Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: Families bring friendly rivalries to Yas Marina Circuit

Family Friday, which launched in 2012, offers free entry for children aged 12 and under

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The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s Family Friday continues to bring crowds to Yas Marina Circuit.

Ever since the initiative launched in 2012, where up to four children under the age of 12 gain free entry when accompanied by two paying adults, the race has evolved from being an annual gathering of motoring fans to a more family-friendly event.

That said, the competitive atmosphere remains even as families gather for picnics on The Hill section of the Yas Marina Circuit and at official fan zones.

For the Kalamas who live in Abu Dhabi, that friendly tension has been felt throughout the nine-month season.

“We are all split and support our own teams,” Charles Kalama says.

“I support Alpine, my wife Winnie follows AlphaTauri, my son Dawood is a Max Verstappen fan so he obviously supports Red Bull and daughter Kare is neutral at the moment.”

Winnie adds: “But I am working on that. She still has time to support the right team.”

The family of four have attended every Abu Dhabi grand prix since moving to the UAE from Kenya three years ago.

“Each day does have its own vibe,” Charles says. “While things get serious on Saturday and Sunday with qualifiers and the big race, the family day on Friday is also worth attending.

“It feels like a family festival and there is lots of space for the children to run on the grass and just feel free.”

For Gary Frances, coming to the event is another chance to play the "cool uncle".

With the week of the race normally coinciding with his birthday, Frances would often fly in from Gibraltar to spend time with his nieces and nephews.

“And the Abu Dhabi F1 is normally all part of that,” he says. "This is now my third F1 and these family days are good because it's really all about bringing the family together.

"There are plenty of spots like The Hill where we can gather. Children don't really care about the shops and merchandise. They want grass, ice cream and just run about and have fun."

Hayley Hawkins, a teacher in Abu Dhabi, came to the Yas Marina Circuit with son Samuel, two, and daughter Willow, six. She says she was pleased the racing competition is appealing to a wider fan base.

As well as the hit Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive and the popular after-race concerts, a concept Abu Dhabi pioneered more than a decade ago, she says initiatives like Family Fridays can also help grow the sport.

“It makes it all feel very welcoming and affordable,” she says. “The kids also get a chance to see the racing in a fun and relaxed way.

“I am a Mercedes fan, so by bringing my kids here I silently hope they will begin supporting them too.”

Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix continues with the qualifying round on Saturday and race day on Sunday

Updated: November 24, 2023, 5:59 PM