x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Plenty of incentive at 'state-of-the-art' Yas Marina Circuit

With the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix less than a week away, Richard Cregan talks about the benefits of setting up an F1 development team in the UAE capital.

Richard Cregan says plans to bring MotoGP to the capital’s track at Yas Marina have been shelved for now.
Richard Cregan says plans to bring MotoGP to the capital’s track at Yas Marina have been shelved for now.

Changes to the track at Yas Marina were shelved earlier this year, yet off-track changes have continued. A refocused business plan has seen several international race series disappear from the Yas Marina Circuit calendar, and staff were reduced by 60.

Ahead of next Sunday's Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, The National spoke with Richard Cregan, the Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management chief executive, to discuss the track's future, the potential arrival of a MotoGP race and why Toro Rosso relocating to the UAE capital is not as far-fetched an idea as some would have us believe.

qWhat can sports fans expect from Yas Marina Circuit in the coming year?

a We are trying to focus very much on local motorsport, such as the national championship, the Middle East Porsche championship, the Radicals, the V8 local series, et cetera.

Aside from motorsports, we're having Tri Yas again, Run Yas and we will have an as-yet-unnamed cycle event.

We can actually break even with those events.

The day of the big sanction fee for events to come in is going. We are substituting those events with local events.

Will Formula One always be able to demand a big sanction fee?

With the outreach F1 has it is probably one of the best advertising platforms that you are going to get. In terms of value for money, F1 is one of the best events you can have - especially in a community like ours that is developing on a daily basis. It's a great way to show the world what we can do, but [the fee] has also made us focus on the commercial viability of the circuit.

Does the profit generated from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix cover the hosting fee demanded by Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management?

If you look at the whole package I think it comes very close. There are different ways you can measure it and everyone has their own way, but the way we measure it is on a very broad spectrum of returns and we are very happy with that. And I believe it's going to grow even more.

The last time we spoke, you were very enthusiastic to bring MotoGP to Abu Dhabi. Has the change of focus brought an end to that plan?

We are still looking at it. One of the things we looked at was the popularity of MotoGP around the world and we decided it is probably waning a little bit, so we will hold off and wait and see. I think it would be a great event to have here, but whatever event we decide to go for needs to be popular, needs to be able to fill the venue and is not going to cannibalise the F1 product.

That is not to say we won't do MotoGP in the future, but our focus has to be on the commercial viability of the business.

Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management cut 60 jobs earlier this year.When you start with a business like ours and an objective of delivering the circuit, you are going to have a situation where you have a lot of people on board who are not going to be there on an ongoing basis because they were here to deliver a particular element at the beginning. We got to the stage where we went from delivering the event to running a business and then there was no role for those people.

Like any other business, we have to be accountable for our returns and as CEO I have a responsibility to the Government and our board of directors, but equally to our employees to ensure we have the right number of staff to deliver the strategic plan that is in place.

So how many permanent staff are now employed at ADMM and has that number reached a plateau?

We have trimmed down to around 220-something now and we believe we now have the right people in the right positions to deliver in accordance to the plan and for the Formula One we will bring in a lot of contractors.

The Young Drivers' Test will take place the week following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Why is Yas the host venue and is it going to become an annual fixture on the circuit's calendar?

For us, it's very important because it shows the belief the teams have in us that they would choose our circuit to host the Young Drivers' Test. It shows the consistency of the track because they have comparable data from the weekend and they can work with that.

The teams themselves look at the track as a combination of challenges that they can judge a young driver: slow corners, fast corners, long straights. The teams obviously think: "If we want to judge a young driver, Abu Dhabi is the place to do that," and for us that speaks volumes.

It would be nice to think they will continue to come back and we have had discussions for us to remain the venue of Young Driver Tests in the future. It adds credibility to the venue and logistically it makes sense for the teams because they are already here.

With the GP2 Asia series disbanded from next season, what will happen to the season-ending one-off GP2 Finale that is planned for next week? Could this become a regular event?

We would have to talk to them and see how it goes, but in some ways, GP2 and GP3 are getting more important because that's drivers' stepping stones into Formula One. GP2 is a very professional series, so young drivers have a chance to show what they can do. Its popularity is much more in Europe than it is in this region, but for the sport itself it's a very important series and I think here we're in for a great event next weekend.

Toro Rosso now has three sponsors owned by Aabar and there was a suggestion earlier in the year that the team was set to relocate its factory to Abu Dhabi. Could an F1 team one day operate out of the UAE capital?

The possibility to bring an F1 team here is fantastic and we would welcome it with open arms. Long-term, it would be an amazing achievement, not only because it's an F1 team, but it could then facilitate a cottage industry that would turn Abu Dhabi into a very technical base of expertise, which can then be used in a lot of other industries.

But is it feasible to operate so far from England's "motorsport valley"?

It's not something that could happen overnight because the success of an F1 team is not just about personnel, but also the industry that supplies the team and the expertise that surrounds it. You could start by having a development team here that has access to various elements in Abu Dhabi and build it from there, but it would certainly be a long-term project. I don't see any reason why you couldn't do it, though. In terms of its global position it is ideal, but there's also many other incentives for being in Abu Dhabi - not least, access to a state-of-the-art F1 circuit.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae