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Sun 1 Nov 2009 08:08 AM

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Live blog from Yas Marina circuit

We meet Lewis Hamilton, Damon Hill, Bernie Ecclestone, Richard Branson and a Pussycat Doll.

Live blog from Yas Marina circuit
THEYRE OFF: The cars head towards the first corner in the Abu Dhabi Grand prix. (ITP Images)

19:35:

Sebastian Vettel wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Click here for the story and photos

from the race.

16:50:

Hope you've enjoyed our build up to the big race. It's now time to hand over to the experts for race commentary so please feel free to catch the action on TV. But we'll be back post-race with the result and more photos, reaction. Enjoy the race.

16:40 AB:

It’s been pointed out to me that we have now just descended into smut. All these jokes about Nicole from PCD, and loads of others we chose not to publish. All of which means we have almost run out of things to say and it must be nearly race time! Well we’ve had a fab time being part of the F1 circus for a few days. We won’t be the only ones who will never forget their first ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

And I’ll leave you with this thought from the security guard at Etihad Airways HQ this morning as I went to collect my media pass: "Enjoy the rugby".

16:20 AB:

Well we’re getting to the end of our build up to the race which starts at 5pm – by which time the four of us will be on at the rooftop bar watching it. I think 95 percent of the people here think this is the greatest ever F1 circuit built.

The other 5 percent, like Damon Hill and Jackie Stewart, don’t. But they are British...I’ve just had a final walk around the paddock and bumped into Niki Lauda and Boris Becker. Both men asked me if I had seen some bloke called
Robin Lohmann

.

16:08 DR: The man who invented the computer mouse is in the McLaren pit, as is someone who looks a lot like 50 Cent. The drivers are now going around the track in an open topped bus, waving to their cheering fans (this is not unlike how Anil arrives in the ITP offices).

Lewis Hamilton

's dad says he thinks his boy will be the one to beat next season. He would say that though. And Mika Hakkinen just signed my pit pass.

15:55 DR:

I asked Nicole PCD if she was sad about Lewis not being world champion. She said: "Dontcha wish your..." no she didn't. She said: "He's always world champion to me." But I could tell by the way she was looking at me that he might not be in
pole position

much longer. I didn't ask for her number because that would have been a cliche. Nicole, if you're reading, call me, yeah? For the disbelievers out there, check out this photo of
Damian and PCB Nicole Scherzinger

.

15:50 AB:

I’ve decided my F1 hero is Force India boss Vijay Mallya. He always has six Indian supermodels surrounding him wherever he goes. What a guy. A full interview with the billionaire playboy will be in Arabian Business in next two weeks. Though for now, worth mentioning he is “
staggered

” at how good the circuit is. “There is a phrase which reads ‘You can always outdo yourself.’ I think that’s what Abu Dhabi has done.”

15:40 AB:

Damian has texted me to say he’s off to the
McLaren

garage to speak more with his PCD friend. I think the official word is “stalking".

Back to serious stuff and today’s race. Who will win, what will be the abiding memory of Yas Marina? I caught a quick chat with David Coulthard, former McLaren star who now works for the BBC. This is his take: “No matter how good the sandwiches are in the media lounge, it’s all about the race. And that’s what Abu Dhabi will be remembered for.”

Good point. And it’s worth mentioning that the sandwiches are damn good.

15:30 AB:

If you’re wondering what happened to Damian Reilly, he’s spent the last 30 minutes hanging out with one of the Pussycat Dolls. More from him shortly. And while Damian gets a PCD, I got Sir Jackie Stewart. How did that happen?

Anyway, Sir Jackie is here and on fine form. Interestingly, impressed as he is with the place, he tells me: “It needs softening down. I think they have tried to do too much too soon. I think it will be a great place in two years.” Oops again! That wasn’t in the script. Looks like he’s been hanging out with Damon Hill too long!

15:20 AW:

It’s really getting warm down at trackside now. The pits are under shade but the drivers will be mighty relieved the race doesn’t start for a couple of hours yet.
Lewis Hamilton

told me that he lost 4.2 kilos in one race alone this year – that’s a lot of sweat!

The Ferrari team has gathered for a group photo, the two race cars resting proudly in front of them. It’s not been a vintage year for the team, but you can tell that they’ll be up for the fight in 2010. And amid all the excitement over Abu Dhabi’s F1 debut, it’s easy to forget that this is the last race of the season – these teams will have spent the last seven months together, racing around the world, so there’s no wonder the cameras are out to capture the moment.

15:15 CFL:

I’ve just come back from a walk around the paddock where I spotted Boris Becker. I hear he’s one of the Petrol Heads, one of a few F1 fans that literally follow the race around the world. It can’t be a bad life, surrounding by glamorous looking people and jetting off to some of the world’s hottest destinations.

I also had a quick chat with John Button, Jenson’s father, who was wondering around the paddock area clearly impressed with Abu Dhabi’s F1 set up and his son’s victory. Now, I don’t know much about F1 but he did say that
Jenson

was really looking forward to getting on the track and that there looked like some good opportunities for him to overtake – I think that’s a good thing.

15:10 AW:

Okay, so I’m back in the hot seat. Claire’s off celeb-spotting, and Damian’s doing his best to get himself onto one of the massive party yachts moored in Yas Marina. He’s not having much luck but bless him, he’ll keep trying. Anil, as previously reported, is buying a sandwich.

14:57 AB: So just over two hours before the race starts. Coming up before then we have exclusive chats with
Force India

boss Vijay Mallaya, David Coultard and Sir Jackie Stewart. But before that I’m off to get a sandwich so I'm handing back to Andrew White. Who himself has disappeared to get a sandwich...

14:45 AB: So let’s get back to the paddock. Earlier I caught up with the most important man in F1, and arguably the of whole world.

I am talking of course about
Bernie Ecclestone

. I have met him a couple of times before but have to say he hasn’t looked this happy and relaxed for some time. What does Bernie think of the place? “It was very ambitious but they did it.
This circuit has changed everything

, it is the new benchmark. You know what, I wouldn’t like to be the guy building the next one, there is a lot to live up to!”

14:40 AB:

It’s fun walking around the paddock to see who is getting all the attention – the usual suspects
Hamilton

, Button,
Alonso

. But actually beyond the top ten, that’s it. You kind of feel sorry for the other 10 drivers. I drove up here this morning with
F1 expert Tom Rubython

– he wrote the best selling book “The Life of Senna.” He was saying that in F1 now, being a very talented driver is not good enough, you have to be amazing to last more than a year. He was also telling me a story about, actually no let’s not go there...

14:30 AB:

Interesting stuff from Damon, probably the first sniff of discontent all weekend. That said, I was this morning also with Phillepe Grudjian. Now he tells me he’s had 3 hours sleep each night this weekend. Not because he’s a
Beyonce

fan, but because he is the guy who built the track.

And fascinating talking to him especially in light of Damon Hill’s comments. And first thing he said was: “Tracks are normally built to satisfy drivers, sponsors, teams, media and spectators – in that order. And I have deliberately done it the other way around!”

He went on to explain that the circuit was limited to just 50,000 visitors so each would be in “unique comfort".

Grudjian also recounted how just over two years ago, the plan for this circuit was totally different to what we see today. What Mubadala boss
Khaldoon Mubarak

had showed him was “basic".

“The hotel was just 3 star with 300 rooms like a Novotel. I told Khaldoon this has to be amazing and unique. Eight days later we had new designs including for the
5 star Yas Hotel

. Khaldoon looked at them and gave me the keys to build this. I don’t think there is anything better in the world, and this circuit will still be around in 50 years time.”

14:20 AB: Now as everyone has been saying, Yas Marina is the
most incredible circuit in the world

. So let’s be controversial shall we!

Well, I was just having a quick chat with former world champion Damon Hill. And he, erm, wasn’t quite so sure. Actually that’s being polite. When I asked him what he thought, he paused for 15 seconds before saying it had been built “the other way around.”

“The whole thing is more about corporate hospitality and I think the drivers are at the bottom of the chain. I’m a driver so obviously I have an issue with that. I think you have to remember what F1 is about and that’s racing. This event is very much focused on corporate entertainment, maybe too much.”

Oops! That wasn’t in the script. Maybe someone forgot to give Damon his Etihad VIP pass. Anyway, this is a debate for another day, but one I suspect will run and run.

14:12 Anil Bhoyrul (AB):

Okay okay okay let’s go, three hours to the race and time to really rev things up. My name is Anil Bhoyrul and I’m with you for the next 2 hours. Now where do I start: well how about this for line up of people we have been with this morning:
Bernie Ecclestone

, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Vijay Mallya, Phillepe Grundjian….is that enough for now?

14:06 DR: I am not sure how much Claire knows about motor racing. She has just asked me if a driver gets
enough points does he get his licence

taken away?

14:05 DR:

There is some racing going on now. I don't think they are actual F1 cars because my brain only rattles when they go past the press room. My ears aren't actually bleeding yet. Exciting though. In other news, I have just spotted a colleague who works in distribution quaffing something bubbly on the back of a yacht, surrounded by blondes. They must make more in distribution than we do in editorial. It's hot here.

14:00 DR:

The diminutive Jean Todt has just come into the press room. I asked him who would he would like to see win today. He looked sheepish and said "no comment". Come on Jean! He did say he reckons he could take Ecclestone in an arm wrestle any day. We told him to go and get
Jenson

for us.

13:55 CFL:

The
boats surrounding the marina

are, as you would expect, amazing. Walking around the marina and the nearby Yas Hotel, I spotted a couple of UAE flags flying as well as a few others from as far as new Zealand and Australia. The whole of the GCC was well represented including boats from a few members of the leading royal families.

13:50 Claire Ferris-Lay (CFL):

And it's hello from me. Just bumped into
Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson

and friends, who arrived in town two days ago. He told me that Abu Dhabi was the best F1 circuit he had ever been to.

"How could we not be having a good time," he said. "
Abu Dhabi has the best F1 circuit in the world

," he said. I left them debating where they might find the view of the race. But to be honest pretty much anywhere has a great view.

13:40 DR:

This just in at the AB.com newsdesk back in Dubai.
Depa, the interior contractor

, has said today it completed work on the fit-out of five hotels on Yas Island in just one month.

The company said it had just a month to simultaneously handover the
Yas Hotel

, The Crowne Plaza Yas Island, The Staybridge Suites Yas Island and two Rotana projects, The Rotana Resort Yas Island and Centro by Rotana. Depa and its subcontractors had 2,450 people working on site to ensure they finished on time.

13:30 DR:

The large television screen in front of me informs me there are some cars lining up on the starting grid. Obviously not F1 cars yet but they certainly look similar. I can already see people practising air kissing among them. This must be a low rent grid walk for people not V enough to get onto the VIP real grid walk later. The cameras have just caught my colleague Andrew White air kissing. Oh dear. I have only just eaten.

13:25 DR:

Large numbers of red-eyed journalists in here are talking about "getting into the
Kings of Leon

" and "boogie-ing". Apparently the BMW party afterwards was superb. Listening to them, I am struck by how nerdy motoring journalists are. They are now talking about acoustics enthusiastically. It must take a certain type.

13:20 DR:

I think I saw some F1 cars in the
pit lane

under wraps, but apart from that, nothing yet. The pitlane is as you would expect: smartly dressed people trying hard to look as if they are not completely overawed by their surroundings. Everyone is looking sideways into the (empty) garages, and thus much bumping into each other is happening. I didn't hang around as with my clearance level, I shouldn't have been there.

13:10 DR:

I'm sitting in the media centre and across from me is Damien Reid, editor of F1 Racing Middle East, hunched over his computer typing excitedly. I thought he had a scoop so I sneaked over to have a look over his shoulder. It turns out he's only updating his Facebook page. "Damian is very excited. VROOOM." Highbrow stuff...

13:04 Damian Reilly (DR):

Afternoon everyone. Thought you'd all be interested in this
little snippet of news

just posted elsewhere on AB.com. Apparently 20 percent of men in the Middle East have confessed to skipping work to go home to watch sport on TV. I wonder how many that applies to today?

13:00 AW:

Okay, time to hear from the man who heads the grid for today’s race.
Lewis Hamilton

is unsurprisingly already a fan of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!

“I love it over here – this is my first time in Abu Dhabi but I came to Dubai for Christmas a couple of years ago and had a great time,” he tells me, before going on to reflect on a disappointing season for his McLaren-Mercedes team.

“Clearly this year wasn’t a great year, but I think it’s been a great experience for the team. We’ve had to push ourselves to limits that we never thought we could reach. We exceeded our expectations by winning the Hungarian Grand Prix and in Singapore, and in the latter part of the season we’ve scored more points than any other team.

“The top teams like McLaren-Mercedes and
Ferrari

were competing for the championship last year right up to the final race. But other teams like Brawn were developing their car for this year four or five months before us, so they were a huge step ahead of us. To try and make that gap up, especially with the regulations changing, was too much for us,” Hamilton adds.

Today seems like a good opportunity to set a marker for next season, and the
Englishman is certainly gunning for first place

on the podium – especially as that would boost McLaren-Mercedes in its bid to beat arch-rivals Ferrari to third place in the constructors’ championship.

“We can’t win the championship but just because you’re not competing for first place doesn’t mean you don’t want to come as high as possible,” Hamilton tells me. “For next year we have to pull together and make sure the car’s ready from the get-go, but to get third this year would be a great result especially as we started the season at the back of every grid. And of course it’s always nice to beat Ferrari!”

Finally, let’s not forget that Hamilton is still the reigning World Champion – at least for a few more hours! So does he have any words of advice for his successor, fellow Brit
Jenson Button

?

“It’s different for every person, but the only advice I can give to Jenson is to enjoy it and to sit back and let it sink in. I’m very happy for him and his team,” Hamilton says generously. What a pro – and what a driver.

Right, I’m signing off now and leaving you in the capable hands of Damian Reilly. Hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage so far – don’t go anywhere as there’s plenty more to come as race fever builds!

12:50pm AW:

How’s about we take you for a spin round the track? The 5.5km circuit should allow drivers to reach an estimated top speed of 317km/h, and nail a lap time of around one minute forty seconds.
Lewis Hamilton nailed a cool 1:40.948 to head qualifying

yesterday.

Approximately 50,000 spectators can view the action on the circuit from the comfort of permanent, covered grandstands and VIP facilities. Yas Marina Circuit is the only motorsports venue in the world where all of the grandstands are covered – as if there’s much chance of rain out here in the desert?!

More than 6,000 spectators are gathered in the
Main Grandstand opposite the Pit Building

and garages. For many fans, this is the heart of the action, the scene of much drama during the
pit stops

and, of course, the location of the start and finish line as well as the victory podium. With the run-off area passing underneath, this is one of the most spectacular grandstands at any F1 circuit in the world!

Then as the cars sweep down the hill at 300km/h toward the North Grandstand complex, more than 9,000 spectators will see the drivers wrestle through the chicane and hairpin and exit onto the longest straight in Formula 1. Time to hit 317km/h, lads.

Having hurtled down the straight, the drivers will be aware that the South Grandstand overlooks a pretty tricky section of track – cars approach at about 300kmh before braking hard to navigate the uphill chicane and a tight off-camber left. If all goes to plan, more than 9,000 spectators will watch as the drivers accelerate to over 280 km/h before entering the
Yas Hotel

section.

The Yas Hotel has 499 rooms, 14 restaurants, 1600 square metres of conference and banqueting facilities, a luxury spa, and roof space accommodating pools, lounge areas and café. But race fans will be more interested in the
bridge that stretches between the Main and Marina Tower

with the race track running beneath. What an experience it’s going to be to watch the cars flash by underneath spectators’ feet.

12:40pm AW:

I had a quick wander down the pit lane before the Chevvy race started, and caught a fascinating glimpse of the various teams prepping for the big event.
New F1 boss Jean Todt

was holding court for the cameras, while the different teams went about their business, looking relaxed and as though they have done this all a hundred times before... No sign of an F1 car yet, though.

12:35pm AW:

As many of you may already know, Abu Dhabi will make history today by becoming the first F1 race to start in daylight and finish under the floodlights. This place really comes alive after dusk and it should be a spectacular sight.
Click here for pictures of the circuit

at night and you'll see what I mean.

12:30pm AW:

First event of the day has started, and it’s the Chevrolet Supercar Middle East Race. The cars are hammering round the track, and though the noise levels are nothing like that of an F1 race, it’s still pretty loud – I’ve made sure to get my hands on a pair of earplugs for later on!

12:25pm AW:

It’s certainly colourful here today. The
circuit’s entrance

is surrounded by the flags from the countries hosting F1 events, as well as flags from all the
drivers on the starting grid

. A riot of colour – but then the only flag the drivers will be interested in is black, white and chequered. These guys are so focused on winning, it's scary but it does also help if you're paid fabulously well to drive legally over the speed limit. Find out how much the likes of
Hamilton is set to earn this year here

.

12:15pm AW:

It’s early in the day but I’ve already spoken to pole-position
Lewis Hamilton

and some guy called Michael Schumacher. We’ll hear from Hamilton later on, but Schumacher is on fine form, over here as an ‘ambassador’ for Ferrari and Shell – a partnership that has become synonymous with success, if not this year.

“At Ferrari we had different expectations for this season. Clearly from the first race on we knew that we were far behind our targets, but we recovered. And that’s what makes a strong team special – when you come back from difficult moments,” he tells me.

“We’re a team sport at the end of the day – you need the car and the driver to achieve success. There’s no good car that will win an average driver the championship consistently, and the other way around it doesn’t work either,” he continues, pointing to the Brawn team’s success this year as an example of the importance of putting the right team together.

“Ross Brawn is a unique and special person, but it’s not like he took the team last winter and did all that within a couple of months,” he says. “It’s a team that was built up over a number of years with all the Honda support, and has infrastructure and facilities that were financed by Honda. Then Ross took it and finished it off. So the success is not so surprising – although you still have to do it, otherwise everyone would be doing it.”

Schumacher came close to a comeback earlier this year

, filling in for injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. But for now, he’s ruling out returning to the track in a competitive capacity.

“I have some business responsibilities but I am able to
enjoy my private life

now, and I have the luxury of time,” he tells me. “I’m enjoying being with the family and living a relaxed life. There was a good reason to come back earlier in the year, though it didn’t work out. But I’m not thinking about it at the moment.”

The man certainly did his stint in the drivers’ seat - statistically speaking the seven-time F1 world drivers' champion is the greatest driver the sport has ever seen. So if he were to come up against Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, each man in an identical car, how does he think he’d get on?

“As I believe in myself, I think I might win!” he laughs. There’s the confidence of a multiple world champion shining through – a real star quality. And it’s that confidence that makes me suspect we’ve not seen the last of Michael Schumacher in an F1 car…

11:40am AW:

As I type, Damian Reilly and Claire Ferris-Lay are motoring around the paddock and will soon be mixing with the great and the good: celebrities and F1 stars are going to be scattered like confetti throughout the complex, and we’ll be keeping you in touch with all the glamour and the gossip over the next few hours.

At 2pm our coverage really starts to rev up (get it?!). Anil Bhoyrul has already spoken to some pretty big names including F1 supremo and all-round king of the world
Bernie Ecclestone

. Click
here

to find out what Bernie thinks of the Abu Dhabi circuit.

And if that’s not enough, Anil will also be chatting to (deep breath) Sir Jackie Stewart, Nikki Lauda, David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan, Martin Brundle, and half the pit girls in Abu Dhabi... All that to come from 2pm, live here on Arabian Business. Beat that, BBC!

11.20am UAE time Andrew White (AW):

Good morning and welcome to Yas Marina Circuit. The big day has finally arrived, and what a day for Abu Dhabi and the Gulf!

A season that began in Melbourne 16 races ago winds down more than 7000 miles away, at this spectacular $1.5bn circuit. This GP debut means ‘Dhabi has become the 67th city to host an F1 race – and few venues in that illustrious history could have matched the facilities on display here. We’re at one of the most technologically advanced motor racing facilities ever built, and it’s pretty astonishing…
check out the photos

when you get a minute (but in a fresh window, of course!).

Arabian Business is here all day in the build-up to the race, bringing you the very latest from Yas Marina. The place is heaving and there’s a buzz you wouldn’t believe – stay with us and we’ll try to give you a taste of what it feels like to be at one of the biggest sporting events in the history of the Gulf.

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