And Abu Dhabi joins the race

As the UAE capital revs up its engines to host its own grand prix, F1 watcher SONORITA CHAUHAN examines the impact of two grand prix races in the Gulf

THE roar of the Formula One (F1) engines is being heard loud and clear across the Middle East as F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and his troupe take advantage of the Middle East’s obsession with fast cars.

In just three short years the region has seen a major influx of visitors due to the advent of F1, first in Bahrain and now in Abu Dhabi. The UAE capital will host the first of seven races in 2009 on a track as yet under construction at its Yas island.
So will two races in the same region would split the tourist influx? Not really, say most of the people associated with the sport, including Martin Whittaker, general manager, Bahrain International Circuit, who expects that the two Middle Eastern races will take place at opposite ends of the racing calendar.
Bahrain has just extended its contract to host the F1 well into the next decade.
“The addition of Abu Dhabi is great news for the Middle East. It increases the awareness of the sport in the region, and increases the fan base. If 50 per cent of the people who have turned up to witness the launch of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix come to Bahrain on April 15, it’s great news. Two races in the region is like getting two bites of the same cherry,” Whitaker says.
The talk of F1 and what it has can do to the tourism industry in the region has been going on since the first F1 race in 2003. So far only Bahrain can provide concrete data: last year’s race yielded almost $400 million dollars in terms of economic development for the kingdom, he says.
Beyond the money, for Abu Dhabi, like for Bahrain, hosting a race means more general awareness. Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority says they are only looking at raising Abu Dhabi’s profile, not just within the Middle East but  also the world. When one talks about UAE, Dubai has always been the center of attention. By grabbing the second grand prix race in the region, Abu Dhabi has pipped it’s fellow emirate to the post. Dubai too has a full-fledged F1 track, but sources in the UAE capital say that Ecclestone felt Abu Dhabi was a better place to stage the race.
The largest of the UAE’s seven emirates, Abu Dhabi has over 200 natural islands and perhaps some of the most untouched beaches in the world. The Yas Island, which is a natural leisure island, has been chosen for the construction of the circuit. With Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi International Airport providing easy connectivity, the emirate is only looking at a strong growth in terms of tourism.
As Al Mubarak says, “Abu Dhabi will bring its own unique culture, landscape and fans to the F1 experience. The track design alone is an indication of the visionary approach we are taking and I am confident we will deliver something truly special. Spectators will enjoy high speed action played out on three distinct sections of the 5.6km circuit, including high speed areas ending in tight overtaking turns, a street section and a marina section. Each section of the circuit combines to deliver an unrivalled viewing experience.”
The circuit is not only unique in the region but in the world. It is sure to give the motor sports enthusiasts a good feel of the best that both Abu Dhabi and the sport have to offer.