x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Yas Circuit chief Richard Cregan has unfinished business in Abu Dhabi

The chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit tells Gary Meenaghan he is as motivated as ever in the push to get more Emiratis competing and involved in motorsport

Yas Marina Circuit chief executive Richard Cregan
Yas Marina Circuit chief executive Richard Cregan
Russia, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Thailand, South Africa. With more nations expressing an interest in playing host to Bernie Ecclestone's travelling circus and, increasingly, more racing tracks on the hunt for a successful chief executive, it could be presumed Richard Cregan, the chief executive at Yas Marina Circuit, who next month begins his fifth year in the UAE, is keeping his ear to the asphalt.
Yet the Irishman insists that planning his next move is not something he has given serious thought; the prospect of leaving Abu Dhabi has never figured on his desert-lined horizon.
Taking a moment to relax and appreciate the calm before the storm - this weekend's fourth annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is without doubt the busiest weekend of his year - Cregan, power-dressed in a crisp white shirt, explains to The National that, of course, he considers the future.
Cregan recently became a grandfather and if that did not make him think about the years ahead then little will. Yet such is his positive outlook, in regards to racing in the UAE capital, that not many - if any - opportunities could currently tempt him away.
"You always look at new races coming up and wonder how they will approach things and, of course, it would be a new, fresh challenge, so it's only normal to consider these things," he said. "But we still have a lot to do here; I see a lot of unfinished business.
"Certainly, in a couple of years, once that is all done, I would look to see where we are in terms of Yas Marina Circuit because that is the priority and will remain so until something better comes along. And that's the biggest challenge because finding something better than here is pretty difficult!"
It is not an exaggeration to say Cregan, as the primary public face of Formula One's most ambitious project, has arguably one of the grandest jobs in the sport. Ecclestone once called the Yas boat quay "better-looking than Monte Carlo"; Cregan could practically call it his backyard. When asked what motivates him to rise each morning, his answer, then, is perhaps predictable.
"This," he said, casting his arms out to indicate his surroundings. "Yas Marina Circuit. I still believe this is the best circuit in the world and still believe I have one of the best jobs in the world in that I am still being motivated and driven by the passion to run this circuit. It's a real challenge."
It is certainly an altogether different challenge to that which he faced in his previous role in Formula One when he was employed as the team manager of Toyota Racing, attending every race from Thursday through Sunday, discussing strategy and trying to help his drivers maximise their potential.
Naturally, for a man who has been involved in professional motorsport for more than three decades, stepping away from the paddock was never going to be easy.
This season he has attended three grands prix in a professional capacity, but he has a far more personal reason that has seen him also travel independently to seven other race weekends: son Robert competes in the GP3 Series.
"It's interesting because when I go to a race now, obviously, with Robert racing, I am quite happy to get out of the circuit at around midday on the Sunday, before the melee starts," Cregan said. "I'm content to watch the race in an Etihad lounge somewhere or other."
So, does he not miss the day-to-day life of being involved with an F1 team?
"Not really," he said. "The two things I do miss is the qualifying - that was always a big thing for me - and obviously the race itself, but there are lots of other bits that I don't miss. I've moved on."
This year has seen further progress made at Yas with more integrated scheduling of the various on-track activities available, but also with the opening of Yas Central, an entertainment area featuring viewing areas and a fast-food restaurant, as well as the debut of the Yas Motor Racing Club, which is targeted at increasing local participation in the sport.
"It takes time," said Cregan, who remembers the day he was first given a glimpse of a barren island back in 2008. "This is not a job that can be done in a day. And there is so much still to be achieved; there is a lot more we can do."
One of Yas Marina's most arduous challenges is to help put an Emirati into Formula One by the year 2020. Such an achievement would be sensational, completely altering the way the country regards motorsport, but it appears a distant dream, so far.
No Emiratis, at present, are competing in any of the recognised feeder series that lead to F1.
Cregan, however, says he already has noticed changes in the way the UAE is approaching motorsport, citing the presence now an obvious route into professional motor racing courtesy of the circuit's KartZone and the Yas Driving School.
"There is a natural progression and a major contributor to that is the involvement of the ATCUAE [Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE]," Cregan said. "They have got the FIA on board in terms of this region and we are there to facilitate, to help prepare people for motorsport, whether that be karting or drag racing or touring cards or whatever."
Whether Cregan is still here in 2020 remains to be seen, but he is not ruling it out.
"You look at the places like Spa and Monza or Suzuka and they are incredible circuits that have an amazing heritage and have been at it for more than 20 years," he said.
"This is only our fourth grand prix, so while they all have a great status in the business, what we have achieved here in four years is quite amazing.
"That's what drives me more than anything to get up in the morning: Looking at what we have achieved as a team. So long as we keep achieving and so long as I feel that passion, I will continue to do the job."
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Don't miss the National's 44-page Abu Dhabi Grand Prix magazine, only in Thursday's paper.