Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: Concentration and star power are felt in the paddocks

The Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix is the final race of the 2023 season

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen is looking to defend his title at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. Getty Images
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On Sunday’s race day at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, the tension within the paddocks of Yas Marina Circuit is tempered by satisfaction of another grueling season completed.

As the clock ticks near to the green lights at 5pm, the atmosphere at Alpine F1 Team's villa is a mixture of concentration and elation.

Speaking to journalists on the ground floor, the French racing side’s interim sporting director Julian Rouse describes how the final hours before any F1 race is about defining and revising driving strategies.

This constant refreshing is partly due to the mercurial nature of F1 racers and the complexity of the sport itself.

“I have never met a driver who is happy with their set-up, so there is always something for us to work on,” he says.

“But this is what makes Formula One so fascinating and challenging, because what we are essentially trying to do as a team is marry academic engineering with progressive thought processes.”

Upstairs, the conversation is more relaxed.

With the Abu Dhabi race culminating a nine-month season, the event has a last day of school vibe. This also means a many loved ones are in attendance.

Spotted in the villa’s roof tops are family members of Alpine driver Pierre Gasly and reserve driver Jack Doohan.

While the chatter revolves around the coming Christmas celebration and holiday travel, the paddock below hums with increasing activity.

Just after 2pm, Mercedes-GP team principal Toto Wolff strolls into the circuit.

His look of determination is occasionally punctured by the grins he offers to selfie-taking fans.

The strip has plenty of other familiar faces.

Like every year, Red Bull director Helmut Marko sits in his especially reserved table outside his team villa overlooking the paddocks while holding court with colleagues and guests.

While each team follows their own procedures, Formula One has a strict time table of events leading up to the race.

This means the relatively quiet period between 2 and 3pm is often the time the pit lane crew have their lunch.

At Ferrari, penne pasta is – perhaps, not surprisingly – on the menu.

A more refined Mediterranean set menu is on offer at Alpine, while at Mercedes-GP, staff are indulging in what resembles summer salads.

From 4pm, the clinking of the plates will make way for the roar of the engines and drills as final preparation are made.

Yas Marina Circuit tour guides will also be on hand at the entry gate to welcome celebrities and sports personalities attending the race.

Some of those seen in the ritzy Paddock Club and team garages were Saturday concert performer Shania Twain, actor Jason Statham and retired Argentine football player Sergio Aguero.

This is all white noise for Rouse, the aforementioned Alpine director.

While he appreciates the growing popularity of the sport, it’s all about gaining the winning edge at the chequered flag.

“It’s about constantly pushing yourself and the team to be the best they can be,” he says. “This is what racing is all about.”

Updated: November 26, 2023, 4:44 PM