Each year at the end of November the last F1 Grand Prix of the season is taking place on one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world: Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. I left my Paddock Club Suite above the pitlane to explore some more of the emirate’s highlights.
The red open car accelerates like nothing I have ever even remotely experienced before in my life. In 5 seconds it hits 240km/h. Literally breathtaking. That’s why I was holding it in. Breathe with your mouth and your cheeks will wrap around your ears.
Despite the prancing horse on the bonnet, I am not in a red sportscar from Maranello. But I am in the global Ferrarista Mecca: Ferrari World, just across from Yas Marina Circuit. A celebration of horses in the middle of the Arabian desert. And there is so much more to experience in the world’s largest indoor theme park besides Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster. From another 20 exhilarating rides to Italian restaurants, F1 simulators and exhibitions. You can easily stay the whole day there. Spend some extra money on a Golden Ticket, to get access to the fast lane, so that you don’t have to wait in long queues for your next ride.
If you are planning to attend the last F1 GP of the season at the end of November, make sure you come earlier or stay a couple of days longer in Abu Dhabi. It is the largest and most populated of the seven emirates, constituting over 80% of total landmass of the UAE. It’s also the capital of the UAE. And it competes with the neighbouring emirate Dubai as the number one tourist attraction in the Gulf. Yas Marina racetrack is about an hour’s drive from Dubai International Airport.
The other five, smaller and less known emirates are: Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, Fujairah and Sharjah. Before the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was unified in 1971, it existed as a collection of independent emirates that were part of the Trucial States. When the British announced their intention to withdraw in 1968, sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s ruler, put his vision of a united country into motion. The first step was to meet with Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, to initiate the process of establishing a federation. They then invited the rulers of the five other Trucial States to join in the negotiations for the formation of the union. In 1971 the rulers formally agreed to unite,and the UAE was declared as an independent country on December 2 (now celebrated as National Day). Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation in February 1972. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was elected as the UAE’S President and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum was elected as the Vice President.
The picture and name of the founder Sheikh are everywhere. For instance the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is named after him. The magnificient building seems to be taken straight out of one of those 1001 nights fairytales. It apparently cost several billion dollars to build. Overwhelming opulence. Among other incredible things, it features the world’s largest hand knotted carpet, measuring 5627m². Being able to accomodate 40 000 worshippers at the same time, it is definitely one of the largest and most beautiful religious buildings in the world. And after Ferrari World another must-see in the emirate. Trip Advisor regards it as one of the world’s top 25 landmarks.
By the way, what does the name Abu Dhabi mean? In 1761 a hunting party was sent from Liwa by the leader of the Bani Yas tribal alliance. According to tradition the party followed the track of a gazelle, who led the party to a place where water was found at a shallow depth – a rare find along the coastline. They called the island Abu Dhabi (Father or Homeland of a Gazelle). In 1792 the leader established a fort and settlement and Abu Dhabi became the capital.
The people of Abu Dhabi have lived in this region for thousands of years. Long before the discovery of oil, the ancient pearling industry provided their only real income. It was a harsh life with diving commencing from about an hour after sunrise, up to an hour before sunset. In 1958, oil was discovered. And everything changed. As ruler of Abu Dhabi, sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan knew this natural treasure must be used to answer the question asked by his forefathers on improving the lives of future generations. Thus, he set about turning the dream into a fairytale-like reality.
Still overwhelmed by the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Emirates Palace is next on my sightseeing list. Heads of State visting the Emirates are staying there. And as soon as you discover those golden ATMs in the lobby, which disperse gold bars at the daily gold price, you know the nightly accomodation rates in this hotel will be slightly out of your reach.
So what else do you do, when you have all the money in the world, besides driving Ferraris and other luxury rides and buying gold out of a machine? Well, you let your falcons hunt in the desert. And as soon as those precious birds are sick, they are treated in the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. A tour through this state-of-the-art facility is another must. It is better equipped than most private hospitals in South Africa. Everything is miniature. Falcon-sized, from ICU to X-ray. While we are there a surgeon is replacing a broken feather in a falcon’s wing. The super clue, he uses for fixing it looks slightly out of place in the ER ambience of the facility.
And after all this exhausting sightseeing, have a drink in the hyper-cool Saadiyat Beach Club, before heading back to the track in time to do the pit lane walk and watch the main race afterwards.
Local time: 2 hours later than South Africa
Currency: the local currency is Dirham (AED)
Weather: temperatures average 30 degrees in November
Yas Marina Circuit, www.yasmarinacircuit.com
Ferrari World, www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, www.szgmc.ae
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, www.falconhospital.com
Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority
Etihad Airways, www.etihad.com
Abu Dhabis national carrier
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal