x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'It felt as if my head was going to be ripped off'

A journalist from The National hitches a ride in a Formula One car for a preview of Abu Dhabi's new circuit.

ABU DHABI // The sound of a 700-horsepower engine coming to life inches from my head drove home the reality of what was about to happen. I was going to experience, in a two-seater F1 car, at least some of what Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and the rest of the Formula One grid will feel when the series arrives in Abu Dhabi. Clad in fireproof underwear, vest and race overalls, I pulled on to the track with the sports car driver Jamie Campbell-Walter for a spin around the 5.5km course.

Even strapped in so tightly that breathing was difficult, when we came down the long back straight at almost 280kph, it felt as if my head was going to be ripped off by the sheer force of our acceleration. When we braked to about 70kph in two seconds to take a tight left, my head was thrust forward but my body went nowhere, thanks to being belted in so securely. The end to the lap, including the drive under the hotel, had seemed easy when peering at the map. But in reality, it was roaring acceleration followed by heavy braking, tossing my head from side to side.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lasts 55 laps and covers 305km. After just two laps, the grin on my face as we were wheeled back into the pit garage was as wide as the Maqta Bridge. But as the adrenalin wore off and the soreness arrived, I could only marvel at the tremendous level of fitness the drivers will require on November 1 if they are to finish, let alone win.