From his sixth floor office, Al Tareq Al Ameri looks down on the track that this weekend will host the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Staring back at him is Abu Dhabi Hill, where Formula 1 fans will catch some of the best views of the 11th edition of the race on Sunday.
“It’s iconic, don’t you think?” Al Ameri, the CEO of Yas Martina Circuit says, pointing at the giant letters that spell “Abu Dhabi” on the grassy hill.
Few people know every corner of the track like Al Ameri, and though he tends to hop from one stand to another on raceday, he does have a few favourite viewpoints.
“Nothing beats the main straight,” he says. “That’s where it starts and were you see the drivers going through the finish line. But each area here has a unique perspective. If you look at the North Grandstand, you’ll see that it has one of the fastest turns on the track, and one of the slowest with the hairpin. So you get to see both dynamics. There are also the yachts at the Marina, where you get to see some high technical turns.”
An aviation engineer by trade, he joined Yas Marina Circuit in 2012 and became its Chief Executive three years later. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is now firmly established as the season-ending race, and despite the title often being settled by the time it comes around, Al Ameri says the event has become a celebration for Formula 1 chiefs, team executives, fans and even the media.
Yas Marina Circuit
“Except for the drivers,” he adds. “Even if the title is already decided, you still get that unique dynamic when it comes to Abu Dhabi. There are no more team strategies, no preservations of equipment or car engines, so you find each driver will do his best to capture the last points for himself, because it will affect his standing the following season."
The CEO says that preparation for the Grand Prix weekend is a year-round job.
“The minute the race finishes, the team gets a day off for their hard work and then get back into the room,” he says. “Into preparation, feedback, what worked and what didn’t. The information is still fresh. We work those out internally and then we engage our stake holders. It’s a whole year of preparation, but different teams will be engaged at different times.”
The drivers too, seem to have a growing affinity with the track. Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton in particular has developed a close relationship with Yas Marina Circuit.
“In 2015, the UAE celebrated its 44th national day, and his racing number is 44,” Al Ameri says. “So we reached out to him to do an activation to celebrate our national day. The response we got from Lewis and his team was unexpected, really supportive. He jumped on it, did the activation, he went above and beyond what we had talked about. He carried the UAE logo with the number 44, and he filmed some messages at Abu Dhabi attractions, like Sheikh Zayed Mosque.”
Other standout moments for Al Ameri are Sebastian Vettel’s four wins, and Kimi Räikkönen’s now legendary comeback win in 2012.
“That’s when Kimi made his famous quote, telling his team over the radio ‘leave me alone, I know what I’m doing’ on lap 23, before he crossed the line and won the race.”
Looking to the future, Al Ameri is a big fan of the drivers he calls the “young bloods”, in particular Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, the latter already being spoken of as future champion and Formula One great.
The Dutchman’s army of hardcore supporters, in particular, have already made lasting impression on Yas Marina Circuit.
“They come in wearing all orange, and last year we got one of them coming through our doors wearing a local [Emirati ] dress in orange,” Al Ameri says. “Out of curiosity we followed him and asked questions, and we got the insight into Verstappen's fanbase. So our team engaged with the fans in the Netherlands, and this year if you watch the race, you’ll see a full grandstand with people wearing orange.”
Ultimately, Al Ameri is hopping that the UAE will produce its own professional drivers. One in particular, 11-year-old Rashid Al Dhaheri, has already shown great promise, winning the World Series Karting (WSK) in Europe this season against almost 150 of the continent’s brightest talents.
Rashid Al Dhaheri
“We’re very familiar with Rashid,” says Al Ameri with a smile. “We met him when he was little, everyone called him 'little Alonso'. We gave him access to the Formula 1 activities, meeting the drivers and even Bernie Ecclestone. The kid has real talent in him, great charisma and persona.”
The path for Al Dhaheri and other Emirati drivers to get to professional racing, even Formula 1, has been laid out in terms of facilities and support.
However, once factor, above all others Al Ameri says, will determine their chances of success; commitment.
“Rashid is developing greatly, and so are the two Emirati sisters Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi, who we have facilitated for to have a round at the Abu Dhabi GP this year, to showcase the young local talent,” Al Ameri says. “Having those two in F4 carts hopefully will lead to more growth in this area and see newcomers coming through.”
And if in the the coming years an Emirati should grace Yas Marina Circuity alongside Verstappen, LeClerc and the rest, you can be certain Al Ameri will be watching proudly. From one grandstand or another.