x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

5,000 fans get as close to the action as the drivers

Grand Prix supporters from all over the world flock to Yas Marina Circuit to speak to their favourites and take photographs on the track during a public pit lane walk.

Grand Prix weekend revs up: Formula One fans walk on the track and pit lane at Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.
Grand Prix weekend revs up: Formula One fans walk on the track and pit lane at Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.

ABU DHABI // More than 5,000 eager fans took to the Yas Marina Circuit's pit lane yesterday, seizing the chance to get close to the cars that will race in Sunday's Grand Prix.

Crowds gathered along the lane, where the 12 teams had put their cars on show for the fans and where scrutineers checking the vehicles met Formula One rules.

The biggest crowds stood outside the pit of the Red Bull-Renault team, which won this year's constructors' title in Brazil last week. They watched the crew practice changing the wheels on the car driven by Sebastian Vettel, one of the four drivers with a chance of clinching the 2010 title on Sunday.

"Impressive," said Brett Carey, 45, from Australia. "I've always seen it done on TV but to see it in real life, it is much faster and a lot more tense."

He was supporting for his fellow countryman, Mark Webber, who is also in a position to win the driver's championship. "I just hope they practice on Webber's car too."

Further along, fans gathered and took photographs of the Ferrari garage. The Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is leading the drivers' championship.

Next door in the Mercedes garage, Ron Carbery, a 57-year-old visiting Briton, was watching the pit crew test their gear.

"It's a fabulous experience down here," he said. "To see all the cars and of course the ones that could win it. I watched last week's race in Brazil on television at home in London and couldn't believe I'd watch the final showdown here."

Ivan Reabal watched the Brazilian Grand Prix from his home in northern Spain.

When the 34-year-old airport maintenance engineer booked a holiday to see his friends in Dubai a few months ago, he had no idea he'd be here to watch the possible crowning of Alonso, a fellow Spaniard.

"I called my friend immediately after the race and begged him to find me a ticket. I had to see it."

Draped in the Spanish flag, he said he owed Mario Ojeda, the Dubai resident who secured him the ticket. "I couldn't find a ticket until yesterday. A friend sold his for Dh1,600 so we got it for a good price too."

Tickets for the 50,000-seat venue were sold out by Tuesday, with most of the three-day tickets this year selling for a flat rate of Dh2,000.

Australian Philip Hair received his tickets from his daughter and son-in-law as a 60th birthday present.

"I'm hoping for Webber to win of course," he said. "It's my first time here and I love it.

"I've seen the Grand Prix before in Melbourne but I am really looking forward to this.

"It was such a good season. I had no idea it would come down to this and I'd be here for it."

The Italians Tony di Loreto and his daughter Najeeba flew in from South Africa and hoped to watch the crowning of Alonso as world champion.

After having photos taken with the pit crew, Ms Najeeba, 22, said: "This is going to be great race and Alonso will do it."

She added that she wished the Italian team all the best, shouting "bona fortuna!" towards the garage as she left.

Ali Walji and his wife, Sonja, were taking in the excitement and trying to get photographs of every car.

"I am going for [Lewis] Hamilton. I'd like him to do well," said Mr Walji, a 27-year-old Briton who lives and works in Dubai.

"It's a fantastic atmosphere down here and the facilities are amazing. We saw it on television last year and we could only imagine what it was like down here. It is more about the atmosphere."

Mr and Mrs Walji were looking forward to an exciting weekend of motorsport, and getting the autograph of the seven-times world champion, Michael Schumacher, was not a bad way to start it.