x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

City geared up as F1 fever grows

In the shopping malls and on the streets, the capital is buzzing with excitement ahead of Sunday's inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

As the countdown of the Formula 1 race gets closer, some signs of support of the event are starting to surface in the area, like the one above, off 30th Street.
As the countdown of the Formula 1 race gets closer, some signs of support of the event are starting to surface in the area, like the one above, off 30th Street.

ABU DHABI // With less than a week to go before the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the capital is abuzz. There is an electricity in the air befitting the biggest event the city has ever staged. Simply, almost everyone is excited.

"When you arrive in Abu Dhabi, you see it, when you enter the mall you see it. It's very nice and exciting. It's a good thing for us," said Saoud Hussain, 18, an Emirati student at Abu Dhabi Men's College. The Grand Prix was "changing the vision of Abu Dhabi", he said at Al Wahda Mall. "It's new for our culture, it's a new sport for our city so we're pleased for that. We want to explore these things."

Mr Hussain, who plans to watch the Formula One race on television, said only a few other events, such as major football matches, had generated such a level of interest among his friends. Lazarus Eassy said it was "really remarkable to see the change now in Abu Dhabi". "The trend has changed and now we're getting a lot of new entertainment and new developments," said the 51-year-old salesman from India, who is hoping a Ferrari driven by Giancarlo Fisichella or Kimi Raikkonen wins the race.

"People are quite interested to see how well [the city authorities] will organise it. It's sort of a testing time." Hoardings that feature drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg advertising products ranging from oil products to watches have been plastered across the city. In shopping malls as well as at the F1 FanZone on the Corniche, grand prix racing simulators are attracting long queues of people keen to get a taste of what it is like to drive some of the world's fastest cars.

Buses with pictures of F1 cars on their sides have become a regular sight as part of a campaign to encourage people to use public transport to reach the Yas Marina Circuit. Many petrol stations boast F1-themed drinks displays, while some malls are decked out in chequered flags and other grand prix paraphernalia. Even people not planning to attend the Yas Island race on November 1 say they have been caught up in the buzz.

"I think everybody's excited," said Karen Ramsay, 35, a housewife from the UK. "My son has been in one of the Formula One cars. My husband is going to the race - he cannot wait. He's got the box set of tickets and they're pretty 'wow'." Arfan Mohammad, a 29-year-old salesman from Pakistan who lives in the UAE, said people from other emirates were also enjoying the build-up to the race. "I come from Sharjah and a lot of people there are talking about it," he said.

Even people who are not F1 fans say they are feeling a mixture of curiosity and pride that their city will soon become the focus of millions of people over the race weekend. Still, you can't please everybody and not everyone is counting down the hours until Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and the other drivers line up on the starting grid at 5pm on Sunday. "I don't have so much excitement about it because I'm more focused about cricket and football. I'm not interested in that," said Shaheer Mampally, a 23-year-old Indian who arrived only recently in the UAE, with a laugh.

dbardsley@thenational.ae