Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's Super Thursday has its own lane when it comes to fun and leisure

First of the four-day motoring extravaganza offers plenty of laid-back vibes

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The opening day of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2022 may be the calm before the storm, but it has a lot to offer serious petrolheads.

With no practice and qualifying session on the cards, it is a chance for all teams to set up their garages and work away on millions of dollars worth of aerodynamic machinery without the pressure of a packed stadium.

It is also a chance for select ticket holders to venture into parts of the track and gauge the temperature of the teams before the official action begins, from Friday to Sunday.

A stroll through the pit lane revealed a small glimpse into the work culture of some of the teams, and perhaps some insight into how they feel about this season, which ends on Sunday.

The pit lane before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix races begin. Victor Besa / The National

The vibe at Mercedes, who had a horror run this year due to a weak-performing car, was understandably mute.

Car inspections were done in relative silence and I felt sorry for the poor and sweaty team member pumping a mountain of more than a dozen tyres.

As a former kitchen hand, I wondered if this was the F1 equivalent of peeling potatoes.

Meanwhile, next door at Red Bull, the atmosphere was expectedly jubilant.

After years of coming second place to Mercedes, team members were all smiles as they wallowed in the success of winning the constructors title and having the world champion, Max Verstappen, in their navy blue uniforms.

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen chats with Red Bull's Mexican driver Sergio Perez before a team photo shoot ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. AFP

Further down the lane, you can hear more light-hearted sounds.

Perhaps it was typical Italian exuberance or the fact they had a solid season, but the Ferrari garage was rocking with house music blaring from the speakers and team members, clad in red, exchanging jokes and chatting with the public.

While smiles will be replaced with concentration — and even some consternation — from Friday, these are the kind of enriching low-key experiences that makes the Grand Prix’s “Super Thursday,” a worthy visit.

Dress to impress

Meanwhile, on the other side of the circuit and accessible through an underground tunnel is the F1 Fan Zone.

Normally a flurry of activity and long snaking lines for food and beverage, Thursday is also the ideal time to see the new additions to the site.

It is also the time to do your F1 shopping without the crowds.

This is also recommended as you will need moments to catch your breath when looking at some of the eye-watering prices of official merchandise.

Team caps are Dh400 while jerseys and polo shirts are subject to laws of demand.

Where relatively average teams, such as the tangerine McLaren and the sky blue Alpine, are an average of Dh550, printed polo shirts of crowd favourites and rivals Red Bull and Mercedes can fetch up to Dh850.

When enquiring about the most expensive clothing item in the store, I am pointed towards the green Aston Martin bomber jacket at Dh1,600.

“Wait, didn’t they come seventh this year?” I ask, to which the attendant replies: “If you have an Aston Martin, you can afford this.”

The official store is full of international tourists with Spanish, French and Italian accents amid a sedate cover version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You being played on the live music stage nearby.

This clientele is the target market of the Abu Dhabi Residents Office, a government entity designed to support aspiring and prospective international Abu Dhabi residents with various services including visa applications and relocation.

In addition to a film showcasing the emirate's rich cultural attributes and economic opportunities, a large message board is available for visitors to scribble their thoughts.

These scrollings, from international variations of "hello" to best wishes, not only encapsulates the global entertainment behemoth that Formula One has become, but the open-hearted spirit of the UAE capital.

“Abu Dhabi rocks,” indeed.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 3:10 PM
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