When will F1 have a Middle Eastern driver?
Abu Dhabi’s new Formula One circuit has given the Middle East seemingly unbeatable bragging rights as home to the world’s most modern and lavish track.
“No one is going to top this,” commented Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone on his arrival at Yas Marina and he may well be right.
Spending billions of dollars cannot buy atmosphere, of course, and Abu Dhabi is a long way from Silverstone, Spa and Monza, but the signs so far are that the locals are pretty passionate about their motorsport.
“Monaco, Montreal and Singapore do different things fantastically,” Khaldoon al Mubarak, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi government’s business development company as well as Manchester City soccer club, told the National newspaper.
“Our hope is Abu Dhabi can take it to a whole new level.”
The circuit is an obvious sign of that intention but it is not built in isolation.
Next door to the circuit, the first building phase of the world’s first Ferrari theme park has been completed with the second due to start as soon as the grand prix is over.
The scale of this project is simply immense, as I discovered when I donned a hard hat for a guided tour of the work in progress, and it will further embed Formula One in the local consciousness.
The largest Ferrari logo ever created stands out on a red roof that replicates the double curve profile of a Ferrari GT car and spans 200,000 square metres.
Some 10,000 workers have been working 24 hours a day in three shifts to build the world’s largest indoor theme park that, when completed in 2010, will include the world’s fastest rollercoaster.
Passengers will be accelerated from 0-200kph+ in four and a half seconds on a ride that pulls G forces comparable to those experienced by Formula One drivers.
At the moment it is still a shell, the exterior complete but the interior to be fitted out with the various attractions.
There will also be an academy at the circuit to help homegrown drivers develop their talents and progress to the world stage.
The question now is when will F1 have a Middle Eastern driver?
“We will develop talent, I have no doubts about that. We will find good drivers and we will develop them and give them a chance to really progress,” said al Mubarak.
“We have the facilities to provide a platform for drivers. There are Emiratis who can really drive — look at the success we have in rallying. Now they can go for it in track-based classes.”
Wealth cannot guarantee success but the sport has always followed the money. With two grands prix in the Middle East and increased financial involvement, what are the chances now of a local one day making it to Formula One?
PHOTO: A view of the Ferrari World theme park under construction on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mosab Omar