x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Yas Marina Circuit makes another push to get F1 fans to say 'yes'

Slogan emblazoned across waterproof ponchos being distributed at Silverstone read: 'Abu Dhabi: Soaked in Sunshine', writes Gary Meenaghan.

Abu Dhabi’s campsite brought a little bit of the capital to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Abu Dhabi’s campsite brought a little bit of the capital to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

SILVERSTONE // As the spectators around Silverstone Circuit sought shelter from an unfamiliar sun this past weekend, a delegation from Abu Dhabi claimed responsibility.

"We brought the weather with us; took it out the box this morning," joked Nick McElwee, the sales and marketing director for Yas Marina Circuit.

For a second successive year, during the weekend of the British Grand Prix, the emirate's tourism authority hosted a fan zone inside Whittlebury Park Hotel and erected a tent in the adjacent campsite in a bid to encourage local motorsport spectators to consider seeing their next race in the UAE capital.

At last year's washed-out race in England, T-shirts carrying the slogan "It Never Rains In Abu Dhabi" proved popular as race fans dreamt of drier days. Yet as UAE residents know, when it comes to weather in the Gulf "never say never" is an appropriate adage.

Four months later, during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, the emirate experienced a (light) downpour of its own.

This year, nobody can claim false advertising. The slogan emblazoned across the waterproof ponchos being distributed at the UAE capital's Silverstone sanctuary on Saturday read: "Abu Dhabi: Soaked in Sunshine".

Visitors to the pavilion were also gifted Etihad Airways blankets, Arabic coffee, henna tattoos and – crucially – complimentary Wi-Fi.

"We get all the data when people register for the Wi-Fi and that allows us to keep in touch," McElwee said. "We are at about 17,000 this year. Last year was more – 26,000 – but the reason for that was because there was so much rain, all the other campsites were decamped and they were housed here, instead, so it wasn't a true number, in that sense."

Inside the hotel, an Etihad-branded F1 show car was on display, and Sky TV, British broadcasters of the Formula One world championship, recorded live from the pavilion on Friday evening.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas, featured on an hour-long radio show recorded inside the fan zone.

"The people who stay on this site already get a great deal in that they are so close to Silverstone, but we feel we are providing an added value," Cregan said.

On Saturday evening, Chris Back, an Englishman from Dorset wearing a Caterham-F1 baseball cap over a mop of shaggy grey hair, stopped by on the way to his camper van.

He watched on, intrigued, as Phoebe Skinner had her photograph taken with Brian, a local man dressed in kandura, and his pet falcon, Fern. When asked what he knew about Abu Dhabi, Back replied: "Sandy".

Skinner was likewise in the dark.

"I don't really know anything about Abu Dhabi," she said. "I watched a thing on TV once that showed the people use falcons to catch things on top of massive skyscrapers, but that's all I know."

Briony Wakefield, having just finished a day's work at a nearby merchandise stall, proved more informed.

"I've been to Abu Dhabi before, but not for the F1," said the smiling Englishwoman. "I've heard it's one of the best races, though."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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