The Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix was heating up in the hours leading up to Sunday’s last race, and you didn’t even need to glance at the Yas Marina Circuit circuit to know that.
The fact that celebrities and dignitaries were routinely landing helicopters at the entrance of the posh Paddock Club was a sign that the event’s peak was drawing near.
This was in addition to the official F1 “TV helicopter” constantly buzzing as it raced around the track filming for a worldwide audience.
The crowds of spectators swarming around the track’s paddocks as they awaited the arrival of their favorite F1 drivers into their various garages was another indication that things had reached their pinnacle.
Francesca Allen was there in one of these crowds outside the Red Bull area. She was content to wait around for a peek of this year’s champion, Max Verstappen, while donning the distinctive red top of the Ferrari team. She traveled from London on Wednesday to attend the Abu Dhabi GP because she is a passionate F1 fan.
“I went to races in Imola (San Marino), Spa (Belgium) and Silverstone (UK) and I can definitely say the Abu Dhabi one has its own atmosphere,” she said.
“It is very international so you find a lot of drivers being supported, which is nice to see… This is different than in other places where there are definitely one or two drivers being supported by a home crowd.”
“A lot of the other locations, such as Silverstone for example, come with this long and amazing tradition, which I think is great,” she added, “But with Abu Dhabi it just feels fresh because there is all the great food, restaurants and concerts every night.”
“Also the fact the layout is quite easy to navigate makes it fun for anyone to experience.”
Verstappen was making his way to the garage as we started talking, and he merely slowed down for the waiting audience to snap shots of a champion at work by shifting down a gear.
Another group of people surrounded a flashy guy wearing an orange pair of glasses and a white suit further along the paddock. Because I am used to seeing him in red, it took me some time to realize who he was: former Manchester United footballer Patrice Evra.
However, not everyone came just to mingle. The paddock was crowded with ardent F1 fans. The legendary Senegalese fan Moko was seen speaking with friends and officials. Moko is known for never missing a Formula One race since 1979. Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas was also there and was seen strolling down the pit lane.
Fans flocked to photograph New Zealander Angela Cullen, who some fans have called the “Lewis whisperer,” who works as physiotherapist and confidante for Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. And in the moments before the 5pm race, the throng scattered to their suites and stadium seats just as fast as they had done during the day.