x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Daily summits enabled event organisers to get over bumps

The organisers held daily summits with the capital's authorities to iron out anything that had gone wrong.

People ride a bus heading to designated parking lots after the Grand Prix race yesterday.
People ride a bus heading to designated parking lots after the Grand Prix race yesterday.

ABU DHABI // The inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix did not have a trouble-free ride. There were teething problems, including transport glitches that added hours on to journeys home for many fans and, at times, there was a lack of food and drink amid sizzling temperatures. In addition, racing team members, the media and event organisers encountered problems at the hotels on Yas Island.

The organisers held daily summits with the capital's authorities to iron out anything that had gone wrong. And, much as the drivers improved as they became more familiar with the circuit's demands, fans said the organisation got better over the four days. Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, said logistical troubles that emerged at the beginning were quickly resolved. "From the first day, when we had the public here on Thursday, we sat down every evening and looked at the problems we had and where we had different issues," he said.

"We sat with the police, the Higher Security Committee and said, 'Let's be open, what issues did we have?' "That next day, we would implement different measures, and as a result, we improved things. "We worked together. There was a great feeling, and it wasn't just teamwork, but a great feeling of ownership. All these people, too many to mention, took real ownership of the project." Mr Cregan did not specify which areas had raised cause for concern.

However, transport problems were reported at the start of the weekend. On Thursday, a pit lane walk attracted 10,000 fans. Most stayed for the concert by the American R&B singer Beyoncé at Ferrari World, by which time the crowd had swollen to around 25,000. Afterwards, fans said they could not find buses that were meant to return them to their vehicles, some of which were kilometres away. Some complained that they were stuck on the island for almost two hours after the concert owing to a combination of heavy traffic and an inability to find a bus.

On Friday, stewards with loudhailers directed concert-goers to the buses, explaining where each vehicle was going and instructions were given as to when and where passengers should get off. Over the following days, traffic flowed relatively calmly off the island. Anyone who did not park on the island had to take a shuttle bus at one of three park-and-ride locations. The shutle buses stopped at all grandstands. There were no major complications.

On Saturday, as temperatures reached 34°C, food and bottles of water ran out or began to run very low in a number of grandstands, fans said. Within half an hour, free bottles of water were given out. Members of the teams, media and organisers reported flaws in the six hotels in the Golf Plaza behind the West Grandstand. Some said the electricity was not on in some rooms, shower heads were missing and muddy footprints had been left on carpets. Those people who raised the problems with management said they were soon put right.

Paul Bell, the general manager of Aldar Hotels and Hospitality, which developed the new hotels, said they would now "go into the pre-opening period we didn't have". "You would normally have a three-month soft-opening programme where you try the facility, put stress on it, and when you do that, you find things," he said. "We haven't had that [at the Yas Hotel] and neither have others. Even with hotels that are open for five years, you get little problems.

"We never thought we were going to have a problem-free period, but we made sure that, once there was a problem, we reacted. Everybody will judge it by this weekend. We wanted to make this as memorable an experience as we could." Race fan Ronny Vellekoop, 39, a Dutch executive who lives in Dubai, said the organisation was excellent, although he complained that some food stalls ran out. Patrick Hadlow 35, a Briton living in Dubai, said: "Every volunteer was great and tried to help us in any way possible, showing us our seats and everything like that. It was a great event."

@Email:rhughes@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Daniel Bardsley