Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

F1 race is a reminder of aspirations becoming reality

After the engines fall silent, Yas island will continue to draw crowds

Practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix 2018 at Yas Marina Circuit. Valdin Xhemaj / EPA
Practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix 2018 at Yas Marina Circuit. Valdin Xhemaj / EPA

As 60,000 fans descend on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi today for the 21st and final fixture of the Formula One world championship, race-going enthusiasts will no doubt be able to tell you their favourite moment of the past nine years. Perhaps it was F1’s very first day-night race in 2009 when the kerbs painted the colour of the Arabian Gulf were finally revealed to the public. Or it could have been 2010, when the title went right down to the wire and was decided in the UAE capital for the first time, with Sebastian Vettel snatching the world title; or in 2016, when Nico Rosberg won the championship, then announced it would be his last race ever. Or perhaps those memories have nothing to do with sport and centre on the thrilling line-up of concerts featuring stars like Beyonce, Prince and Rihanna, the after-parties continuing until the early hours or the electric atmosphere on Yas Marina. As the 10th race kicks off tonight, one thing is certain: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has become a firm fixture on the cultural calendar of the UAE and one of the most hotly anticipated events of the year. It is where the world converges, motorsports fans and revellers alike, uniting to celebrate a triumph of prowess, endurance and stamina, a passion that crosses cultures and generations. In a divided world, it is a rare moment of coming together.

The reverberations will be felt long after Lewis Hamilton has been crowned champion on the podium tonight and the cream of the world’s drivers have headed home. They can be seen in the efforts of the likes of Amna Al Qubaisi, now 18 but only nine years old when the first F1 took place in her home country. It sowed the seeds of an enthusiasm that has seen her becoming the first female Arab driver to compete in Formula Four and Formula E. “Everybody is equal on the track,” she declared in an inspiring message to other Arab youth. Indeed, the uptake of motorsports in the region could one day see an Emirati F1 driver competing on the Yas circuit. Beyond the race weekend, Yas Island itself has become a visitor attraction in its own right, attracting millions year-round with its theme parks and shopping complexes while new residential developments will mark the next stage in its evolution from a sand-swept outpost to a vibrant community. When the roar of the F1 engines falls silent, what remains on the island’s 25 square kilometres is a neat reminder of the speed and scale at which aspirations can become reality.