ABU DHABI // The first Formula One cars took to the track at the Yas Marina Circuit yesterday, marking the capital's arrival on the world motor racing scene. While the serious racing will not take place until today's qualifiers, the first practice session in the heat of Yas Island yesterday afternoon provided an opportunity for the 20 drivers to acquaint themselves with the newest kid on the F1 block.
It was more of a success for some than others. The 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, for example, showed a deft awareness of the demands of the circuit while his McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen recorded the quickest lap of the day, 1 minute, 41.307 seconds, in the final minutes of the evening session at the 5.55km track. For many fans, it was their first opportunity to see F1 cars in action. Many described the experience as an enthralling attack on the senses.
"It is overwhelming," said Jerry Aguinaldo, 42, a Filipino electrical inspector from Abu Dhabi who was given a ticket by his boss after working on the nearby Ferrari World project. "This is my chance, a once-in-a-lifetime thing." More than 15,000 fans attended the final practice session, with crowds expected to grow today. After the second practice session, Christian Horner, the principal of the Red Bull team, said: "It is unbelievable, really. The bar has been raised. It is incredible what the country has done to build such a venue as this."
With the expected increase in crowds over the rest of the weekend, police yesterday advised fans to arrive at the venue in ample time. They said fans should arrive at the circuit tomorrow by 2pm. A final hour-long practice session begins at 2pm today and represents the last opportunity for drivers to familiarise themselves with the circuit's demands before the serious business starts. Qualifying under the floodlights at 5pm will decide who will be on pole for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tomorrow evening.
Qualifying tonight will be followed by a concert by the American band Kings of Leon. firstname.lastname@example.org