Yas Marina Circuit. The big race. Will there ever come a time when the F1 weekend ceases to grab the local headlines? Given the region’s obsession with flash cars and general ostentation, probably not. But in these days of speed and glory, it’s easy to forget that less than six per cent of the capital’s 900,000 inhabitants will actually make it to the big event.
This may be partially to do with finance (many of us can’t afford to spend upwards of Dhs1,800 on a single ticket), but I suspect it also has to do with the sport itself. Compared to football or basketball, it does seem to be a specialist fascination, and having been to the inaugural Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (it’s almost as fun to say as it is to write), it’s a very hard sport for a novice to get much out of.
Sure, the noise has a physically powerful effect that can make people react unusually. I remember seeing a couple of older gents daring each other to watch a lap without earplugs. I doubt they’ve heard anything since, but a dare’s a dare, and there was fun to be had for all involved – it was certainly more distracting than the race itself. You should’ve seen the look on their faces when they realised what they’d done.
You see, unless you’ve spent years watching the sport, it’s extremely hard to get excited about. I tried. I really did. For the first few laps I just about managed to keep tabs on Lewis Hamilton, but as soon as he span out I realised I had no idea what was going on. To the untrained eye, as soon as the drivers strap on their helmets it’s nearly impossible to know who is doing what. Each team has two drivers, both driving identical cars, so the only identifiable markings are on their helmets, which are often too far away to see with the naked eye. Sure, there are the big screens relaying info and images, but who pays Dhs2,000 to watch TV?
I’ve had the good fortune to meet David Coulthard on a couple of occasions, and, I can tell you, aside from his distractingly angular jaw line, the man’s ability to tell a good story interested me far more than his skills behind the wheel. My interest in almost any subject comes down to the human element, and – while I appreciate that it takes extraordinary courage and skill to pilot what is essentially a jet engine countless times around an enclosed circuit – if I can’t tell who is doing the piloting, my mind starts to wander. This is probably the same for a lot of people.
This year I’ve decided not to go along to Yas Marina Circuit. I simply can’t afford it. But I’ll be going down to the Corniche to watch the race on the Yasalam screens. I’ll give it my best shot and try to sit through the whole thing, but it’ll most probably be my interest in Abu Dhabi that keeps me there. Unless those two deaf gents turn up again, of course.
Originally blogged on Time Out Abu Dhabi