Abu Dhabi to raise bar for F1 circuits

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The new Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit promises to set new standards that will put even more pressure not just on struggling traditional circuits, but anyone else planning to build a Formula 1 venue in the future.

The sensational facility, currently being built on the giant new Yas Island development, will host the World Championship season finale on November 15, 2009.

The project was first announced in February last year, when drivers and team bosses attended a launch event that included a street demonstration by 10 F1 cars. Plans for the new venue, to be designed by Hermann Tilke, were shown at that time.

On the recommendation of Bernie Ecclestone in November, however, Frenchman Philippe Gurdjian was hired as CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, and he has made substantial changes to the initial design, in effect imposing his ‘inspiration’ on Tilke. The revised layout was shown to the F1 world in China.

Gurdjian has been in the business of running Grands Prix since 1985, and has been directly involved with 25 races as promoter, organiser or consultant. He had a key role in the launches of the Malaysian and Bahrain GPs. Until recently he ran Paul Ricard on behalf of Ecclestone, where he developed the circuit’s hotel, and boosted his reputation for obsessive attention to detail.

Yas Island is a huge resort that features hotels, apartment blocks, golf courses and a Ferrari theme park, and the F1 circuit represents just one small corner of it. Gurdjian arrived too late to influence the basic outline of the marina around which the track runs, so he has had to accept some compromises.

In the original plans half the track was a permanent facility and half run on public roads, but Gurdjian has insisted on having a full permanent facility. He has also ditched modest plans for a circuit hotel and created a much larger 500-room venue that sweeps over the track and plunges into the water. Six other hotels will be built close to the site.

Unique features of the 3.4-mile anti-clockwise circuit include an escape road that disappears under a grandstand in order to keep spectators close to the action, and a pit exit road that goes through a tunnel which then releases cars onto the other side of the track. Gurdjian claims that Yas Marina is the first venue in the world with only covered grandstand seats – 50,000 in total.

“The concept was not original, and it was not different enough to the other circuits,” Gurdjian told Motor Sport. “The first one was a project you could put in Magny-Cours, in Silverstone, in Hockenheim. What I’ve tried to do is create something unique that you can recognise immediately as the Abu Dhabi circuit.

“It was quite difficult to design. When you criticise something it’s easy, but after you have to work and start from a white page. You must be very efficient to find the right solution.

“It will be the nicest place for the media, the sponsors, the drivers, the teams. We are making this place for the future. I’m involved in all the details, every square metre. I am very, very creative and I’m never satisfied.”

Gurdjian expects the venue to be used all year round for various events such as driving schools and new car launches. The F1 circuit can be split into two shorter venues that can operate simultaneously.
Adam Cooper