x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Yas Marina on track to be a cracker

The National takes a walk around Abu Dhabi's new Formula One circuit ahead of November's race.

The back main straight of the Yas Marina circuit seen on the right from the north grandstand is the longest in F1.
The back main straight of the Yas Marina circuit seen on the right from the north grandstand is the longest in F1.

Five weeks from today the first Formula One car will roar out of the tunnel linking the pit-lane onto the Yas Marina Circuit (YMC) and seek to break an expected average lap time of 1 minute 40 seconds in the opening practice session for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Many doubted that the Dh5 billion state-of-the-art race track would be ready to welcome the world's fastest drivers for the season's finale and potential championship-decider on November 1. Admittedly, the island still resembles, in some places, a massive building site with a lot of man hours of work needed to be carried out to bring the development to a conclusion. But the focal point of the whole affair - the 5.55km (3.41-mile) circuit - is ready and waiting for that historic green light to be switched on.

That was the message conveyed to a media gathering yesterday for a tour of this motor-racing arena as they were given a glimpse of the finished track on a bus tour of the site. The bus drove at a fraction of the speed the current championship title leader Jenson Button and his rivals will reach when they hurtle down the 1,173-metre main straight at a top rate of about 317kph. But the snail's pace was ideal to get a feel of the place in a single lap and imagine what a spectacle it will be for up to 50,000 fans, who will throng to the sparkling, covered stands, which apart from the grandstand on the main straight offers a view of 40 per cent of the action.

A frightening but innovative run-off area, that runs underneath the grandstands at the end of the long back straight, was never going to needed by the meandering tour vehicle, but could be a factor come race day when 20 cars come charging down towards the corner on the first lap. The run-off is the first of its kind in the sport and will add another element of uniqueness to what will already be an event of many firsts - most notably being the inaugural day-night race in F1 history.

When the race begins at 5pm local time, rows of high-tech floodlights will allow the racing to continue once darkness sets in on the Yas Marina site, as will the lights in the 500 rooms of the Yas Marina Hotel, which is an appealing integral feature of the facility. Equally iconic for F1 aficionados watching all over the world is the Shams Tower, a hospit-ality haven for the very rich and famous who can also moor yachts as long as 90 metres in the adjacent marina.

That feature at the top of the finishing straight promises to become as big a Grand Prix landmark as the famous Monaco tunnel in Monte Carlo. The pit-lane and paddock area behind are also ready for operation. Significantly the only two garages so far claimed were those of the Renault team, possibly in a display of relief that they are still eligible to compete after the disgrace of the race-fixing scandal exposed by their former driver Nelson Piquet Junior.

Banners proclaiming the impending arrival of Fernando Alonso and rookie Romain Grosjean were marking the territory for the team who are under threat of expulsion for the next two years. The pride of place in the pit-lane will go to the McLaren Mercedes of the defending world champion Lewis Hamilton and Button, the current favourite to succeed him in his Brawn GP car as he leads teammate Rubens Barrichello by 14 points going into Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix.

Both drivers are excited by the prospect of breaking new ground in Abu Dhabi when the F1 fraternity roll into town. "I can't wait to get out there," said Hamilton. "We couldn't have asked for a better venue for the conclusion of our season." Button, his British compatriot, visited the venue after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix in April and commented: "It's always fun to try out a new race track for the first time so I'm looking forward to the first Grand Prix there."

The sales pit-ch for the track, which varies in width  from 12-16 metres, was that "something new" will be introduced to Yas Island in time for for each anniversary of the YMC joining the F1 Circus. Ferrari, who have strong links with Abu Dhabi through Mubadala and the Grand Prix's title sponsors Etihad Airways, will increase their association with the UAE when a special theme park in their name opens next year.

Supplementary facilities also nearing completion include the YMC Raceway, a driving academy and a karting centre. The red letter day of November 1 will just be the start. YMC intend to be a vibrant centre for motorsport all year round and promises to provide  wonderful entertainment for every type of enthusiast. wjohnson@thenational.ae