x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Abu Dhabi gears up for F1 showdown

The eyes of the world will be fixed on the capital this week as the Formula One circus rolls into town for the season's finale.

Fans at the FanZone down at the Abu Dhabi Corniche ready for the F1 circus to arrive today.
Fans at the FanZone down at the Abu Dhabi Corniche ready for the F1 circus to arrive today.

ABU DHABI // It is not often a Formula One driver can be referred to as immobile, but that is what the majority of the 24 men embroiled in the season-long world championship have been for most of the past 36 hours.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Brazilian Grand Prix - the penultimate race on the F1 calendar that was held in Sao Paulo on Sunday and won by Sebastian Vettel - the 12 race teams headed for the airport and began their stop-start 12,000-kilometre journey to the Emirates.

It may not quite be a case of planes, trains and automobiles, but each driver will undoubtedly have spent long periods of the past couple of days with little to do but contemplate this coming weekend's possible permutations.

Abu Dhabi, as the world now knows, is where the drivers' championship will be decided and, for the first time in the sport's history, there are four potential winners all vying for the title at the season-ending showpiece this weekend at Yas Marina Circuit.

Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who drives for Ferrari, is in the driving seat and will be crowned champion so long as he finishes in the top two, but Vettel, his Red Bull-Renault teammate Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver, are all capable of leaving the Emirates with the world championship trophy.

Preparations are gearing up in the UAE capital with drivers starting to arrive today - some of whom will walk straight into promotional events for key sponsors and affiliates.

Webber, for instance, will appear tonight at a function organised by the Australian Embassy of Abu Dhabi.

His car, however, like the rest of the dozen race teams' vehicles, will not arrive on Yas Island until tomorrow - in time for the following day's public pit-lane walk, which starts at 2pm.

Friday, though, is when the circuit will really come alive, with the deafening sound of high-speed engines.

The GP2 series begins its practice session at 10.30am, before the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge takes place an hour later. Alonso, Vettel and the other F1 drivers take to the track for the first time at 1pm for 90 minutes of practice, before returning at 5pm for a second recce.

As F1 enthusiasts discovered at the capital's inaugural event last year, a race weekend never seems to last as long as the surrounding hype suggests. By 6pm on Saturday afternoon - following an hour-long third practice session and the all-important qualifying - all that remains for Bernie Ecclestone and his Formula One circus is the little matter of what is expected to be the most-watched race of the season. And, of course, the celebratory end-of-season after-party.

And while Abu Dhabi will not host the last race of next year - that honour falls to Brazil - the UAE capital will at least technically be host to the first action of the new 2011 season.

All 12 race teams will remain in the Emirates for a further seven days after the grand prix comes to a close, with young driver testing being carried out at the start of next week.

Then, the following weekend, the newly-crowned world champion and his 23 fellow racers are provided the opportunity to test the new Pirelli compound tyres, which are to replace Bridgestone from next season.