x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pit-side people

Each Formula One race may be different but you can be sure that the types in the stands remain constant from one city to the next.


Jez is in a fluster. He can't find his Brawn baseball hat anywhere and he must have it for today's race. It's part of his look, together with his red leather jacket, covered in a selection of team badges. He is sure that he packed it too. If Jez had a girlfriend, he might not be so disorganised, but given that Jez loves his black VW R32 more than any woman in his life, including his mother, there is no space for a girlfriend. He thinks about cars every six seconds and has been a member of the Top Gear audience several times, but can never work out if he'd rather have Jeremy Clarkson as his father or his best friend.

Conversations with his friends are peppered with mention of cylinders, torque steer and turbochargers. He has his mechanic on speed dial because he is forever tinkering with his engine and he spends more on chamois leathers and car wax than he does on hair gel. Jez has been to several Grand Prix races before now. He loves it all: the blur of the cars, the shriek of the engines, the smell of burning rubber. And with what other sport in the world do you get such speed, such glamour and so many girls dressed in bodycon Lycra outfits? Jez likes to imagine that he could take on the Yas Island track. At home, he is referred to as Boy Racer, a moniker of which Jez is secretly proud, despite having recently turned 30.


Bella works in PR. She has been to several Grand Prix races with her boyfriend before, so she knows the score. She still remembers her first one, at Monaco of course, where she was most surprised at how loud the engines were. She's been planning her outfit for weeks: a pair of skinnies and a little Luella top. Even though she's heard it's 35 degrees, she plans to bring along her Balmain leather jacket. You always need a touch of leather alongside the track, she thinks. It helps to blend in.

She smiles approvingly at herself in the mirror, and parks a pair of oversized Bottega Veneta sunglasses on the top of her head. She flicks her expensive blonde hair over one-shoulder and pulls on a pair of high-heeled Louboutin sandals. With her plastic paddock pass perching on her chest, she's ready for the race. The thing about the Grand Prix circuit, Bella knows, is that you have to be camera-ready at any given moment. So, once there she will constantly check herself out in any reflective surface, and keep nipping to the bathroom to refresh her Touche Eclat. Considering that she was dancing on the tables until late last night at Amber Lounge, she thinks she looks remarkably good.

Being on the Grand Prix social circuit also means that she is on first-name terms with Formula One's first ladies, such as Tamara Ecclestone and the girlfriend of Lewis Hamilton, Nicole Scherzinger. But Bella secretly thinks that being in a girl band is a little vulgar. Jenson's girlfriend Jessica Michibata is a welcome addition to the Formula One team of Wags, though Bella is still a bit peeved that Jenson overlooked her. After all, looking this good is an investment, she muses to herself while applying another coat of Lip Glass.


Brian works for an insurance broker in Dubai, and has been brought to the Grand Prix as a corporate thank-you from one of his clients. He knows little about Formula One, but he will not allow that to stop him from talking about it ? spraying little pieces of crisps on others in the box as he does. "I drive a Porsche Carrera myself," he says to anyone within earshot. They try to move away.

Today, Brian is in celebratory mode, having been saved from the latest round of job cuts, and keeps gesturing for the waiter to top up his glass. He is balding, with a paunch that he really doesn't seem to mind having. "Took a lot of money to put that there," he booms, rubbing it proudly. Brian laughs at his own jokes, and refers to his wife as "the missus." She is having a blissful time at home in Jumeirah without him.

He makes sure that he has introduced himself to everybody else in the box early on and has forked over business cards by the handful. After all, you never know when someone will be useful. "We should do lunch," he tells each of them ingratiatingly. To most, this comes across as a threat. Conversations are constantly broken off by Brian's BlackBerry, which he always answers. "I'm at the Grand Prix," he roars into it above the engine noise, "in Abu Dhabi. Nah, I haven't a clue who's winning, who do you think I am, Michael Schumacher?" He laughs into the phone at his own joke and then hangs up.


Dan has never quite been able to decide what his favourite Aerosmith track is, although he has Walk This Way as his phone ringtone. He has come to Abu Dhabi purely to see his all-time favourite group play, despite having seen them live 14 times before. He is just much relieved that Steven Tyler has recovered from his injuries after falling off stage in South Dakota in August. That's rock 'n' roll for you, Dan thinks.

He has flown into Abu Dhabi from America, on a torturously circuitous route via Amsterdam and Bahrain, because he only booked tickets last month, after Aerosmith had been confirmed. He appreciates that the thousands of dollars he is spending on the trip is a good deal of money, but there is no tour in the pipeline and Tyler and Joe Perry aren't getting any younger. Because he is male, he enjoyed the performance by Beyoncé and reckoned the Kings of Leon were pretty good, too. But really, for Dan it's all about the Toxic Twins.

He wonders who this Jenson Button guy is that everyone is talking about, and although he can name every single Aerosmith album (Toys in the Attic is his favourite), he can barely name a single Formula One team. Ferrari? They're supposed to be pretty good aren't they, he wonders. He will spend most of the day in the food outlets, waiting for those noisy cars to calm down. All this fuss about a race, he sighs, when we have rock greatness in our midst.


Sally is confused. She bought tickets for the Grand Prix as a birthday present for her husband, but she is new to Abu Dhabi and cannot fathom the address system. Or lack of it. Consequently, her Abu Dhabi mini-map rarely leaves her hand and she is wary of each taxi she climbs in. Every financial transaction is fraught, too, because she hasn't got to grips with the strange currency yet. Her husband is tiring of this and sighs heavily every time she tries to pay for a coffee with a Dh500 note.

Sally isn't a huge Formula One fan, but she fancied the idea of a glamorous, sunshine holiday at this time of year. So far this trip, she has been quite content to let her husband explore the track while she lies and relaxes by the pool at their hotel. Most excitingly, she has heard that several A-list celebrities are in town. She can't wait to tell all her friends at home about it. Normally, the closest Sally ever gets to anyone famous is when she's flicking through the pages of Heat magazine.

Today, Sally has packed carefully for the track. Her bag is full of sun-cream lotion and bottled water, she is wearing sensible flat shoes and is carrying a large camera with her in case she suddenly spots someone and needs to take a photograph. Sal doesn't really care about the racing, although that Jenson Button is a bit of a dish and she loved dancing to Beyoncé on Thursday night. She's just looking forward to getting home and uploading her photos on to Facebook..