x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

On the home straight

Feature With a workforce of 33,000, everyone associated with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is 100% certain the track will be ready for November 1.

Construction work continues apace at the Yas Marina island-based circuit  which will stage the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov 1.
Construction work continues apace at the Yas Marina island-based circuit which will stage the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov 1.

With a workforce of 33,000 and construction taking place around the clock in two 10-hour shifts per day, everyone associated with the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is 100 per cent confident the building site will be a world class Grand Prix track before the Nov 1 race day. Richard Cregan, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management's new general team manager, may be new to the capital - he arrived here just a few weeks ago - but he is already confident the inaugural Grand Prix will be a success. "It has to be a success and it will be," he says, adding that the real work begins after the Grand Prix in ensuring the Yas Marina island-based circuit is used for other motor sport events as well corporate events and driving school activities.

"That is what will take the effort and the commitment." But Cregan is confident the circuit, when completed, will become an essential part of Abu Dhabi as well as a vital part of the motor sports scene locally and internationally. "There will be two control rooms and two tracks so you can have two races running at the same time." He left his position as team manager of the Toyota Formula 1 team after 25 years with the organisation and he is quick to discuss the current state of F1.

On the end of the Honda racing team, announced last December, he says: "It is sad to see a team in that situation, the sport needs established teams but I understand the pressure that they are under. It has become so expensive to run an F1 team and it is out of bounds for a lot of people." Despite the times, however, Cregan can see at least one positive to come out of the recession for F1. "There's an economic crisis, it's a severe time for everyone but it creates opportunities to streamline things," he says. "And it creates opportunities to be creative when people have to work with less budgets."

When asked about whether tobacco sponsorship should be brought back to help fill the F1 coffers, he is honest and humorous. "When tobacco sponsorship was banned, everyone said 'Let's get the blue chip companies involved' but now they have no money either," Cregan says. Then, with tongue firmly in cheek, he adds, "Prozac - who makes that? They must be doing well at the moment, maybe the pharmaceutical companies can get on board."

But all joking aside, Cregan describes the massive logistical project of ensuring a successful Grand Prix as "a team effort" and Etihad, the title sponsor is one of the most important parts of that team. "You can be sure we are working together with Etihad, clearly this is one of their most important projects too, because of the exposure it means for them." Etihad has already had international exposure at Grand Prix events last year as part of a three-year deal to sponsor the Ferrari racing team, winners of the 2008 constructors' championship.

With the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix precisely 259 days away, how ready is the circuit for what will be an internationally televised event? The start/finish straight of the Yas Marina circuit is a bumpy concrete road better suited to an old jeep than an expensively engineered F1 machine. But with the main grandstand taking shape on one side and pit lane on the other, it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to conjure up the cars lining up on the grid on Nov 1. Meanwhile, the horseshoe-shaped northern grandstand is overlooking the first tarmac. a series of thrilling bends, to be laid at the circuit.

Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management CEO, Philippe Gurdjian says the tarmac will definitely be laid in the next few months. "We are laying tarmac today because when the temperature is high outside, it takes a very long time to set," he says. "We will not be laying the tarmac in 50-degree heat." Then comes the all-important testing of the track. "We'll be testing very soon - we need to test for wear and for the texture of the track," Gurdjian says.

The track will also feature a 1.2km straight where drivers are expected to reach speeds of 317kph. If any cars spin off the track in front of the western grandstand at the end of this long straight, there is a runoff area so errant drivers will be safely under the grandstand and not running over race officials or spectators. The multiple grandstands are an important part of the design ensuring that spectators will be able to see large portions the track during the race.

While F1 racing does not have a reputation as a green sport, the circuit features the Sun Tower. a solar powered facility and a prime spot for viewing of the race. The design of the outside of the tower is based on traditional Arab male formal robes. Said El Khouri, Aldar's marketing and communications manager for the Yas Island project, says that seven hotels will be operational for the Grand Prix including the much talked-about Yas Marina Hotel, a spectacular structure that will straddle the track.

"Yas Marina, adjacent to the track, will also be completed by race day," says El Khouri. "You will be able to watch the race from your boat." Along with the racetrack, Yas Island will feature three theme parks which developers Aldar hope will attract visitors. At the north of the track Ferrari World, featuring the world's fastest roller coaster, is well under construction. A Warner Brother theme park and a water park are at different stages of development and construction and will open between 2011 and 2013, but Aldar remains tight-lipped as to exactly when. Two golf courses, a business park, residential developments for more than 100,000 people, a hospital and schools are also planned.

Naturally, there will be a mall on Yas Island as well: "It'll be about 300,000 square metres," says El Khouri. "About the same size as Mall of the Emirates." El Khouri says that Aldar has also committed to making sure the workers on the project are living in quality accommodation, describing their living conditions as "well above industry standard" with facilities such as "state of the art kitchens, cricket pitches and football pitches" at the four residential villages for staff. It will be a very busy 259 days indeed for these workers.