x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Yas Marina Circuit and grand prix put Abu Dhabi on the world map

Pole Position How many race circuits do you think there are in the world? Well, I have a list of more than 600 of them. But what constitutes a great circuit?

When my wife and I left the UK for the UAE back in the 1970s it was difficult to find anyone who had even heard of Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Back then the idea of tourism seemed absurd as the only people who could enter the country had to have a local sponsor and a good reason for their visit. There was a shortage of hotel space as the boom in business and commerce attracted thousands of businessmen from overseas. The demand was partially taken up with the mooring of the Cypriot-owned Bon Vivant at Dubai Creek - the UAE's first floating hotel.

Many years later it was determined that tourism was the future and investments were made in infrastructure to support some challenging visitor number targets. Abu Dhabi pulled a master stroke when it put the emirate on the map at 5pm on November 1, 2009, with the start of its first Formula One Grand Prix. Just two hours later, 600 million people had heard of Abu Dhabi (and young Sebastian Vettel, who had won the race). If you want to put a country on the world stage, build a race circuit to F1 standards and do a deal with Mr Ecclestone.

How many race circuits do you think there are in the world? Well, I have a list of more than 600 of them. But what constitutes a great circuit? That depends very much on whether you are a competitor or spectator.

As a competitor, you are looking at the track layout and the cost of using it. From a driver's perspective you want a circuit that is technically challenging, with a mix of fast and medium-speed corners and preferably some elevation change - not unlike what you would expect from a roller-coaster. That is why the Spa Francorchamps circuit, in the Ardennes hills of Belgium, is often the drivers' favourite.

Straights are only there to connect the corners and to remind you to breathe again and look at temperatures and pressures on your dashboard. Racing is essentially all about braking and cornering - there's not much skill involved in driving full throttle down the straights.

While we love to drive on the world's best circuits, sometimes the cost of doing so can be prohibitive. Building and maintaining such facilities does not come cheap though. Drivers typically want a cheap piece of tarmac to practise on but a grand prix facility to race at. Unfortunately, they are not the same thing.

As a spectator, the most important issue is line of sight; how much of the circuit you can see. The big issue here is that those grand prix facilities have to house and feed thousands of spectators, media, officials and race teams and inevitably this means the construction of many large buildings around the circuit that tend to block the spectator's view. So the best viewing circuits are those where most of the action takes place in a sort of amphitheatre. The best examples of this are the Indi Circuit at Brands Hatch and Donington Park in the UK.

Of course, the drivers' teams get the raw deal. All they can see is the concrete pit wall. Hence the small crowd in the garage straining their eyes to read the timing screen.

Pole Position is written by Barry Hope, a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.