Behind-the-scenes from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The impressive Yas Marina facility

Perfumes and Secret Santa. The F1 paddock was still in full swing as November trickled into December for the latest race since 1963. Motorsport Week provides some behind-the-scenes access from Yas Marina.

Formula 1’s fragrances

Eau de Gasoline anyone? Thought not!

There was a surprise development on Friday when Formula 1 unveiled a range of fragrances – understood to be a precaution against anyone looking to try and launch any ‘official’ products – with three 3D-created bottles placed on display in the paddock. Those bottles will be on sale for an eye-watering $10,000 but the range of five fragrances will go on sale from next March, with a 75ml bottle set to retail at £195.00. Not cheap. The fragrances will each have their own blend, with one “inspired by the risk takers” and another “inspired by pure and tense emotion.” That fragrance has been created by “leveraging wet asphalt [which] resulted in a bold, audacious and faceted fragrance which represents both the spirit of F1 and haute perfumery.” It was one of those developments that had several people muttering “is this a joke?”

Hamilton runs #1

As in 2018, Lewis Hamilton appeared on track at the start of the opening practice session with the number 1 replacing his usual 44 on the front of the W10. Hamilton has sported 44 since Formula 1 switched to permanent driver numbers in 2014 and has shirked the opportunity to use the number 1, as is an option for the reigning World Champion. Hamilton completed the opening half of the 90-minute session before using 44 for the remainder of the weekend’s track action. 

Thank you Charlie

A bike ride in Charlie Whiting's honour was held over the race weekend

The shock passing of Charlie Whiting on the eve of the 2019 season in Melbourne has cast a shadow on the entire campaign, such was the enormity of Whiting’s position within the Formula 1 community. In Abu Dhabi on Thursday evening hundreds of people participated in a fundraising bike race around the Yas Marina Circuit. 43 teams, each comprising five members with two bikes, completed 10 laps of the venue in a timed relay event to determine the victor. Each team’s efforts were rewarded with sponsorship funding to be donated to the Grand Prix Trust, which provides services and support to those in the motorsport community if and when required. 

“It is fantastic to see the entire Formula 1 family here tonight supporting this event,” said Whiting’s replacement Michael Masi, who was present along with Ross Brawn and Martin Brundle. “From the start of the season, the support you have given to me and all of us since the tragic loss of Charlie in Melbourne has been incredible, and on behalf of the FIA I want to thank you all.”

TV Tigers, made up of members of Sky UK and Sky Italia, completed the 10-lap relay in 1hr 26:40.090, astonishingly edging a team representing Red Bull Racing by less than a second! Local outfit Team Yas completed the podium, with a ceremony taking place afterwards, and the trophy presented by race director Masi. Among the 43 teams were the Renault Freewheelers, the Red Lanterns, Not Fast Just Furious and, of course, Charlie’s Angels. 

Secret Santa

It was the last event of the season, with the race taking place in December for the first time since 1963, with the paddock weary and relieved that the circus has come to a conclusion. But it being December, and with Christmas looming on the horizon, Formula 1 arranged a Secret Santa, the full details of which will be divulged on its video channel once the Festive period is well and truly upon us. Robert Kubica bought a Hulk-themed dog costume for Nico Hulkenberg’s dog, Zeus, while Daniel Ricciardo brought a pair of Las Vegas socks for Charles Leclerc, and George Russell was given a jumper by Lance Stroll – though Russell suggested Stroll had bought a piece of clothing one size too small. And with it being December Alexander Albon bought the grid’s youngest driver – Lando Norris – a Lindt advent calendar. 

Going, going, gone

Sotherby's held an auction on the Abu Dhabi grid with some eye-watering prices

Formula 1 linked up with Sotheby’s for a car auction that took place on the starting grid on Saturday evening. It was a unique sight, with the start/finish line given over to a couple of auctioneers in front of several rows of exceptionally wealthy bidders. The value of the cars, both road and race versions, lined up along the pit straight on Saturday evening was immense. The Ferrari F2002 went for an eye-watering $5.9m but even that was usurped by a 2017-spec Pagani Zonda, with gasps among the audience when the highest bid rocketed from $5m to $6m in one swoop, the eventual purchaser paying $6,075,000 for the car. Among the other high sellers were the 2015 Ferrari FXX K, which went for $3.8m, and the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS 2010 Sir Stirling Moss, which was acquired for $2.15m.

Norris’ tribute to engineer

McLaren has been a team transformed this year and one element of that has been its spirit, refreshed by a new and younger driver line-up. Senior engineer Andrew Jarvis was spending his last race with McLaren, after several years working his way up the ranks, and as a way of a tribute Lando Norris tweaked his helmet design. At the rear of Norris’ helmet was a picture of Jarvis’ face, with the engineer understandably shocked when the Briton showed him the design. Another token of gratitude came with the development that Norris was going to gift Jarvis the one-off helmet design as a farewell present [click here for video].

Looking to the future

Several grand prix promoters were present in the Abu Dhabi paddock as plans for 2020 and beyond started to take shape. Vietnam’s officials were keen to stress that their venue is nearing completion and will be ready on time, with the event now just three grands prix and four months away from becoming a reality. It is an important market for Formula 1 and the first new event signed off by Liberty Media since it acquired Formula 1 in 2017. Baku’s chiefs were also in Abu Dhabi and their ambition is to be one of the leading venues when it comes to sustainability, with a plan set to be announced in the coming weeks. Two sons of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – keen to see Rio de Janeiro get the grand prix from 2021 – were in attendance. Elsewhere Eric Boullier was in Abu Dhabi and he is poised to play a greater role in the organisation of the French Grand Prix. The contract expires in 2022 but Paul Ricard wants to extend through 2027. For 2020 changes at the circuit are planned following widespread criticism of the 2019 race, with the first sector set for layout tweaks. There will still be a chicane on the Mistral Straight but the multiple layouts usable at the track means an alteration could also be made there. Official developments are expected prior to Christmas. 


F1 needs to work on its recycling plans!

Formula 1 is pressing ahead with its plans to have a net zero carbon footprint by 2030 and to make all events sustainable by 2025, but Abu Dhabi was perhaps a reminder of the challenges faced by the sport. Unless you are exceptionally wealthy, or a Formula 1 team member, no-one stays on the cluster of hotels on Yas Island, which means at least a 20- or 30-minute drive to and from the other hotels, located either in Abu Dhabi or along the Dubai-bound highway. There are no shuttle options for fans. There is no public transport for Abu Dhabi does not have a railway network. Elsewhere a handful of recycling bins had been introduced but not in the media centre itself, which led to the pictured scene at the end of each day – an issue of laziness and also a lack of education perhaps. There were a few water fountains around but whoever installed them put them in the blazing sun, which on the intelligence scale is not exactly up there. And that’s before we take into account the hundreds of air conditioning units whirring and the fact the race takes place at night…