x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Car lover makes F1 dreams come true

Yas Marina's racing school manager will ensure all the food services behind the scenes comply with health and safety regulations at this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Faisal Abdullah Al Sahlawi, the manager of the Yas Marina racing school, will help ensure the F1 catering facilities are top-notch.
Faisal Abdullah Al Sahlawi, the manager of the Yas Marina racing school, will help ensure the F1 catering facilities are top-notch.

ABU DHABI // Car fanatic Faisal Abdullah Al Sahlawi will swap his racing gloves for a kitchen checklist this weekend, making sure the catering facilities at the Formula One track are up to scratch.

The role may seem unlikely for the manager of the Yas Marina racing school, but the 28-year-old Emirati used every possible connection to get the chance to work at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

He joined Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, which manages Yas Marina Circuit, in April 2009, only seven months before the track was unveiled to the world.

"Of course I remember my first day," he says. And it was a world away from where he sits now, where two-seater Formula One cars, a fleet of Yas 3000 racing cars and fully primed Aston Martin Vantage GT4s greet him every morning as he walks to his office.

The first office was a villa in Karama. "The circuit didn't exist and it was a huge construction site. I didn't know if we'd have a track but Aldar pulled it off."

Mr Al Sahlawi knew all about the challenges of construction after spending two years working for a property developer.

"I decided I wanted a job I'd enjoy. I am a petrolhead. I would not let this Grand Prix go through without having anything to do with it. I have always been a car freak," he says.

For six months, he tried to find a job at Yas. "I applied directly, then applied through some friends in the company and got hired. I exhausted all my channels."

He started in the ticketing department, and before the inaugural race he moved into the commercial side as a business development officer. His role during the first grand prix weekend was in the Paddock Club, making sure everyone knew where and where not to go.

"There are a lot of suites there and you will not get anywhere without a pass. You have to be in the middle and hustle your way around to get the passes," he says.

Last year, he shadowed the commercial director. "I got to know the people in Allsports Management and the FIA," he says.

This year is different again, as he was promoted to the racing school manager in January.

His job the past few days has been overseeing the display stands in the Oasis areas behind the stands that promote the driving school. However, his main interaction was with Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), who he worked with to ensure all the catering companies met food safety standards.

"I took ADFCA around all the kitchens in the whole circuit. They inspected everything and I've made sure they have the passes they need," he says.

He is the middleman between ADFCA and the catering companies that arrive with the Formula One teams. His main task is to iron out any problems that arose last year and make sure they do not happen again.

"A lot of the time the problems are just miscommunication between them and ADFCA," he says. His job is to make sure everyone knows the rules.

"Each type of food has to be frozen or stored at a certain temperature and each fridge must have the perfect temperature all the way too. You can't use the same surface to cut meat as you cut fish on - its all mainly about hygiene," he said.

He does not mind juggling different jobs throughout the event. "The special thing in a grand prix is everyone multitasks. One day you're meeting top level people, the next day you're carrying boxes. Whatever it takes to get the job done, every one does it," he says.

For Mr Al Sahlawi the event does not finish when the chequered flag waves on Sunday.

"Once the last guest leaves, I can go home."

 

eharnan@thenational.ae

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