THE venue was different but the feeling of stepping onto the premises of a Formula One circuit was the same.
No matter which circuit I visit, the need for speed does not change.
News of the asignment had me mentally rubbing my hands in glee at attending the 2011 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
|As it's name implies, the marina is just next to the circuit
Along with the group of journalists who were there on the invitation of Etihad Airways, it seemed almost the same as Sepang but not quite.
While Abu Dhabi had a blazing sun, one did not feel Sepang’s heat or humidity – a nice change to beads of perspiration rolling down one’s face from almost the get-go.
The hour was still early but it was already buzzing with teams making last-minute preparations, VIPs heading in for an afternoon of networking to fans streaming in to the F1 Village and Oasis areas.
Following a rather sinful lunch that included lobster with papaya salad appetiser, a buffet to pick from and dessert that oozed with chocolate, it was time to head over to where the fans were gathering for the race.
What was noticeable while making one’s way from the paddock to the main grandstand area of the circuit was the underground tunnel.
Instead of stark white walls, the one at Yas Marina Circuit was plastered with huge colourful posters featuring various attractions in Abu Dhabi.
Once again, the F1 Village and Oasis areas are not unlike Sepang International Circuit’s mall area where food, beverages and souvenirs are sold. This, in addition to the numerous activities held to entertain the fans before race time.
Besides a Kids Zone where children play various games including badminton, there was also a nail salon to get a free manicure.
Right beside it was a counter where body art (ie. colourful sparkly body stickers) was available.
Over at the Paddock Club, Malaysia’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Datuk Yahaya Abdul Jabar said the race had made Abu Dhabi an important tourist destination for the UAE.
Malaysia, he added, had a part to play in the circuit’s construction courtesy of WCT Bhd, a company which also built the circuits in Sepang and Bahrain.
“This makes it extra special for me to join in celebrating Formula One here,” he said.
With the race under way, it was time to view it from various points of the Paddock Club including from the rooftop terrace.
Twilight hitting and day turning into night was quite an experience.
With the glare of the floodlights on the circuit along with thousands of twinkling lights around it, there was an almost magical atmosphere, particularly in the paddock area where the hospitality suites were reminiscent of something out of the Arabian Nights.
This, besides watching the cars whizz by the lit-up Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel and yachts docked at the marina, was quite a breathtaking sight.
When the race was finally over, it was up to the rooftop terrace for more mingling before heading over to the Yas Arena to fulfil one of my teenhood dreams: watching Sir Paul McCartney in concert, who did not disappoint with his boundless energy.
Abu Dhabi may still be a “toddler” in the Formula One calendar but it packed in an awesome experience for those who went to the venue for a weekend of fun, speed and ultimately, to bond with other race fans.