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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix reveals that celebrities can be groupies, too

The big race weekend saw fans and celebrities in awe of the race drivers

Lewis Hamilton and Will Smith take a selfie in the Mercedes garage before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Getty 
Lewis Hamilton and Will Smith take a selfie in the Mercedes garage before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Getty 

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is quite the event every year, and having covered it for the best part of a decade, I’ve certainly seen a few things in my time on the sidelines. The most startling of these usually have to do with an acknowledgement that celebrities can be “fan boys”, too.

Perhaps it’s due to the sheer ­athleticism that money can’t buy, not to mention the unique mental stamina required, but Formula One is a sport that sees even the most high-profile celebs reduced to racing groupies, as much in awe of the competitors as the rest of the crowd are.

This year’s 10-year anniversary race was no different. Actor Will Smith followed Lewis Hamilton around Yas Marina Circuit like an adoring puppy, taking copious selfies in different locations. It wasn’t tragic in any way; if anything it was endearing and deliciously ironic as it reminded me of Smith’s most popular movie, 1995 action comedy Bad Boys, only this time around the roles were reversed.

Smith was the bumbling detective Marcus Burnett (played by Martin Lawrence) while Hamilton took on Smith’s iconic role of the suave partner, Mike Lowery.

Smith’s antics were perhaps the most obvious, but it didn’t end with him. Pop superstar The Weeknd seemed to also realise that not every wish can be fulfilled. Fresh from his packed performance to more than 30,000 fans at du Arena, the ­Canadian singer and car enthusiast was ­obviously super-excited to be able to take his place behind the driver’s seat of the one-of-a-kind Batman-inspired supercar The Dawn of Justice, but that’s as far as he got. In a video widely shared on Instagram, The Weeknd asked the owner, the Dubai resident and Big Toys store founder Amire Adile, if he could take the beast for a spin – he was politely rebuffed. That said, I would argue that it is musicians such as The Weeknd who are possibly the most likely to appreciate the thrills and spills that come with being a racing car driver.

Not only is their role fuelled by adrenalin, but the job of a singer also requires constant, sometimes year-long travel. No one understood that more than Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. When I sat down with him he looked positively haggard, thanks to a hectic 2018 schedule.

“Where’s the coffee?,” he enquired as soon as he entered the hotel room where we were to talk. Once caffeined up, he admitted to me that a mammoth concert requires a certain amount of mental resilience. Hence his decision, despite being an F1 fan, to only attend the qualifying round on Saturday and skip the big Sunday race in order to prepare for the band’s concert at du Arena later that evening.

Slash’s knowledge of racing held him in good stead, however. He made use of the little time he had at the track to visit the team garages and admire the technical know-how of the talented mechanics.

This is why we have to spare a thought for British soul singer Sam Smith, who arrived at the race not knowing a chicane from a pit board. He charmingly admitted as much to Yas Marina Circuit chief executive Tareq Al Ameri, who greeted him at the track.

“Don’t worry,” Al Ameri said. “Once you experience it you will be hooked.”

If Smith was unconvinced, he would only need to look at Will Smith’s face to understand the fervour the sport inspires among people from all walks of life.

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