My opulent trip to the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grandprix

Like most of my coworkers at Mojo Motors, I’m a car nut, though I might have the ‘itus a bit worse. You see I’ve been obsessed since I was a kid. For 7 years I ran an automotive performance shop, did a fair bit of racing (and crashing), and just generally got my hands dirty.

Like any good gear head, I like racing, but it’s always been more about the cars than the sport. I follow NASCAR, but from a technology standpoint it just doesn’t do it for me. Formula One however, is what really gets me going. The thing is, Formula One is also really, really boring.

That being said, I’ve been able to look past the boringness, lack of competition, and lack of action (passes in F1… not so frequent) because the cars are so damn cool. 1300lbs, 900 horsepower, carbon fiber construction, crazy aero – it’s got it all. I mean, the steering wheel alone would confuse an astronaut (see below for evidence). I’ve made the track to Montreal Canada numerous times to attend the Grand Prix du Canada and it’s always worth it. The sound of an F1 car alone is worth the price of admission.

Sometimes, strange things happen. Through circumstances I can’t (or won’t explain), I found myself a guest of his His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and a damn fine host. The crib notes are as follows:

1) Holy crap, I have paddock passes! That means I can actually look at F1 cars up close.
2) I think that means free booze too.
3) Wait, can you drink in the UAE? (Yes, yes you can).

Turns out the United Arab Emirates is really far away. It’s also an amazing place. Consisting of seven emirates and wealthy with the spoils of oil, the emirates… eh, just read about it on Wikipedia. Here are some non-Formula One shots to set the scene.

So, let’s talk about the awesome stuff. The race! Well, in traditional Formula One mundaness, the season had long ago been decided with Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull winning the drivers and constructors championship. Yes, Red Bull makes cars – multi million dollar insane Formula One cars. Again, refer to Wikipedia.

The best part, hands down, was walking the paddock. The paddock is like the garage/pit area of the racetrack. You can get about 10 feet from the cars and watch the teams get everything setup. If you are a geek or a gear head, the sheer awesomeness of this event is almost too much to bear. The photos do most of the talking, but here are the basics:

– You get an hour to walk around and take photos.
– People fancier than you can go inside the garage and look at stuff up close (bastards).
– The cars are gorgeous. The lines, vibrant colors, technology, crazy aero – it all works.
– The garages are hospital clean. No grease anywhere.
– The tools, stands. . . everything is just so choice.
– I saw Michael Schumacher!
– I did not see Lewis Hamilton :(
– Carbon fiber, carbon fiber, carbon fiber

And here are some photos of the paddock (plenty more in the gallery below):

On to the race. There are three separate parts – practice, qualifying, and the race itself. I took pics of all three. Since you can find much better commentary on the events of the race here, I won’t go into that. I’ll just be short and sweet. Vettel qualified first but crashed out on the first lap. Hamilton won the race. It wasn’t all that exciting from a sporting perspective.

But the cars, and the noise, holy crap – nuts. Yas Marina Circuit where the race is held is an incredible facility. Beyond its scale (which is so large it’s hard to comprehend), it’s architecturally stunning AND they run the race right before sunset. So, as the race goes on, it changes from bright to dusk to night. The colors once it’s dark out are so vibrant – and if that’s not enough – they even light up the on-track hotel. It was glorious.

So, what did I learn? Well, the UAE is an interesting place. It’s all about size (the biggest), money (the most expensive), and just being the best (the most bestest). It’s a place with incredible wealth from a resource they can’t hold on to forever, and they’re doing their best to build events, sites, and infrastructure that will endure to create a great economic center of the future. Will it work? I don’t know. Is it something else? Absolutely. Endless desert accents the tallest, the biggest, and the xyzest. Construction at rates I never thought possible. Perhaps most importantly, some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. For such a foreign place, I always felt at home – and that says a whole lot. If you have the chance to visit the UAE, I’d highly recommend it. And heck, the food ain’t too bad either.

I’d like to thank my very generous hosts – Ambassador Otaiba and HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. You gave this car guy an experience he’ll never forget.