x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Formula One drivers will trade track for pitch

A team of international Formula One drivers will face off against local VIPs in a charity football event before the Grand Prix in November.

DUBAI // Local VIPs and celebrities will challenge some of the world's best drivers on neutral territory - the football pitch.

In the Abu Dhabi Charity F1 Football event, 15 current and former Formula One drivers will swap crash helmets for shin pads and play against UAE celebrities in a full 90-minute game.

The drivers' team, known as Nazionale Piloti, have never participated in this sort of event outside Europe.

The former Formula One champions Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso will play alongside the current title holder, Sebastian Vettel, at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on November 9.

The Abu Dhabi Sports Council is accepting volunteers to play for its International Sports Stars team.

"So far, VIPs are lining up to play against the Formula One drivers," said Maurizio Losa, vice director of Rai Sports, the Italian state-owned television station.

The only fitness test needed to gain a place on the International Sports Stars team will be one of the wallet. A donation to the Abu Dhabi Sports Council will benefit the players' charity of choice. Last year, €15 million (Dh78m) was raised to help rebuild the cathedral in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake in Haiti.

The drivers will face not only some of the country's VIPs, but also members of the UAE national team.

Mr Losa said the European games have attracted more than 10,000 spectators apiece, and he expects a healthy turnout this year to watch what is usually a fiercely contested event.

"Last year, Alonso was to play for 30 minutes but after the first half, he kept asking to play another five minutes. He ended up playing the whole game," Mr Losa said.

Felipe Massa of Ferrari, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov of Renault are also expected to play.

"It's great fun, and amusing to play with other F1 players," Petrov said. "We sort of feel, 'Shouldn't we be on the track?' But, yes, it's a great atmosphere and it's a nice way to unwind before we get on the racetrack."

Nazionale Piloti are nearly as famous as the teams that play professionally in Italy, where charity games are popular.

A team of famous Italian singers pioneered the idea. Mr Losa said: "The biggest and most popular for raising funds are the singers and drivers."

At the charity game before the Turkish Grand Prix this year, Petrov was the only driver on the pitch at kick-off. "The traffic jams on the way from the airport to the stadium meant none of the drivers arrived on time," he said. "Finally, I started the game being the only F1 driver so all the TV cameras were following me."

Abu Dhabi Sports TV will show the game live. Entry will be free.

eharnan@thenational.ae