Abu Dhabi – fast-track to future of F1

Motorsport's latest lavish landmark is already winning over drivers – but it's a long way from the romance of Silverstone.

The opulence washes over you like the warmth of the humid 36C air whenever you abandon the solace of air conditioning. Ever since Bernie Ecclestone launched Formula One on its conquest of far-flung climes as distant from Europe as Jim Clark's Lotus is from Lewis Hamilton's McLaren, we have become used to visiting new architectural marvels from circuit designer Hermann Tilke.

First there was Sepang in Malaysia, then Bahrain and Shanghai, New World venues financed with limitless governmental funds. But now there is Yas Marina, which redefines circuit design in a country where £6bn of wealth oozes from the ground – daily. Sources close to Tilke speak of £6bn for the circuit and facilities, with a total cost for the whole Yas Island development closer to £15bn. Ecclestone, the king of F1, yesterday surveyed the new kingdom, 1001 days after greenlighting the race and the investment of 184 million man-hours. "I knew there would be a race, I knew they were committed," he declared. "But I never knew it would be finished like this."

Champion constructor Ross Brawn was equally impressed. "Abu Dhabi has set a new standard in Formula One," he said. "It is absolutely incredible. The commitment and investment is staggering. Really, really impressive and something that the government and country should be extremely proud of."

Khaldoon al Mubarak, the chief executive officer and managing director of Mubadala, whose interests also embrace shareholdings in Ferrari and Manchester City, is the man whose vision created this new masterpiece.

"Monaco, Montreal and Singapore do different things fantastically," he said. "Our hope is that Abu Dhabi can take it to a whole new level. It has everything. It is more than a sport – it is a grand occasion.

"Of course we want to show what we can do to the rest of the world but this is for the people of Abu Dhabi. That is the biggest reason why we brought Formula One here. You can feel the interest in it among the people now, and as the years go on I am sure that will increase."

It's hard to take it all in. There is the Yas Hotel which, at night, shimmers like a multi-coloured jewel thanks to 4,800 roof panels that change colour – from silver to sapphire to amethyst. Tilke vouchsafed that the hotel cost £300m, half of that the roof. Small wonder that all 499 rooms have been booked out to the true high rollers: team principals, drivers and their retinues, sponsors and VIPs, who have 14 restaurants to choose from. The most expensive suites, with private swimming pools and 16-seat dining rooms, would set you back around £5,000 a night.

If the hotel isn't sufficient, the Yas Yacht Club and Shams Tower each provide further distinctive architectural landmarks. And in the background the unfinished shell of what will eventually become the Ferrari World theme park stands like a giant red starfish sentinel. Around the 143 boats that bob, Monaco-like, in the man-made marina threads a spectacular track which Hamilton believes will yield that most elusive gold of racing currency: overtaking.

Even the most cynical have been taken aback by the sheer scale of the investment. And by tomorrow you won't be able to move for the 250 Royal family members and their bodyguards who will be attending, together with A list celebrities that will include singers Beyonce and Jay Kay, Aerosmith and the Kings of Leon. Such a concentration of the rich and famous is never seen outside Monaco, and the Royals will watch the race from an exclusive vantage point inside the bridge that links the two sections of the hotel, under which the track runs.

The drivers themselves generally seemed to love the Yas Marina circuit.

''It looks like we might be quite competitive here,'' said Hamilton. Our long runs appear to be good, the car feels great and the track is great. It's quite interesting coming from daylight into night time, you don't notice the difference through the twilight."

"It's certainly an interesting one," said Button. "When you look at the layout, it doesn't seem that exciting but when you actually drive it, it's fantastic. It has a bit of everything, with high- and low-speed corners, positive and negative camber and the walls are pretty close to you most of the way round."

"Obviously as the track surface is completely new, it was quite dirty, so you have to be a little careful to find your way to begin with,'' said Germany's Nico Rosberg, preparing for his last race for Williams.

So here it is, the future of motorsport, the new milestone by which others will be judged. In comparison, a distant Silverstone seems somehow quaintly archaic, all rain, cut grass and English tea with cucumber sandwiches. "This circuit has a nation behind it," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pointed out. "Silverstone is a private entity."

Brawn added: "Damon Hill made the point that Formula One and the world championship is so attractive to countries such as Abu Dhabi because of Silverstone's heritage and history and if we destroy that maybe it won't be as attractive, so we need to keep a balance. Places such as this are wonderful, but it would be a tragedy if we lost Silverstone."

Despite the stratospheric spend the 'Monaco of the Middle East' doesn't have everything. Heritage is one thing that money cannot buy, that has to be earned. Silverstone has it in spades, which is why fans will flock there again next year if the BRDC and Ecclestone can work together long enough to pluck the grand prix Phoenix from the Donington flames.

Leading practice times

1 H Kovalainen McLaren 1 min 41.307

2 L Hamilton McLaren 1:41.504

3 J Button Brawn 1:41.541

4 S Vettel RedBull 1:41.591

5 K Kobayashi Toyota 1:41.636

6 S Buemi Toro Rosso 1:41.683

7 M Webber RedBull 1:41.684

8 R Barrichello Brawn 1:41.831

9 N Rosberg Williams 1:41.931

10 K Raikkonen Ferrari 1:41.987

Abu Dhabi GP: In Numbers

800

Estimated cost, in £m, to build the track

1,172

Length in metres of the straight, the longest in Formula 1

14,000

Numbers of workers employed to build the track

50,000

Spectators expected for the race, less than half who watched the British GP

Ben Araujo

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam