 to 23. A month later, the Australian V8 series will come calling.
Richard Cregan, the chief executive of the circuit, said work on preparing the year-round activities at the track would begin immediately, adding that yesterday heralded "the beginning of a new era in terms of the Yas Marina Circuit". He added: "We are working on the timetable for next year and we are starting with this great event in January. "Then we have the V8s coming and then the first round of the FIA GP. We have also got a lot of corporate events on the cards.
"When people are sitting there looking at the pictures [of Yas] on their TV screens, they are going to want to have events here - we have a hotel, marina, golf course, the whole of Ferrari World coming on-stream next year. "The important thing is to look back at the Grand Prix and look back at the weekend. We can start using this facility for what it was intended for, which is a year-round facility."
The marina-side media centre, which can accommodate up to 600 people, will double as a conference facility for the rest of the year. The paddock buildings, which served as the base for all 10 teams and members of the Royal Family over the weekend, can each hold one-off events. Further away from the track, a drag strip almost a kilometre long has been completed and sits beside the north grandstand. A complex figure-of-eight karting track has been built, and from next year will open to the public. It will also act as a testing ground for the country's young driving talent, who will benefit from the circuit's driving academy.
Further details on the opening date of the drag strip and karting complex are expected in the coming weeks. Ferrari World, the 200,000-square metre theme park, will open in time for next year's Grand Prix, which is provisionally scheduled for October 31. A corner of the theme park was the venue this weekend for a series of concerts by Beyoncé, Jamiroquai, Kings of Leon and Aerosmith. The site was capable of holding up to 70,000 people, and about 40,000 attended the Beyoncé concert on Thursday.
About 155,000 people attended the concerts, said John Lickrish, the managing director of Flash Entertainment, the organisers. The popularity of the events should lead to Yas Island becoming a regular fixture on the capital's concert calendar, he said. "We always had the intention of doing other things there, and not just a one-off event," he said. "Aldar [Ferrari World developers] now want to freeze construction in that area for a while until we come back to them about having a semi-permanent set-up there.
"For us, it is a fantastic site with fantastic access, and when the whole development is done, we can have auxiliary things around. It is perfect for a festival type event, and you can play music until 4am and not disturb anyone." No other concerts will be held on Yas until the 2010 race, said Mr Lickrish. The Creamfields dance music festival and a concert by the American artists The Killers and Rihanna will be held at the Emirates Palace hotel, partly because organisers wanted to see if Ferrari World was a successful venue for concerts before arranging more events for the same site.
Mr Lickrish said: "We weren't sure if [Yas] was going to work, or if there were going to be issues. If there was a disaster, holding three shows there would not have worked." From today, the public will be able to get a glimpse inside the key feature of the circuit - the Yas Hotel, which featured so prominently in television coverage of the Grand Prix weekend. Jean-François Laurent, the hotel manager, was happy with the opening even with the added pressure of its first guests, which included film stars, F1 drivers and royalty. It was, he said, "a statement for Abu Dhabi".
He said he received "amazing" comments from the drivers staying there this weekend, and had to reject multiple booking requests for next year's Grand Prix weekend as they were not taking bookings yet. Posted rates at the 499-room, five-star hotel start at Dh3,500 (US$950). Two presidential suites, which have 28 rooms in total, cover the entire sixth and seventh floors of the hotel - 2,531 square metres in total. The suites, the biggest in the Gulf, are available for a cool Dh20,000 a night.
But later this month, some rooms will go for only Dh750. "We are not an exclusive hotel," said Mr Laurent. "We don't want to limit access. It is open to the public, it is like any other hotel in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. But we know a large number of people will want to visit the place." Paul Bell, the managing director of Aldar Hotels and Hospitality, said: "This is the new face of Abu Dhabi for the 600 million people who watched the race. It is the identifiable face of Abu Dhabi."
As well as being the face of the new Abu Dhabi, the Yas Marina Circuit also offered a tantalising glimpse of how the capital is likely to look in the future. While the hotel and circuit garnered most of the attention over the weekend, smaller details in the design were, in fact, just as significant. Pavements on the island are noticeably free of potholes, and kerbs are uniformly lower at crossings - something that will eventually be seen across the capital.
At a panel discussion about the Yas Marina Circuit held by New York University Abu Dhabi last month, Khaldoon al Mubarak, the circuit chairman, said the development would act as a blueprint for the city's future. "We used Yas as almost the future urban component within the overall city of Abu Dhabi and we wanted to test things out. "Pay attention to the sidewalks and the materials used there. They are very different from what is being used in Abu Dhabi.
"Pay attention to the lights. There is an obvious approach towards sidewalks, where there are bicycle routes covering almost throughout the island. There are walkways carefully shaded to be conducive to walking. "These are things not typical for Abu Dhabi which hopefully will be typical in the future." @Email:email@example.com