When they are not on the track or in the paddock, drivers and crews escape to the luxurious team villas at Yas Marina Circuit.
The lap of luxury for F1 teams at Yas Marina Circuit
When they are not on the track or in the paddock, drivers and crews escape to the luxurious team villas at Yas Marina Circuit. Designed with comfort in mind and equipped to fit each team's needs and tastes, the accommodations are unrivalled in Formula One. Chuck Culpepper reports.
You could live in one of these, couldn't you? You could wake mornings and go to the rooftop terrace and have coffee overlooking the Yas Marina. You could walk along the pleasingly narrow pathway admiring the souq-style design and the well-tended flowers.
You might even adore the brisk two-minute cycle of the industrial dishwasher in the kitchen while remembering that glass items go in the smaller dishwasher that waits across from the "dirty" sink, which, of course, is separate from the "clean" sink.
Technically, nobody resides in the 18 villas of the Yas Marina Circuit during Abu Dhabi Grand Prix week, what with Formula One imposing a night-time curfew for everyone from drivers to caterers to team principals, but all of those and more do sort of live in them during the days chockablock with business entertainment and racing strategy. They live in them enough to report their uniqueness in the specialised world of racetrack paddocks.
As Yas Marina's exceedingly well-travelled manager of TV and International Media, Paul Quinn, explained, Malaysia played the pioneer role with "purpose-built buildings" for teams, whereupon "Turkey improved it, as did China," and ultimately came Yas, which "is pretty much as good as it goes".
"I think it is probably the best team facilities on the calendar," said Heikki Kovalainen, the Team Lotus driver.
"I obviously love the 'motorhome' that we have, and it is designed to our needs," said Monisha Kaltenborn, the Sauber F1 chief executive, using "motorhome" figuratively in a sport traditionally teeming in motorhomes even as the Yas villas remain very much stationary.
"It's phenomenal," said Christian Horner, the decorated team principal of the constructors' champions, Red Bull Racing. "It's the best facility in the world, I think. To see what Abu Dhabi have done is ... wow.
"It's moved Formula One to another level. It's the race everybody wants to be at. It's our busiest race of the year. We have more guests and more clients in that race than any other on the calendar. It's one of those standout, must-be-at races."
As the must-be-at crowd arrives, it moves through an intimate alleyway to the villas, and many speak of the convenience distance-wise.
"It's got a good atmosphere," Horner said, "and it's almost like a village. I think they have the balance just right there and it's great to see they are continuing to develop."
That continuing-to-develop file would be a thick, bustling one, much of it stashed also in the catalogue mind of Andy Beaven, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management's Head of Sporting. Apart from Europe, where teams drive their 40-foot mobile homes from track to track and park them in what become veritable small towns, Abu Dhabi has an entirely different set of considerations.
Back in mid-October, Beaven chose a villa midway down the lane for showing, sat down at one of the high, stylish tables and soon said of the building, in summary: "It has to be robust, but not look industrial."
At this intersection of sport and feng shui, preparations had gone very much into earnest, workers buzzing about cleaning and resurfacing and dealing with the incessantly resourceful sea salt and sand dust. As Beaven explained, Yas sends planned drawings to the teams, and then the teams, "They send us back, 'We want a table there, and a table there, there and there, and a photocopier there …'"
The goal: "So when they arrive they can go, 'This is a dream world'."
The motto: "The answer they like to hear is 'yes'."
This week, in from the previous stop in India, two 40-foot containers of sea freight have arrived at the track, plus 30 and 40 tons of air freight - from each team. Teams rent two-, five- and 10-ton forklifts, sometimes all three but sometimes sharing.
By now, the forklifts will have done their well-calibrated maxi-dance and performed their "organised chaos," as Beaven calls it. "For two days, the amount of forklifts around here! But everybody knows each other, and they know exactly what they're doing. It's in control."
As if there weren't enough to ponder, a giant storage tent sits at the end of the marina, so any helicopter photographs don't record pockmarks of detritus lying around.
The villas have a long room on the left side of the ground floor and a long room on the right, but the similarities often stop there given particular team preferences.
Weeks ago, the left-side room had a long row of tables all restaurant-like, this week such rooms might be set for engineers, featuring "a long, long bench" with television monitors set all along the way. By now, Beaven and his team will have secured those televisions, as well as a whole list of all else that pretty much qualifies them as People Who Can Find Stuff. The teams and villas need nitrogen (nut guns!) and helium and dry ice and, don't forget: "If they rent a barbecue from us, then we have to have propane."
Up the stairs to the second level, you find rows of offices. Two drivers might share one, but remember there is a doctor, a driver's physio, maybe another driver's physio. Just the ordering of proper desk chairs for various roles requires some sensitivity and know-how.
One more floor up lies the rooftop terrace with its power packs - in case of giant television or some such - and adorned with requested specifications and preferences.
"Some might request some Arabian influence with the carpets, or the sofas," Beaven said, "so it gives the atmosphere of the location they're in." Some might send Beaven's team scurrying for an extra refrigerator.
Amid the ground floor lies the central nervous system of the villa, and it resembles some mighty restaurant kitchen, where five to seven busy catering personnel are providing breakfasts, lunches, dinners and everything in between for teams of up to 100.
Four-ring stove, hotplate, deep-fat fryer, convection oven, cooled drawers, a cooled counter top, clean sink, dirty sink, highfalutin dishwashers, mammoth refrigerators ...
It is clear that if you cannot live there, at very least you might want to eat there.