Abu Dhabi GP 2021 begins: racing day weekend welcomes motorheads and families

A highlight of the opening day is the public Pit Lane Walk, which gives fans the chance to get up close to the action at Yas Marina Circuit

The pitlane of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix was a hive of activity on Day 1. Photo: Yas Marina Circuit
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How do you prepare for the race of a lifetime?

Well, you crack some jokes with the mechanics and throw the surrounding media gaggle a smirk or two.

That’s the approach of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, just over 72 hours before vying for his first F1 drivers’ title against reigning champion and Mercedes nemesis Lewis Hamilton.

It is 4pm and with the work done for the day, the UK outfit gathered for the last pre-race team photo. While the camera lens of the global media focused on the team effort responsible for making this year one of the most thrilling F1 seasons ever, all eyes were really on Verstappen.

Though he portrayed a cool demeanour, the body doesn’t lie. Every few minutes, he would inspect a certain aspect of the car. He gripped the steering wheel and rubbed his hand occasionally over the seat cushion.

Positioning himself for the photograph, his body gently rested on his state-of-the art racing vehicle. His pearl white helmet, festooned with logos of sponsors was placed on his thigh, while the fingers drummed an indiscernible rhythm.

Was he transcribing the mental images of the perfect race he plans for Sunday?

It’s that mixture of mystery and allure that makes the first day of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix so appealing.

It maybe the quietest of the four-day event, but it offers F1 fans and the general public a breezy opportunity to get up close on the action through the public Pit Lane Walk, which includes setting foot on the redesigned Yas Marina Circuit.

For John Todd, the experience was chance to connect with man and machine.

The London resident travelled to Abu Dhabi to attend his 9th Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and spend time with his brother.

“Being away from my family and seeing the F1 because of the Covid-19 situation has been difficult,” he tells The National from the race track. “So it’s just great to be back and get back to some normality again. For me that means coming here every year to the race weekend and for me, Thursday, is a great day because you really get to see the cars, the garages and how the team works together.

"It is kind of extraordinary how it all comes together.”

It a sentiment also shared by Paolo and Martina Bettencourt.

The Spanish teen siblings made the trip from the Canary Islands to Abu Dhabi as a reward for what has been a grueling school year.

The National catches them in the Oasis section of the circuit, the family-friendly area, home to various restaurant and fan zones.

After taking a selfie under a billowing flag of Alpine F1 race driver Fernando Alonso, the duo state they ticked off another box on their to do list.

“He is a hero in Spain and particularly for us in the Canary Islands because he always shows supports for our community,” Paulo, 16, says. “So this was the first thing we need to do on Thursday, now the next step is the Pit Lane Walk.”

This is the first F1 race the siblings attend.

“I love the F1 and I enjoy watching the races on television so I didn’t know what to expect here. I think it is better in person because it is a big experience. From the food to the music, there is a lot to see,” says Martina, 14.

There is also a lot more to come.

With Friday dedicated to families, the Oasis is gearing up for a bumper programme of entertainment. A stage is being set up for a number of local musicians to perform throughout the afternoon, while the heritage village showcasing Emirati culture and traditions such as falconry and weaving – is also preparing for another crowd of the curious and culture lovers.

While each day of Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix ramps up in excitement and racing intensity, the opening Thursday continues to retain a charm of its own.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 6:31 PM