x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: The world’s window on Abu Dhabi

About 130 million people worldwide witnessed the drama of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – but no one had a better view than the 5,000 on the new Abu Dhabi Hill.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and his teammate Mark Webber celebrate their 1-2 in yesterday’s Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Christopher Pike / The National
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and his teammate Mark Webber celebrate their 1-2 in yesterday’s Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Christopher Pike / The National

abu dhabi // Abu Dhabi Hill: they built it, and the people came.

The Hill was created to make the race more accessible to fans, and they came from Germany and India, Russia and Scotland, and from across the UAE.

They watched the cars emerge from the huge shadow of the main grandstand. A long approach to the north grandstand. A tight turn. Past the control tower, on to the west grandstand. Then a brief disappearance behind the main grandstand and Yas Viceroy Hotel. Until the deafening noise signalled the start of Lap 2.

For fans on the newly opened Hill, that panoramic view of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix barely required a crane of the neck. And it was theirs for only Dh395.

On the Hill’s main side, “Abu Dhabi” was written in big white letters. Across the track, the national flag.

The best vantage points, with multiple views, were predictably crowded, but not uncomfortably so. Still, if you got a good spot, you kept it. “These views are incredible,” said Antoine Saad, from Lebanon. “I’m glad we came up here.”

Moments before the start, a jet decorated in the colours of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix appeared overhead, and not for the first or last time, mobile phones clicked into action.

“This is huge,” race fan David Dunn said. “Everyone across the world is watching: it’s a great window for Abu Dhabi.”

David and his wife Charlotte moved to Abu Dhabi from England just over a year ago but missed out on the 2012 race. The hill piqued their interest. “When we heard about this we decided to come.”

There was a bonus, too, with the weekend concerts. “My wife is a big fan of Muse, and I’m a big fan of Depeche Mode,” he said. “An epic end to an epic day.”

The majority on the Hill simply lounged. The heat, initially, was harsh, and homemade food was prohibited, but the temperature was dropping and picnic baskets were on sale.

As ever, the red of Ferrari stood out. A few Red Bull hats, and the odd Lotus T-shirt. Endearingly, several banners of support for the man who had dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons going into the race. Kimi Raikkonen had been banished to the back of the grid, but his fans were defiant.

A couple from Finland held a flag that simply said “Kimi”. Thumbs aloft, the message was that their man would be all right on the night. He was not; he went out on the first turn. Mark Webber may have been first on the grid, but Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was already leading by the time Abu Dhabi Hill got its first glimpse of action. The more seasoned fans nodded knowingly; the race was over almost as it began.

Forty-five minutes in, the sun disappeared below the horizon. As far as most drivers were concerned, Vettel might as well have disappeared along with it. The German champion was cruising. This was a race taking place a good 30 seconds behind him.

Yas had other attractions, too. The floodlights yet again gave F1’s only twilight race a uniquely magnificent vibe. No one was leaving early.

And then, out of nowhere, Fernando Alonso jolted the race into life. Staring 11th on the grid, he had promised a charge, and he kept that promise, a late dash reeling in Jean-Eric Vergne, Lewis Hamilton and Paul Di Resta, to the delight of his many fans on the hill.

“Vettel is a great champion but for me Alonso is the best,” said Khalid Shaaban, a Kuwaiti visitor wearing a Ferrari shirt. “I’m glad he finished so strongly.”

When Vettel won, the fans on the Hill rose to their feet to applaud his third Abu Dhabi triumph, and seventh win in succession. They had to wait a little longer to acknowledge the rest of the field.

Even before Marussia’s Max Chilton was the last across the line, a fireworks display was celebrating the end of the race. On Abu Dhabi Hill, eyes, and mobile phones, once again looked to the sky.

Minutes later, the big screens showed an emotional Vettel climbing the podium. He is slowly becoming an Abu Dhabi favourite, turning Yas Marina Circuit into his own little kingdom, in the way Roger Federer did at Wimbledon Centre Court.

More of this, and he might even get his very own Hill.