The final round of the 2010 Formula 1 Grand Prix Championship, held at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, could have been pulled from the back pages of an airport novel: high stakes; skilled opponents; victory snatched from a scandal-scarred incumbent by a gifted young champion, all set against a backdrop that could have been plucked from the imagination of a science fiction writer.
Sebastian Vettel’s flawless race and ultimate victory over Fernando Alonso, after overcoming the Spaniard’s 15-point lead, established Vettel as the youngest champion in F1 history and catapulted the Red Bull team into the limelight. At the same time, as Vettel completed his victory lap and Yas Island’s 100,000 guests let loose during the last of seven nights of festivities, it was clear that their host, Abu Dhabi, had enjoyed a triumph of its own.
The Emirate debuted its state-of-the-art racing facilities last year, when it hosted the final F1 race of 2009. Yet in terms of organization, planning and new infrastructure, the country’s facilities only reached maturity in 2010. Yas Island, and the Grand Prix in particular, are the most visible of a number of new touristic and cultural endeavors aimed at diversifying the country’s oil-based economy.
As Abu Dhabi’s leader Sheikh Khalifa pointed out in the early days of the “tournament,” sports are an integral part of the United Arab Emirates’ plan to strengthen its position on the regional and global stage, along with tourism and trade. At the same time, the capital is moving toward cultural development, as can be seen in the rapid pace of construction at the sites of the local branches of the Guggenheim, Louvre, Sorbonne University and the Abu Dhabi National Museum.
For the guests who attended 2010’s Grand Prix, that progress was in evidence at all times during the festive week that led up to the race. High-end restaurants and hotels, concerts and clubs — among them, an outlet of the Beirut-based Skybar — were packed night and day.
Many of the most striking features of Yas Island were little more than foundations two years ago, yet an aerial view of the island today shows a glittering city of hotels, clubs and boulevards, bounded by the world’s most advanced F1 racetrack and hemmed at the edges by fleets of luxury yachts. During the week of the Grand Prix guests enjoyed top-end accommodation, round-the-clock service and a tight, though not restrictive, security network.
The most significant of the island’s venues to be unveiled this year was undoubtedly Ferrari World, a massive 5.5 kilometer theme park rising at the edge of the island’s skyline. From the building’s architecture — modeled on the classic double curve body shell of a Ferrari GT — to the futuristic attractions housed within it, the park added a new dimension to an environment already pushed to architectural extremes. The world’s fastest roller-coaster, the heart-stopping G-Force elevator and a virtual tour through a giant four-dimensional model of the Ferrari V12 engine, were only a few of the attractions Ferrari rolled out for the auto aficionados who attended their park in the lead-up to the race.
If the Emirate was hoping for a high-intensity finale to crown the week — in addition to their achievements in boosting tourism — they were not disappointed.
NADIM MEHANNA is an automotive engineer and the pioneer of motoring on Middle Eastern television since 1992.