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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Tens of thousands flock to F1 season finale

Mercedes golden boy Lewis Hamilton poised to win his eleventh race of the season

Tens of thousands of fans flocked to the 10th anniversary of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, with Mercedes golden boy Lewis Hamilton poised to win his eleventh race of the season.

Hamilton stormed through qualifying on Saturday, setting a new lap record of one minute, 34.794 seconds, closely followed by his Finn teammate Valtteri Bottas.

With Hamilton's rival Sebastian Vettel in third place, Sunday's 55-lap clash is set to be hotly contested.

Fans flooded into the Yas Marina Circuit for the season-ending finale; with some watching for the first time and others hardened veterans of the event.

“This is my first time,” said Saad Abdullah, 27, a comedy blogger and influencer from Ajman. “I’ve lived in Ajman my whole life. Why didn't I come before? I was busy. Will I come again? Inshallah.”

Left to right, Mohammed Pandor, Mushtaq Master, Naiyeem Bhayat and Yunus Vadva at Yas Marina Circuit. Victor Besa / The National
Left to right, Mohammed Pandor, Mushtaq Master, Naiyeem Bhayat and Yunus Vadva at Yas Marina Circuit. Victor Besa / The National

By comparison, Mushtaq Master, 51, from Muscat, said he had only missed one of the 10 races so far.

“I used to live in Sharjah,” he said. “It’s a great weekend – it’s just the atmosphere.

“I'm always in the main grandstand. I haven't been to any other F1 races around the world, but maybe Singapore next year for the first time.”

His friend Mohammed Pandor, 32, from Leicester in the UK, said he was attending the race for the first time this year, alongside Naiyeem Bhayat, 46, an independent Mercedes garage owner.

“The pit lane walk was enough for me – it made my day,” said Mr Pandor with a smile.

“We’ve got a group of lads who come every year and this time they invited me this year. It's my third time in the UAE, though. I've been on holiday before.”

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Also in their international group was Yunus Vadva, 61, from Lusaka in Zambia.

“This is my fifth Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” he said. “I came for the inaugural one.

“Why do I like it so much? It’s just all the excitement and the glamour and celebrities.”

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the second practice session at the Yas Marina circuit on November 23, 2018, in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the second practice session at the Yas Marina circuit on November 23, 2018, in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE

For others, meanwhile, the surrounding entertainment that accompanies the weekend-long motorsport extravaganza was the persuading factor that attracted them to the race.

“I heard that Guns N' Roses were headlining and we already wanted to come,” said Vicky Lawson, from Newcastle in north-east England. “We came five years ago for a tour of the circuit.”

“It’s been a bucket-list event,” said her husband Phil Lawson, who was negotiating the Yas Marina Circuit in a wheelchair after suffering a compound fracture of his leg.

Their group also included fellow Geordies Mike Graveson and Steph Lundy, who said it was their first time in Abu Dhabi.

Left to right, Mike Graveson, Steph Lundy, Vicky Lawson and Phil Lawson from Newcastle, north-west England. Adam Workman / The National
Left to right, Mike Graveson, Steph Lundy, Vicky Lawson and Phil Lawson from Newcastle, north-west England. Adam Workman / The National

Mr Lawson's injury also allowed the quartet some unique access.

“Williams invited us in to their garage,” Mrs Lawson said with a laugh. “They pretended to jack up Phil's wheelchair.”

The international atmosphere was on full show throughout the circuit, with flags representing every nationality competing in this year's Grand Prix.

One prominent flag alluded to next year and the return of Polish driver Robert Kubica, who originally left the sport after nearly severing his arm in a rally crash in 2011.

He will return to F1 next season, a move announced on Thursday that brought the number of nationalities confirmed to compete in 2019 to 13.