You could be forgiven for thinking the Abu Dhabi Formula One was a luxurious entertainment festival rather than a sporting event
Abu Dhabi GP: How the entertainment and sporting worlds are brought together
It is understandable to think F1 drivers only have one thing on their minds when arriving in Abu Dhabi.
However, instead of solely focusing on the final race of the season on Sunday, they arrive in the capital up to four days earlier for a series of engagements more fit for a Hollywood star than an athlete. Then again, no event melds the sporting and entertainment worlds together like Formula 1 racing. From the sponsor events held at idyllic locations in the UAE and the pristine hospitality lounges of the Paddock Club alongside the Yas Marina Circuit, to the exclusive yacht and nightclub parties, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a luxurious entertainment festival rather than a sporting event.
“You get used to it after a while,” Mercedes F1 driver Valtteri Bottas told me as he sat down for our interview at the Saadiyat Beach Club where he was guest of honour for an event hosted by luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen.
The day before he was the man of the hour for clothing brand Hugo Boss in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates.
With all that fan attention, brand managers and photographers, no wonder Valtteri relishes his solitude. “I don’t listen much to music,” he explained. “I love the sound and stillness of nature.”
Meanwhile, his fellow Finn, rival Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen at least found thrills in his pre-race duties. Not that you would know - known as the "Iceman”, Raikkonen’s normally emotionless face cracked a hint of a smile as he was catapulted in the air as part of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi’s signature rollercoaster Turbo Track.
Meanwhile, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen conducted interviews on Friday to a thumping soundtrack at the exclusive Tag Heuer Lounge, a pop-up venue located on the harbour side of Yas Marina. Joining the Belgian-Dutch driver was one of the world’s top DJ’s, Martin Garrix, who relaxed on the plush couches before his 2am gig at du Forum later that night.
The 21-year-old Dutchman, who admitted to living out of his suitcase, says there are some similarities between the F1 and the music industry, in that both “are a world of craziness”.
On Sunday, A-list celebrities are set to converge at The Paddock Club for the big race, an exclusive area that hosted some relatively big names in the first few days of the event.
“Liam Cunningham is here again,” said a Yas Marina Circuit staff member, referring to the Game of Thrones actor and enthusiastic petrolhead. “He came on his own accord.”
Also seen strolling the area and checking out the Red Bull garage was Anna Nooshin, who hosts the hit television series Holland’s Next Top Model.
Armed with a sparkling new phone and a cutting-edge camera, her first visit to Abu Dhabi was to collect blogging content for her half-a-million followers on social media. “Each blogger has a different approach,” she explained as she took selfies at the team’s hospitality lounge.
“I don’t come here with a plan. I keep it all organic and make the photos personal. The more professional they are the more they seem distant to my fans.”
"Right," I muttered, as I also hoped to capture my own Instagrammable moment with all the delectable food on offer.
Red Bull maybe an energy brand, but the food here was hearty enough to put one to sleep: there were fine cuts of steak and rich mashed potatoes, a great selection of cheeses and desserts, including decadent chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream.
“In a way, this is like a rehearsal,” said a cheery staff member, serving up my mini-feast. “On Sunday it is showtime.”
The Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix race is held on Sunday at the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island at 5pm. For details go to www.yasmarinacircuit.com