The new Yas Marina Island circuit at Abu Dhabi is taking shape, ahead of its first Grand Prix on November 1st, the season finale.
Today the organisers launched a video game which offers fans the chance to drive a virtual lap of the circuit.
At Silverstone I sat down for a few minutes to chat with Richard Cregan, who is CEO of the project and responsible for bringing it in on time and to the highest F1 standards. We met in the new Ferrari motorhome, on the top floor. Aldar Properties, the company which is building the new track, has taken it for the season as a place to host its guests.
The massive undertaking of building the circuit is a new challenge for Richard, who for many years was the team manager of Toyota in sportscars and more recently Formula 1. A easy-going Dubliner, Richard is one of those guys about whom no-one in the paddock has a bad word to say, which is pretty rare. So he will be quite an asset for his employers when F1 comes to town. He understands how F1 works and will make sure that the teams fit in effortlessly to the circuit. When he was offered the Abu Dhabi job late last year he couldn’t turn it down.
Listening to Richard it is hard not to think of the contrast with poor old Simon Gillett at Donington who is fighting against all the financial odds to get his circuit revamped to host a race next year. Richard currently has 14,500 people working on his project, a rise of 2,500 for the summer months when, he tells me, efficiency drops off in the sweltering temperatures of 48 degrees! I can relate to that, I’m struggling to prevent my efficiency dropping off in the current UK heatwave and I’m not having to carry a hod around..
“We can now see that we’ve got a track, ” he said gleefully. “Our inspection by Charlie (Whiting of the FIA) is on August 1st and it has to be ready for then.”
The scale of the track is what makes it different, and the imagination which has gone into the design. It passes underneath a hotel, the pit exit is a tunnel, for example. The track has a waterfront stretch which passes a deep water harbour, like Monaco, which has 148 berths, for yachts up to 160 metres in length. Like Monaco the boats should provide a stunning backdrop.
“It’s going to put Abu Dhabi on the international map, for motor sports and tourism, it’s part of a very big picture, a tool to activate that and a centre of excellence for motorsports, ” says Cregan.
The F1 Circuit and the Grand Prix are only part of the story. The Yas Island will include the first Ferrari theme park, a Warner Bros theme park, a golf course and other attractions. But widening the view out further from there, the development project includes Sa’adiyat Island, which will be a centre for culture and education, al Reem Island, which will be the financial hub. Abu Dhabi is setting the ground for the future.
We were talking on the Sunday morning, barely 48 hours after FOTA had announced it breakaway from the FIA. I asked Richard whether this made him nervous, given Ferrari’s involvement in Abu Dhabi, both through the theme park and the Mubadala sponsorship of the team,
“We will wait and see, like everyone else, ” he said, “The Ferrari deal is not going to influence our situation.”
Since then a peace deal has been struck, of course, but then thrown into some doubt again by FIA president Max Mosley. It’s gone very quiet on that front since Sunday. The Abu Dhabi deal is with F1 management, so they will be hosting the F1 world championship, come what may.
Jenson Button has visited the track and he will have been delighted to hear that the expected temperature for race day on November 1st is 41 degrees, which will suit his Brawn car and the way it uses the tyres.
But he may well have it all wrapped up by then.
I’m really looking forward to going to this track. It’s timely because F1 is undergoing a debate about its own values and priorities in this FIA vs FOTA struggle and one of the hot topics is the extent to which new venues replace the classic circuits. I’ve always been of the belief that a mix of the classic tracks like Spa and Monza with exciting new venues that really add something is what is called for. F1 must innovate, but not at the expense of its heritage.
Looks like Abu Dhabi is going to be an asset to the championship. Can’t wait to see it in the flesh.
To drive the virtual circuit go to: www.yasmarinacircuit.com/experience