x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Caterers make sure Grand Prix fans are well fed

The Life: Crews of dedicated caterers at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix make sure racing fans are well fed and catered to.

An army of workers ensure that the Grand Prix is an enjoyable experience for the thousands of fans who attend the event. Christopher Pike / The National
An army of workers ensure that the Grand Prix is an enjoyable experience for the thousands of fans who attend the event. Christopher Pike / The National

"It feels like we are a world away. It is only when the doors open for a few seconds and we hear the cars, we realise where we are," says Manuela Stade, who came all the way from Germany to work as a caterer at the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the weekend.

The race has become one of the emirate's most prestigious events and attracts up to 50,000 racing fans each day in the build-up to the world's only twilight F1 race.

Every year in November, Yas Island becomes a hub of activity, its energy palpable as the drivers complete their laps on the Yas Marina Circuit with a deafening roar.

The weekend was a busy one for Ms Stade. "We try to get a glimpse of what is happening out there, but most of the time we are just running around," she says. Ms Stade is stationed in the VIP main stand section, serving customers with prime seats. Along the corridor, there are small lounges and a food station manned by half a dozen or so workers. It is their job to make sure everyone is well fed and catered to.

As soon as the doors open to the seating area, a loud roar reverberates around the lounge. As the cars race past, some strain their necks to see what is happening, but most just carry on with their work.

"It's a really nice atmosphere," she says. "There are some people here from Germany, locals, some international students. It's really mixed and it's nice to get to know everybody."

As well as the catering employees, there are customer services reps stationed around the lounge. Their job is to make sure that each guest is clued up and in the right place and seat. "We know everything about the event," says 25-year-old Mohamad Hasna, one of about 600 customer services reps. "If anyone has a question, we can answer them. There are 24 drivers for the F1 and 24 drivers for the V8 supercars; I counted them," he says with certainty.

By day, Mr Hasna is a civil engineer based in Abu Dhabi. But for four days every year, he joins the legion of workers who help to ensure the F1 runs smoothly.

"Things have improved a lot since the first F1 four years ago," he says. "It is better organised now, so we don't have many problems." Mr Hasna's only difficulty this year was to stop one guest smoking. "We had someone trying to smoke secretly in his seat, so we had to inform him it is not allowed," he says.

Every worker has to be ready and in position by 9.30am, when the doors open to the first guests. But the day begins much earlier for them: 6am. They wake up, have breakfast, then head down to the Yas Marina Circuit. They are briefed on the day's events at 9am.

Lakmal, a 34-year-old security guard from Dubai, who did not want to give his surname, is an F1 veteran. This is his fourth Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and it is one of his favourite events in the year. "I love cars and I love the F1." he says, with a broad grin spread across his face.

"My team is McLaren and it is great to see drivers like Lewis Hamilton. The best experience is seeing the final race, it makes me very happy."

There are more than 500 security workers patrolling the corridors and the circuit, ensuring the night unfolds without trouble. For Lakmal, the worst experience is having to deal with some rowdy fans, who require more than a little nudge to leave the venue at closing time, but generally the people are well-behaved, he says.

Once the final guests leave about 8pm, the day finally winds down for the staff who have been on their feet all day with just half an hour break for lunch.

Yet despite the fatigue, they are already looking forward to their shifts next year.

"We come here to enjoy the time," says Mr Hasna. "We can watch the race with the people here, but the most important thing is to take care of the guests."