DUBAI // The vast number of people who volunteered to train as marshals at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could have put the UAE in the driving seat to achieve the FIA's prestigious Gold Level status.
The Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) has been in overdrive for the past year since launching a bid for Gold status, which is decided on criteria such as facilities, the training of officials and driver education.
A five-year plan for the Abu Dhabi Grand prix to be self sufficient in terms of UAE-based volunteers and officials has been achieved in just three.
Officials from the FIA Institute, the education and development arm of motorsport's governing body, have visited the country to evaluate the bid, and the ATC is confident of getting the nod when the announcement is made in a few weeks from now. "The FIA have come along and they have studied us," Ronan Morgan, the ATC motorsport director, said.
"They have come here and seen what we have done.
"We had then to prove to them that we had the expertise to go and train other people around the world."
Only three countries - the UK, Australia and Spain - currently enjoy the Gold status, which allows them to work with other countries around the world and assist in the development of motorsport.
"Over the last three or four years we had a very intense campaign to train our own marshals here and all our officials, particularly to build up to the pinnacle of the sport, which is Formula One," said Morgan.
"We had a five-year plan when we started out. In year five we were going to become self-sufficient, in other words, have completely home-grown talent here in the UAE. We have now achieved that two years early, so the third year, which is this year, we will be completely self-sufficient in our training needs.
"So we will have everybody who will be working at this grand prix here, the 700 volunteers that we have, all from the UAE, a mixture of 64 different nationalities."
Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of the ATCUAE and a vice-president of the FIA, is determined to put the UAE alongside the sport's elite nations. "We strive to reach the levels of countries who have a history of over a century in the sport," he said. "That is what we are looking for.
"How long can we go on importing [officials and expertise]; we need to start exporting. We cannot just sit here and say the ATC is the sporting organiser of Formula One and go on importing marshals and officials from outside.
"I don't think that is right. You don't feel like it is your event then."
Ben Sulayem realised the race for Gold status has not yet been won but the finishing line is now in sight.
"We have competition from other countries, so we don't know what is going to happen but our bid is strong," he said.
"We have been working very hard and working with the right people, he added.
"We are very excited and hopeful, and when and if we are granted this Gold status, it will be the start of a new era for us."