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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ABU DHABI: Saif Al-Noaimi smiled as he surveyed arguably the most famous spot in the modern history of motorsports.
The CEO of Ethara — organizers of the Etihad Airways Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — was standing on Yas Marina Circuit’s Turn 5, the exact spot where Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on Dec. 12, 2021, to win his first Formula 1 World Championship in dramatic circumstances.
Al-Noaimi understands more than most the significance of that iconic piece of real estate at the North Grandstand hairpin. It had been one of the segments that had been altered earlier that year to allow for more overtaking opportunities and exciting racing.
It delivered on those promises.
He said: “This is the turn that was changed completely in 2021. We saw Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen arriving at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with exactly the same number of points and this was the corner in which Max Verstappen overtook Lewis to claim the championship on the last lap at Yas Marina Circuit.”
Verstappen may have wrapped up this year’s title weeks ago, but the popularity of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — that concludes on Nov. 26 — remains as high as ever.
“The sales have been unprecedented. We didn’t expect this level of demand for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, so we launched our tickets earlier than we’ve ever launched in previous years. And we sold out within weeks of certain products, including grandstands,” Al-Noaimi added as he drove around the course.
The tickets also provide entry into the post-race concerts which this year include Ava Max, Tiesto, Chris Brown, Shania Twain, and Foo Fighters.
“There’s been extremely high interest in demand in all categories, grandstands, general admission, but also high-end hospitality and VIP offerings.
“When we saw that we sold out many of these products, we worked to add inventory and to build new products over the summer period,” Al-Noaimi said.
The old favorites remain. The Marina Grandstand, the W Abu Dhabi, and the Paddock Club — opposite the Main Grandstand — where a new podium will protrude onto the track, allowing fans a closer look at the drivers at the end of the race.
Stopping at Turn 2, Al-Noaimi pointed to the track’s latest additions, which will provide new hospitality outlets with vantage points that have never been experienced before.
He added: “We have the Deck at Two and Horizon 360, completely new perspectives, we’ve never used that part of the track. No one has ever got that perspective of the race. Imagine the start of the race, all 20 cars are coming around for the first time, all close to each other, everyone trying to get the optimal line through Turn 2, setting themselves up for Turn 5 at the hairpin.
“We launched the West Straight Grandstand. We added some hospitality products as well. We’re listening to what the customers want; they want more hospitality. They want more grandstands. They want unique, branded F and B (food and beverage) and hospitality experiences, and we’ve added a lot this year.”
Among 15 of those branded experiences are Hakkasan, Nobu, Roka, Ce La Vi, Opa, and The Maine.
“We sold out very quickly of most of our products, and we’re starting to think about what we need to do for 2024 to meet this demand.”
Al-Noaimi noted that Yas Marina Circuit had increasingly seen a rise in fans coming from abroad, particularly Europe.
He said: “At the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we had 140,000 attendees over the entire weekend. And if you break down that list of attendees, over 70 percent of them were coming from outside the UAE, which demonstrates the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is truly a global event.
“It’s bringing in, from a tourism point of view, a significant number of visitors to Abu Dhabi, into the UAE. And out of that 70 percent, over 80 percent of them stayed four nights or more in the UAE. So, from a macroeconomic impact, that’s significant.
“We’re definitely seeing the international numbers grow. There are a lot of European fans that travel to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We have a big contingent of Dutch fans supporting Max Verstappen, but from all over Europe, as well.”
Ethara was launched in May and since then Yas Island has hosted the NBA Abu Dhabi Games for the second year running, as well as UFC 294, and the World Supercross Abu Dhabi GP.
“We brought in the teams that used to look after Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management and Flash Entertainment under one structure and one management.
“We have an amazing team of over 300 seasoned experts in the event and venue management space,” Al-Noaimi added.
He pointed out the growing importance of sustainability in shaping Yas Marina Circuit.
“We put in place a strategy, a sustainability strategy back in 2020 and we’re well underway on its execution. Last year we saw the most sustainable Grand Prix we have ever delivered.
“We received the FIA Three-Star certification for sustainability in 2021, which is the highest level of accreditation, the first circuit in the region to achieve that.”
Evidence of that is the solar panel farm located adjacent to the track ahead of Turn 5.
Al-Noaimi said: “For 2023, we’re adding to what we’ve done in previous years. We’ve just converted all our track lights to LED, so we’ve reduced our requirements of electrical power.
“Additionally, we’ve just completed the building of one megawatt of solar power at Yas Marina Circuit. That one megawatt is going to fulfil 30 percent of our power requirements throughout the year.
“And we have clear objectives for 2030 and 2040, with reductions of our carbon footprint. And every year we will have more and more initiatives.”
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend will also take a glimpse into the future of regional drivers when the young stars of Yas Heat Racing Academy take to the track.
“We’re really proud of the members of the team that have participated so far. This year, we’re really excited about the trophy race, support race for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Formula 4 UAE, we are going to have several members of Yas Heat participating.
“We have the return of Hamda and Amna Al-Qubaisi to Yas Heat. We have Rashid Al-Dhaheri. He was below the minimum age last year and it’s the first time he’s going to participate in Formula 4 UAE and race at his home Grand Prix, we’re really excited about that,” Al-Noaimi added.
Other talented drivers taking part are Keanu Al-Azhari, Zack Scoular, and Harry Hannam.
“We’re really proud to have this platform to show the capabilities and the development of young UAE nationals and residents in the single-seater space.
“And for 2024, we’ve already announced that we will be hosting F1 Academy at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is the female-only championship. It will form one of the support races in 2024 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” Al-Noaimi said.
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