ABU DHABI // Throughout the weekend, he has handled the Yas Marina Circuit as though he has known it for years. Today, Lewis Hamilton will start the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in pole position. The McLaren driver completed his qualifying lap yesterday in a time of one minute, 40.948 seconds, putting him ahead of the Red Bull teammates, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
"It was definitely as fun as it looked," the Briton said. His girlfriend, the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, beamed from the paddock and the team immediately began preparing for the first competitive assault on Yas today. As the F1 action got more serious last night, so did the crowds. Some of the five grandstands were near capacity, with a crowd estimated at about 40,000. Just before 5pm today, after the national anthem has been played and an Etihad Airways fly-past is over, the lights surrounding the Yas Marina Circuit will be switched on.
The winner - who many are predicting will be Hamilton after yesterday's confident performance - will be handed the trophy and will spray sparkling rose water over his fellow drivers on the podium. That will bring to an end another F1 grand prix season, the first of at least seven in which Abu Dhabi appears on the calendar. It may not have been the championship decider that honour went to Sao Paulo, Brazil two weeks ago but its novelty has fired the imagination of spectators and journalists.
"This place is stunning," Hamilton said. "They all said it was going to be a great event but it is unbelievable. What they have been able to create is fantastic and I expect more and more people will want to come here in the future." The American band Kings of Leon drew a large crowd after the qualifying session yesterday. What is proving to be a weekend to remember for Abu Dhabi will come to an end tonight with a performance by Aerosmith.
Let the race begin.