x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

The drive to continue the progress of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The UAE's Automobile and Touring Club visited Australia to learn about hosting Formula One and Australian V8 Supercars on the same weekend.

Mohammed Al Shateri enjoyed working with the Australian Grand Prix marshals in Melbourne.
Mohammed Al Shateri enjoyed working with the Australian Grand Prix marshals in Melbourne.

Long before Jenson Button and the rest of the Formula One field positioned their cars on the grid ahead of the Australian Grand Prix yesterday, a Holden Commodore had caught the eye while circumnavigating Albert Park during the V8 Supercar Challenge.

The car, driven by the Australian Michael Patrizi, has for the past four days competed in Melbourne with "F1 + V8 Supercars, Abu Dhabi 4th Nov" running in bold face lettering down its side.

According to Peter Baumgartner, the chief commercial officer of Etihad Airways, which also features prominent branding on the car, the signage is a means of "accelerating momentum" for the UAE capital's race weekend later this year.

This season, Abu Dhabi will host its fourth grand prix event and for the first time the race programme will feature V8 Supercars as a support event. The touring car series has held rounds in the capital before, but never on the same weekend as F1.

It will also be the first time championship points are on offer at a V8 race that shares a bill with a grand prix - the race at Albert Park is a non-Championship event - so organisers atYas Marina Circuit are understandably intent on ensuring everything runs flawlessly.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive officer at Yas, has been in Melbourne holding discussions and meetings with V8 officials, while a five-person delegation from the Emirates' Automobile and Touring Club (ATCUAE) has travelled to observe how the V8s and F1 coexist on the same race programme.

"Last year, the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (Cams) sent a four-man delegation to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as part of a working relationship between ourselves and Cams," said Matthew Norman, the motorsport manager of the ATCUAE, the sport's governing body in the Emirates.

"It is effectively a marshal exchange programme and the whole idea was, as V8s were running this weekend and we will also have V8s at our grand prix, to come here and see how everything runs. That was the basis of our mission."

The four men who joined Norman on his quest in Australia were Chris Carruthers, Sean Bradley, Alan Rooke and Mohammed Al Shateri.

"Chris is our communications chief, Sean works with me looking over the support pits and Alan is our chief of recovery," Norman said. "Mohammed is a post chief at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and, as well as being one of the main Emiratis involved with us, is very pro-active and will hopefully help us get more locals involved in UAE motorsport."

Cregan said the ATCUAE's presence in Melbourne this weekend can only be positive for Yas Marina.

"It's super to see," he said. "They are clearly taking it very seriously if they are willing to send people all the way down here to look at how the V8s and the Formula One work together."

Bradley, the support pit chief, feels the experience had been "fantastic".

"It's great to be involved and lovely to be able to fly the flag of our adopted homeland," the Englishman said. "Hopefully, the experience we get here and the relationships we build will help make the grands prix in Abu Dhabi even better."

Al Shateri's first taste of working with Formula One came at the 2010 race in the UAE and it proved an experience he enjoyed so much he has since dedicated many hours to race meetings and briefings.

He has long-term ambitions of becoming Yas Marina's Clerk of the Course, the highest level of circuit safety official, and hopes to attend "as many races as I can" this season.

"I was always watching the F1 on TV and thinking 'marshalling, marshalling, what's it all about?" he said, dressed in his orange marshal suit.

"When I entered the world of marshalling and worked at a race it was like a different planet. You are actually affecting the race because you are guiding the drivers and ensuring their safety in the race. It's a very important job and it's tiring, but it is very enjoyable."

His first deployment this weekend saw him accompany an Albert Park post chief to Turn 13 for Formula Ford practice on Friday morning. Heavy rains threatened to wash out the day's many other practice sessions, but the 24 year old helped clear the water from the track and then observed the V8s, touring cars, Porsche Carrera Cup and, finally, Formula One in action.

"Wow, the rain was heavy," Al Shateri said, laughing. "Working in the wet was a new experience for me. Obviously rain makes for a very difficult situation for racing, so it was tough, but very interesting. I feel I learnt a lot."

Like a fireman or a police officer, one would imagine a race marshal would hope for quiet, boring afternoons, but Al Shateri refutes such claims.

"You know, as a marshal you never get bored because it's the rules that you must always be aware of exactly what is going on: who is first, who is last, everything," he said.

"But I would rather have a busy day with lots of cars spinning and sliding; I think every marshal would say the same. We don't want anyone to get hurt, but we want to be involved."

The civil engineer got his wish on Saturday when he was positioned at Turn 2 and Fernando Alonso slid into the nearby gravel trap during F1 qualifying. Ferrari's Spaniard wanted the race marshals to help move the stricken car back on to the asphalt, but, as Al Shateri explained, "the car is too hot and Race Control ordered us not to".

Instead, Alonso left the incident irate on the back of a motorbike.

"Everything is a learning experience," Al Shateri said. "You learn from these situations. The international experience offers a very different challenge, like the weather, like communication. You learn so much in terms of managing a race. Now I look forward to putting what I have learnt into action when I get back to the UAE."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

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