x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Getting F1 to the starting line

A cast of thousands is responsible for ensuring the capital's third Formula One Grand Prix goes off without a hitch. What should be a logistical nightmare is being handled with precision at Yas Marina Circuit, and remarkable attention to even the smallest details.

Lines are repainted at Yas Marina Circuit, ready for next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix preliminaries.
Lines are repainted at Yas Marina Circuit, ready for next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix preliminaries.

ABU DHABI // The cars are arriving, the track is repainted and fans can safely start to get excited without wearing themselves out before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

There is less than a week to go before 24 cars take to the 5.5-kilometre Formula One track for their first practice run, but motorsports fans still have a chance to see the action.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, says ticket sales are on par with last year's race when the series championship was still up for grabs. This year, Sebastian Vettel has already won the title.

"In comparison with last year it's very similar," Mr Cregan says. "With the event getting nearer we are very close to a sell-out but there are still tickets available.

"What we have found this year … is people upgrading, from grandstand to hospitality, for instance. Interesting to see that trend, and that is one of the reasons why there are still tickets available."

Race tickets also include entry to after-race concerts featuring Britney Spears, the Cult, Incubus and Paul McCartney, who will close the festivities after the race on November 13.

Track managers have been spending the past few weeks in meetings with emergency services and their own staff to make sure Abu Dhabi's third Grand Prix goes off without a hitch.

Mark Hughes, the operations director at Yas Marina Circuit, says staff at the track are tying up the loose ends before the gates open to the public, with a pit-lane walk scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

"The main thing for us is the venue is kept in good condition," Mr Hughes says.

Air-conditioning units have been double-checked and the back-up power supply has been tested. There has not been a need for extra power but Mr Hughes says it is a matter of prudence.

"If you imagine we lost power to the TV broadcast in the last few minutes of qualifying, you'd have the whole world wondering who's on pole," he says.

Planning for the GP began in April. Staff work from a 250-page operations manual that includes more than 500 technical drawings and covers topics such as food and beverage areas, and marquees and temporary structures.

Over the past week workers have been checking safety features such as fire extinguishers and emergency vehicles.

"We use [emergency service vehicles] all the time but during F1 we use a higher number of them," Mr Hughes says.

Organisers work closely with government services, and plans have been co-ordinated with the police and Civil Defence.

"The medical helicopters have to be booked as it's one of the sporting requirements of hosting an F1 race," Mr Hughes says.

"We work with the police so there is a police presence on the gates and junctions to make sure traffic flows smoothly."

Most of the cargo for the 12 teams will arrive in the capital by air, direct from last week's Indian Grand Prix.

Not only does the logistics team at Yas deal with the F1 gear, but it also handles the cargo for the support races: the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, the Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East and the 2011 GP2. Some of the cars are already at Yas Marina Circuit.

"Allsport Management, who handle the paddock club, have been setting up for the last week," Mr Hughes says. "The numbers of people [involved] are ramping up and all the teams will arrive on Monday to start putting the cars together."

By Tuesday, some 15,000 people will be accredited to work in or around the site for race weekend. Around 10,000 of those will be contracted or subcontracted by Yas Marina Circuit.

Marshals and medical crew make up 1,000 and the teams and support crews number about 4,000. There are 850 bus drivers who have been practising routes around the island all week.

Next week, Yas Marina Circuit staff will be putting workers and volunteers through track orientation, so that when race fans arrive they will be sent to the right place.

By Tuesday, the requests will start coming in for gear or equipment the teams have forgotten. Mr Hughes says there is a team dedicated to handling requests.

"They'll check the freight, build the cars and start to ask us for stuff they've forgotten … be it a glass front for a fridge door, to an LCD TV, to brake cleaners," he says.

By Wednesday the teams and drivers will be in place at the paddock.


* With additional reporting by Gary Meenaghan