Let’s start this blog post by saying that we don’t follow the Formula 1, but having lived in the Emirates for a number of years now, the Abu Dhabi GP was something that we wanted to experience at least once. The race which is held annually on the Yas Marina Circuit is arguably the biggest sporting event held in the UAE with over 60,000 spectators taking to Yas Island each year to experience the final race of the Formula 1 season.
F1 mania starts early in the year when the tickets go on sale. We were lucky enough to get our tickets in the spring when they had a 33% discount rate for ‘early bird’ purchases. Initially it was hard to decide which tickets to purchase and which days to attend – but we knew that we didn’t want to spend crazy amounts of money and that we obviously wanted to be in attendance on race day. So a two day hill pass seemed like the most sensible option.
As soon as tickets are available the speculation starts as to which worldwide acts will be performing at the after race concerts – this seems to be almost as important as the race itself when it comes to the purchase of tickets. The Abu Dhabi GP is generally held on the final weekend in November and marks the final race of the season, so it is a big deal not only for the sport, but also for Abu Dhabi as a city as the frenzy created by the F1 feeds into the countries National Day celebrations.
In the weeks running up to the races, the capital comes alive as flags and banners are erected all over Yas Island and the surrounding area to welcome visitors from all over the world. As race weekend draws closer you can feel the anticipation building and the city takes on a carnival-like atmosphere that everyone seems to buy into and embrace. There is a buzz in the air as if something truly spectacular is about to happen…
We actually started our Formula 1 celebrations not at the races but on Abu Dhabi’s corniche for the first night of Beats On The Beach. These are free to attend concerts presented by Yasalam that bring a combination of Arab and Western acts to the beach to perform for thousands of spectators. We only attended the Friday session but saw spectacular sets from Trey ‘Ace’ Smith (son of Hollywood actor Will Smith) who’s fantastic DJ set really got the crowd going and created a great party atmosphere. This was followed by an exceptional performance from J. Cole whose socially conscious rap lyrics really seemed to resonate with the crowd.
Whilst at the corniche we also visited the Formula 1 fan zone, another great free to attend event, which provided a large screen and comfy beanbag seating from which to watch all the racing action. This is a great idea and an excellent spot for those who were unable to get tickets. The F1 fan zone also included go karting for children, formula 1 racing simulators and a street food market with stalls from companies such as Shake Shack, Maple Leaf and Costa Coffee.
Saturday we were up early to head down to Yas Marina Circuit. We expected transport to be an absolute nightmare as the media was reporting that shuttle buses would be the only feasible way to reach the event and private car companies such as Uber wanted 300 dirhams each way from Abu Dhabi (ridiculous)! There was also the option to arrive in style with the UberChopper which would set you back a small fortune at 2000 AED per person. In reality we had absolutely no trouble taking a taxi to Yas Island and traffic upon arrival was actually pretty light.
A circular shuttle bus operated around Yas Island taking in seven stops including the grandstands, Yas Plaza Hotels, Du Arena and Yas Mall – this proved to be a pretty efficient and effective way to move around from the circuit and due to the large number of buses, it never seemed to get too busy.
Our tickets were general admission for Abu Dhabi Hill which is a grass area in the centre of the track where you can sit and watch all of the racing action from a high vantage point at close proximity to the track. The grassed area is a really pleasant place to soak up the sun and get involved, but there was little on offer in terms of entertainment other than a health and fitness booth and one stall selling coffee and cold beverages – in all honesty we were expecting more!
All tickets for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix include your seating, after race concerts and also entrance to the oasis villages scattered around Yas Marina Circuit. This is where you can go to buy your merchandise, purchase food and beverages or even partake in an alcoholic tipple. These Oasis areas were a great time killer during downtime at the races and there were some great activities on offer such as a free zip-lines, the opportunity to participate in a pit lane tyre change and of course lots of cars to photograph.
We really enjoyed exploring the Oasis area but were disappointed by the food and beverage options which basically consisted of pizza, burgers and little else. There were no real choices and some food trucks would have really helped to enhance the experience. Beer and other alcoholic beverages were available to purchase in a small section which was fenced off from the general public and with prices stating at 45 AED for a warm pint of Heineken it really wasn’t worth it.
Sunday is race day and the fever of the Grand Prix really takes hold and the circuit takes on a completely different atmosphere. By early afternoon Abu Dhabi Hill was completely full with spectators vying for space on the grass to gain the optimum view. The track itself is 5.5km long with 21 turns and is currently the most expensive racing track in the world, costing approximately one billion US dollars to construct. The circuit has a counter-clockwise layout and is the only track in the world to be spanned by a hotel (the Yas Viceroy).
Not only is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix the final race of the season but it is the only twilight Grand Prix, with races taking place during both daylight and nighttime hours.
The action on race day started at 3:30pm with the drivers parade. All of the F1 drivers are driven around the circuit on the back of a flat-bed truck so that the fans can see them and show their support. This was then followed by a parachute display, the UAE National Anthem and a flyover by Etihad Airways. Who were supported by the Al Fursan aerobatics team who painted one of their signature UAE flags into the sky.
The flyover signifies that the race was soon to begin and before we knew it the roaring sound of the Formula 1 cars could be heard as they went thundering around the track. The atmosphere of the races was spectacular and something truly spectacular as the crowd became fully captivated by the on-circuit action and yelled out to their favourite drivers as their cars zoomed past. Despite our close proximity to the track it was actually quite tricky to keep track of exactly what was going on with the race and on the hillside area, there was only one video screen which was actually quite far away (to a point that you couldn’t read the text on-screen) and the commentary was inaudible above the roar or the cars engines. Hopefully the provision of more screens is something that can be addressed and rectified for future races.
The race was exhilarating despite Lewis Hamilton’s overall victory being a foregone conclusion and the atmosphere from the crowd was electric. The speed at which these cars travel in enough to fill you with a true sense of euphoria!
As day turned to night helicopters continued to hover over our heads capturing all the action for worldwide broadcast, and before we knew it the race was over! The sky erupted into one of the best fireworks display that we have ever witnessed as the sky was emblazoned with colour and sparkles – with sequences using the red, black, white and green colours of the UAE flag to lead us into the celebrations for the countries 44th National Day.
After the races the majority of people headed over to the Du Arena to experience the after race concerts with previous years headline acts including Jay-Z and Eminem. These are the sort of artists that we were hoping for when purchasing our tickets, so were slightly underwhelmed with the announcement of Enrique Iglesias, Florence & The Machine and Blur. Yet these are very popular choices that do put on a great show that were bound to keep the masses happy. The queue for these concerts is long and you have to hand in your cameras before entering the arena – which caused frustration for some.
Overall our first Formula 1 experience was a good one and we are certainly glad that we got to attend and soak up the atmosphere of such an occasion. We are sure that the experience would be a completely different one if we were in the grandstands or onboard one of the luxury yachts moored in Yas Marina! Well theres always next year…
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.