x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sound of speed … and the F1 fans who love it

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix attracts fans from all over the world, as well as closer to home.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 3, 2012: Spectators watch the third practice session of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on November 3, 2012. Christopher Pike / The National
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 3, 2012: Spectators watch the third practice session of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on November 3, 2012. Christopher Pike / The National

The noise is like a swarm of mosquitos, amplified thousands of times. But the world's Formula One fanatics are drawn to it like bees to honey, and yesterday they were out in force for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's penultimate day, grid qualifying

It may have been only qualifying day for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but for the country's growing number of Formula One fans - as well as those visiting from all over the world - the deafening noise of the cars remained as seductive as ever.

Day three of the Grand Prix weekend saw yet another strong presence from fans across a wide spectrum - from the die-hard enthusiast to the casual observer.

The serious racing fans were easy to spot, wearing radio headphones and carrying cameras with wide-angle lenses. Some were weary from the previous night's many events on Yas Island - or indeed across the city.

The early crowd was sparse but it had steadily picked up by lunchtime. Outside the North Grandstand the atmosphere was laid back, but increasingly colourful. There was certainly no shortage of those flaunting their allegiances - or even just nationality.

Two Spaniards wore wigs in their country's colours. A Briton wrapped himself in a Union Jack. An Australian flag hung over one of the stands. And even several Lebanese flags did the rounds.

Several visitors wore football shirts, and planned to move on to one of Yas Island's hotels to catch English Premier League action later in the day.

Above all, there were the red flags, shirts and hats of Ferrari, easily the most popular team, a fact accentuated by Ferrari World's towering presence on the horizon.

Some came from the farthest corners of the globe. Australian Anthony Hvala travelled all the way from Melbourne.

"I came here by myself, especially for the race," the 28-year-old said. "I spent a few days in Dubai and afterwards I'll be travelling to Europe."

But it is not fellow Aussie Mark Webber that he'll be cheering on today. "I'm a big, big Ferrari fan, and I hope Alonso wins," said Mr Hvala, who has experienced Formula One action in Melbourne.

Inside Al Dhiyafa's hospitality lounge, five German businessmen, who had travelled from Berlin, discussed the race while enjoying the complimentary buffet. Several Emiratis sported UAE Red Crescent scarves.

Many others alternated between watching the action from the stands and on the television screens from the relative comfort - and coolness - of the lounge.

Yesterday afternoon's qualifying confirmed Lewis Hamilton will be in pole position for today's race. He will be joined on the front row by Mark Webber. Champion Sebastian Vettel starts third, while disappointingly for the former title-holder Fernando Alonso - and fans of Ferrari - he will start in seventh.

When the chequered flag signals the start of the race at 5pm, expect many of the spectators to be from these parts because, encouragingly, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix seems to be fostering real interest, even loyalty, among the country's residents.

Abu Dhabi resident Ron D'Souza, who, like his two sons, was clad in a Formula One shirt, has returned for his third consecutive Yas Island Grand Prix. "I am not a huge Formula One fan, but I have been enjoying it more and more," the 50-year-old Indian said. "I've noticed that the organisation and events keep getting better every year."

As the sun disappeared and the sound of the roaring engines faded and died, many made their way home. Others wandered towards the du Arena in anticipation of the concert to be given by the Canadian rock band Nickelback.

Today's main event promises to be a noisy one.

"I have experienced the Grand Prix at Silverstone, and it is nowhere near as loud as it is here," said a member of G4S, the firm in charge of security at Yas Marina Circuit and Yas Arena.

"There is something about the design of the stands that traps the noise and makes it incredible. If Silverstone is a three or four on the noise scale, then Yas is a 10."

You heard him. Don't forget your earplugs.

akhaled@thenational.ae