Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: Inside the fun and playful F1 fan zone

The site within Yas Marina Circuit resembles a mini-festival

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As the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix heats up on Saturday ahead of the afternoon’s qualifying sessions, the weekend crowds have ramped up the excitement around Yas Marina Circuit.

One of the most popular areas is the official fan zone, a mini festival in its own right with food stalls, brand pavilions and a stage featuring local music acts.

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The centrepiece of the strip are the merchandise stores, which underscore the lucrative nature of the sport. Official team jerseys cost around an average of Dh600 while tracksuit jackets are about Dh1,100.

Aston Martin fans need to dig a little deeper as their team jackets – a rather beautiful emerald green – are the most expensive of the bunch at Dh1,450.

And what are the biggest selling items?

According to a sales representative, the store’s fortunes reflect the popularity of the racing teams.

“This year, we are selling a lot of Red Bull and Ferrari items,” she says. “There was a time when everyone was buying Mercedes shirts when Lewis Hamilton was winning, this year it’s not so much.”

Flanking the strip are stalls and food trucks whose menus reflect the global and ritzy appeal of the sport.

Those looking for healthy and hearty options have been lining up at Cali Poke while West to West food truck has been garnering a following with their Jamaican Jerk Chicken Bowl.

Meanwhile, in the high-end steak restaurant Carna, the fan zone's unofficial mascot is spotted.

Once again, flamboyant Italian chef Dario Cecchini has made the journey from Tuscany complete with his signature trumpet – which he bellows triumphantly every few hours – and chef outfit in the colours of the Italian flag.

Over at the Etihad Pavilion, one of the airline’s executive chefs and culinary directors is cooking for the customers of tomorrow.

Over the course of the weekend, chef Murray Reason has been showcasing some of the airline's in-flight items such as the French toast served in business class and the camel burger served in first.

“I have been doing these demonstrations at the fan zone for years and it has been very effective in bringing in new customers,” the Australian chef says.

“A lot of people like the idea of flying business and first and once they see the quality of the food, which is served both in flight and the lounge, they really understand the kind of quality we offer.”

Fortunately, the UAE carrier has pilots just as skilled as Murray. Those who are willing to test their flying skills can do so thanks to the Etihad in-flight simulator showing that it’s not as easy as it looks.

Joined by a co-pilot from aeroplane manufacturer Boeing, visitors can sit in the cockpit and land the jet on an island landing strip.

Motoring fans can attempt the Pit Stop Challenge, in which they attempt to change the tyres of a racing car as fast as they can.

The Dream Team, made up of Dutch tourists, do their best before their attempt is called off by the official after it takes them an epic eight seconds to remove a tyre.

Fun and full-throttled, the F1 Fan Zone is a playful look at life in the fast lane.

Updated: November 25, 2023, 1:04 PM