x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sofa so good for the Abu Dhabi GP

For viewers from afar, the new Formula One track at Yas Marina promises plenty of excitement

The Ferrari team will be heading to Abu Dhabi next year for the grand prix.
The Ferrari team will be heading to Abu Dhabi next year for the grand prix.

I have a confession to make. I have never been to a grand prix. As I write a newspaper column in Britain about sport on television, I have always been condemned to watching the action from the comfort of my armchair. This may not seem like a particular hardship, since the chair is a perfectly decent piece of furniture, I have ample free parking, and remain within striking distance of my kitchen where a range of refreshments is readily available.

However, friends who are enthusiasts for Formula One tell me I am missing out on at least 70 per cent of the enjoyment. The noise, the atmosphere, the smell of burning rubber all contribute, they tell me, to a unique experience in sport. Well, under a year from now, the Emirates will get the chance to discover whether my friends are right, when a dream comes to fruition, and the Formula One season climaxes with the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The franchise has been awarded for a renewable seven year term, giving Abu Dhabi the chance to establish itself as a fixture in the motorsport calendar, as much as Monte Carlo.

For that reason, hosting a grand prix can be of greater lasting benefit, than hosting a one-off Olympic Games or major football championship. In those cases, while the preparations for the event mean huge excitement in the host nation, the legacy is uncertain. Many of the sports facilities built in Sydney and Athens, for instance, for the 2000 and 2004 Olympics have fallen into disrepair: and in Britain, despite hopes that a London football team might move into the main Olympic arena after 2012, it is being admitted that is now unlikely.

Each year - for at least seven and possibly longer - the Yas Marina Circuit will be the focal point of all the excitement of Formula One. A successful staging of the race will help establish Abu Dhabi as a realistic option for more big international sporting events. If it is not a success it will not be for want of trying. The track has been designed by indisputably the top man in that trade, renowned architect and Formula One circuit designer Herman Tilke, whose previous triumphs include Malaysia, Bahrain, and Shanghai.

For Yas, Herr Tilke has pulled out all the stops. All the grandstands at the circuit are covered - a world first - and the 5.6km twists through the natural island's sand dunes, with several long straights and tight corners. Unlike a street track like Monte Carlo, the circuit has been designed to provide many opportunities for overtaking, which clearly is the key element adding excitement to a grand prix.

One variable in motor racing excitement almost certainly missing in Abu Dhabi is rain, which adds an extra frisson of uncertainty to a race, but I doubt the teams and journalists on the Formula One circus will lament that too much. Trailing from grand prix to grand prix between March and November, they will find Yas Island a welcome climax to the season. Many of the circuits are on disused airfields or near big out-of-town business parks, and have an industrial feel to them, but the marinas, golf courses, and theme parks at Yas Island will make them feel like they are on holiday.

I was particularly interested to note that the circuit runs through the Yas Marina Hotel, which conjured up a vision of tray-wielding waiters dodging Formula One cars. I shall be watching closely - on television, sadly. martin.kelner@yahoo.co.uk