Abu Dhabi F1: Family Friday is a hit with UAE residents

With music, food and cultural activities to experience, the Yas Marina Circuit offers more than just racing action

Family Friday at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix has become increasingly popular over the past seven years. Photo: Yas Marina Circuit
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Where Thursday was all about team strategy, the second day of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix focused on families on the other side of the pit lane.

Over the past decade, the event has evolved from being an annual gathering of motorheads to attract a family-friendly crowd.

This led to the launch of the popular Family Package Friday more than seven years ago, which allows up to four children under the age of 12 to experience the racing action for free when accompanied by two paying adults.

To welcome such a diverse crowd, the circuit has increasingly upped its game when it comes to offerings.

Over the years, the Abu Dhabi Hill and Oasis sections moved from being a tranquil spot for families to watch the frenetic racing action on big screens to becoming vibrant entertainment fests in their own right.

Walking through the West Oasis, for instance, is a veritable assault on the senses. Clowns wander about juggling bottles emblazoned with the Formula One logo, acrobats cartwheel and jump through hula-hoops, and extreme sport athletes push tattered BMX bikes to their limits with eye-popping flips and turns.

The sound of Alpine Formula one team driver Fernando Alonso zooming around the track during his official practice mingles with the tantalising smell of fried chicken on the grill of Toast by Mamafry, one of many food stalls dotting the site.

Narcis and Carmen Ghidanac with their son Sean, 3, enjoying a family day out at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday. Photo: Saeed Saeed

All that action is a blessing for Narcis and Carmen Ghidanac. The long-term Dubai residents decided to visit the Abu Dhabi Formula One with their son Sean, 3, to experience what all the buzz was about.

“Also, I have to say with the pandemic making us stay at home all the time, we started watching the F1 documentary Drive to Survive on Netflix and I started getting hooked,” Carmen says, talking to The National underneath a billowing flag of Red Bull driver and champion hopeful Max Verstappen.

“I love the stories and emotions of the drivers. So now when I come here and see Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and the others, I feel like I know them and want to see what they are going to do here.”

Narcis says the day out is also a chance to spend some quality family time. “Especially with the news of the new variant of Covid-19, safety is a priority for us now. Instead of travelling somewhere, it's best to stay here because we just feel looked after and we know that everything is organised with safety in mind.”

Local musicians, too, have benefited from family Friday, with various stages set up for eclectic acts ranging from singer-songwriters to breakdancers.

It is a chance for unsung heroes of the UAE creatives scene to return to the stage again. As a former member of the hip-hop stalwarts The Recipe, beatbox artist Hira Beat performs a typically rambunctious set with Beatbox Ray on the West Oasis stage.

“I am working as videographer, but I am grateful to get the opportunity to be back playing again,” he says.

“It is an interesting crowd to play for because they are so different. It’s a great time because we have local artists performing on the main stage at Etihad Park and here, so we are in a healthy place.”

Graham Moodley with Hayley, 6, and Brayden, 8. Photo: Saeed Saeed

Watching the duo perform is Graham Moodley accompanied by his children, Hayley, 6, and Brayden, 8.

“We are really here for Brayden because he is a massive fan since going to a Thursday session a few years ago. So now we are here for the whole weekend,” Moodley says.

“I think it is a great atmosphere and it is important to do things like the family day with all these activities because, let’s face it, Formula One racing is not exactly a spectator sport.

“You don’t see all the intricacies of the race from the stands, so it is all about the experience and passing my love for the sport to my children, and maybe they can dream and want to get involved in it one day.”

Updated: December 10, 2021, 1:56 PM