101. Grand Prix

You are reading the words of a man who has been obsessed with Formula 1 since 1991.  Ever since I was a young boy I have followed the likes of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell through to Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen to Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.  I have books upon books and magazines stacked to the ceiling going back to the early 90’s.   I therefore consider myself very F1 savvy.  Go on, ask me anything.

I have not missed a Grand Prix since Monaco 1998; I have been to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone twice and now the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for the fourth year running.  Unless you have been yourself you will never understand how loud the cars are or how fast they actually go.  It is a great day out by all accounts.  The Yas Marina circuit has received very negative reviews since its inaugural race in 2009.  Oh there’s nothing wrong with the facility, that is world class, but the circuit design has not permitted overtaking and the first 3 races were, in essence, pretty damn boring.  This year though there was a German child who started from the back twice and came home third, a wannabe rapper was leading but then his car broke so an angry Finn grumpily took the lead.  Then there was a mono-browed Spaniard driving fast as well as my boy, Button, who got passed by a German finger-wagger at the end.  There were expensive German cars trying to decapitate Indian drivers, a Mexican lad facilitating war between a Scotsman, a Frenchman and an Aussie… the action was just non-stop.

A Formula 1 Grand Prix is a prestigious event to behold and across the world the races can be broken into two distinct categories: first there are the traditional European races that are designed for motorsport enthusiasts.  They are all about the race because they have been hosting it for anywhere between 20-60 years.  The circuits will possess unique characteristics and have a strong place in the history of the sport.  The second category of circuit is the advert circuit.  Mainly, these are the newer Asian circuits.  They have built a circuit and been awarded a Grand Prix (for an eye-watering fee) simply to showcase their city/country to the world.  They are no different to the tacky poster of an Airbus flying over a beach that you see in the window of your local of Thomas Cook.

There is nothing wrong with that at all.  All of these category 2 circuits are built by the same bloke; a German called Herman Tilke, and all possess very similar characteristics.  You basically receive your circuit and facility in the post and just like what you buy from Ikea, you throw it together yourself.

So Bernie, what are you going to do here in Abu Dhabi this weekend? “I’m off to 49ers”

Of course what we’re all waiting for is the race itself.  The average Grand Prix will receive anywhere between 80-140 million viewers around the world, all of them will be watching you.  Before the cars start their engines the cameras will do some wonderful panning shots of the fans in the grandstands and so on, and maybe what’s happening in the public areas too.  All those millions of viewers will be there, taking it all in and judging your country deciding whether or not to book a week off work.

The question is what did all those viewers see?  Did they see the UAE, no wait; it’s a showcase for Abu Dhabi, not the country.  Obviously the first thing the people saw on the TV was a jaw-dropping, no expense spared venue with its real grass and space-age hotel.  People look at that and think “wow” and who can blame them?  Whether you like the Yas Marina circuit or not you cannot knock the facility.  It has raised the bar for sure and I doubt there are many other countries around the world that can rival it.  But all the glitz, glamour and Heinz baked beans blue paint is only detracting the audience from something alarming…

I was in the Marina Grandstand on Sunday and once the race had started I looked around and do you know how many locals I saw?  In a Grandstand of 10,000 people I saw two; who left after 15 minutes.

I looked down the track to my right at the South Grandstand, expecting to see a sea of white kanduras, but no, it was all Westerners.  I looked to my left, at the West Grandstand, it was the same.  There weren’t any locals anywhere.  It was all expatriates and tourists.

Those of you watching it at home may have seen the odd local on TV, but I bet the cameraman had a tough time finding them.  And there’s more…

Around the back of the grandstands are obviously social areas where you can spend AED 450,000 on a baseball cap or AED 6 million on a cheeseburger.  There is also a bar where you can stock up on refreshing beer.  Modesty in dresscode also fell below conventional UAE standards.  Whilst I’m not complaining about it, (sorry Mel) there were lots of pretty girls wearing next to nothing and walking around most provocatively.  And (I am complaining about this part) lots of men walking around topless; drunk.

Whilst this kind of behaviour is perfectly normal anywhere else in the world, the UAE is a conservative place where people have been in trouble with the law for a lot less…  Honestly walking around the place on Sunday I could have sworn I was in Malibu, Miami or Melbourne.  The TV audiences must have been on Google Maps trying to pinpoint where this paradise island was and who and where the natives were.

The people at home watching all this must have been scratching their heads thinking “is this the same country where that British couple got jailed for kissing in public?” No, that was Dubai, Dubai is much worse.  Same country though.  It is no surprise that expatriates and tourists are always getting into trouble over here; the UAE is being advertised as a hedonistic party land where the liberal and the orange can live the life of the jet set.  This is in stark contrast to the reality…or is it?  Nobody knows!

If you came over for a holiday with the intention of getting paralytic each day because that’s what you saw in the advert, but you got nicked for it, wouldn’t you want your money back?

You should call Watchdog. 

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