The purpose-built Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, located on the spectacular manmade Yas Island, is a fitting finale to a modern Formula One season: it is designed by ubiquitous circuit designer Hermann Tilke, set in the oil-rich Middle East, takes place at a globally suitable time and the visually stunning floodlit finish lends itself to a television audience.
2016 will be the fifth year of racing at the opulent waterfront venue and it has quickly embedded itself in as an excellent concluding race, partcularly since the FIA scrapped its ill-fated double points scheme.
Like Monaco, Singapore, and the off-calendar Valencia, the track in Abu Dhabi is wrapped around a marina chock-full of ostentatious yachts. Yet perhaps aesthetically it lacks the history and old-world charm of the courses it pays homage to.
Yas Marina’s distinctive design also boasts several innovative elements including a theme park, a water park, a 60-metre solar-powered Sun Tower which offers unrivalled views for guests, a unique pit lane which sees the cars exit via a tunnel passing under the track and, most prominently, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel.
The iconic five-star, 499-room hotel is built onto the circuit and acts as a centre piece of the whole venue, akin to the Montreal Biosphere for a new era of Formula One. The pixelated lighting design creates an exquisite sight once illuminated at night, with colours flowing smoothly across the double curved surface.
The marina-based development’s major US$1.3 billion track has five grandstands to stow its relatively small capacity crowd of 50,000.
“Abu Dhabi is a good finale place, they do it very well,” says Nigel Geach, senior vice president, global motorsports at Nielsen Sports. “It looks good on TV - and it is very important for fans of Formula One to have it looking good on TV. It does a lot for the local area; we call it the postcard effect.”
The Grand Prix has been steadily increasing in popularity since its inception, with organisers claming that the 2015 event was a sell-out.