A grand (prix) experience in Abu Dhabi with RTT

Saturday 07th December 2013, 22:27 by Ryan Wood 

We’ve been to a fair few Formula 1 races since our beginnings in 2008. The majority of those have been spent on the opposite side of the fence, cooped up in the media centre furiously writing about the days happenings or roaming the paddock, brushing shoulders with celebrities, drivers and other media folk. It’s a surreal experience, but never as glamorous as it’s often made out to be.

So when Race Time Travel (RTT), a new Formula 1 package company invited us to the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to experience racing from the grandstands, a feeling we’d forgotten having spent a few years in the sometimes soundproofed but often windowless media centres watching the same live feed fans enjoy at home, we jumped at the chance.

Once we’d been greeted by Steve from RTT at the airport, the first thing we noticed upon arriving in Abu Dhabi on Thursday for a stroll up and down the pit lane was the warm welcome and sheer enthusiasm from the locals. It’s often said races on this side of the world lack atmosphere, passion and a love for the sport itself. Whilst the race is clearly a tool to drive the tourism industry (aren’t they all?) in Abu Dhabi and neighbouring Dubai, it can’t, under any circumstances, be accused of lacking any of the above.

After the warm welcome, both in terms of the hospitality and the sweat-inducing temperature, we headed to the hotel to settle in and meet some fellow F1 fans during an evening of drinks courtesy of RTT. We were based at the Al Manzil hotel in the center of Dubai. Whilst it’s an hour or so in the taxi or the shuttle service provided by RTT, it’s highly recommended over staying in Abu Dhabi. Other than the circuit, Ferrari World and a few other attractions, it’s nothing like the tourist hub that is Dubai.

Friday was bound to be a typical day of practice runs, so, thanks to the freedom RTT offer, we chose not to head to the circuit for the morning, but instead we spent the day discovering Dubai. What a surreal city. Think grand and then times it by ten. Detail and scale is absolutely everything in this oil rich nation. We could go on and on about the things you can do… skiing in the desert or scaling an almost 1km high tower anyone?

Not wanting to miss anymore action, we headed to the circuit a little later in the day to catch some GP3, some GP2 a bit of Porsche SuperCup but most importantly the main attraction…F1. Romain Grosjean led in the morning, but surprise surprise, it was Sebastian Vettel come the evening session. Not exactly a surprise given his six consecutive victories prior to the Abu Dhabi GP.

A full-day of action beckoned on Saturday. Once again it was the German on top, after all by this race, he had already been crowned a four-time champion (although not officially).

Saturday also offered up the opportunity of attending a free music concert thanks to the race organisers eagerness to please the fans beyond most other circuits. A short walk to Ferrari World and MUSE came into view - not that you needed to see them as they were clearly audible from the track itself. Not only were MUSE playing, but Jay-Z played on Friday and Depeche Mode on Sunday for the music loving fans too.

We were woken early on Sunday which, after just a few hours sleep following the concert, wasn’t the most welcome sight. However a quick breakfast courtesy of the hotel and we were ready to make the trip back to Yas Marina for the main event. Before that though, we visited the impressive Ferrari World as the world’s fastest roller coaster proved too tempting. If you’ve not seen the video of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa being shot from 0-240km/h in just five seconds - whilst Alonso loses a few belongings - you should head to YouTube.

Race time! As we took up our seats opposite the pits and the United Arab Emirates national anthem came to an end, the grid began to form, thronging with celebrities only rivalled by Monaco. The race was a fairly straight-forward affair, Vettel led from start to finish and enjoyed the cheering (and a few customary boos) as he performed some smoking-donuts for the fans in the grandstand.

A transfer back to the hotel, a few hours kip and then another transfer to the airport, all of which were included in the travel package - something of a rarity amongst rival companies - and we were on our way back to the UK having enjoyed one of the greatest race weekend’s we’ve experienced on the other side of the fence.

The race may not have been worth more than a handful of stars, but Race Time Travel certainly scored highly with us and we can’t recommend them highly enough if you’re considering a grand prix experience next year.

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