Unprecedented popularity of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix points to bright future for regional motorsports

Unprecedented popularity of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix points to bright future for regional motorsports
Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the qualifying session on the eve of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2022

Unprecedented popularity of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix points to bright future for regional motorsports

Unprecedented popularity of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix points to bright future for regional motorsports
  • CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management Saif Al-Noaimi tells Arab News that track changes, new regulations and an expanding demographic are behind the sport’s skyrocketing profile
  • Previously, Yas Marina Circuit was considered a difficult track to overtake on, but according to Al-Noaimi, the feedback from the drivers has been overwhelmingly favorable

ABU DHABI: The drivers themselves may play it down, but a year on from the last Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, few racing fans or pundits can resist recalling that famous final lap, which saw Max Verstappen overtake Lewis Hamilton to win his first-ever title.
This season, Red Bull’s Dutch driver has retained his championship several weeks ago in less dramatic circumstances, but the memory of the 2021 finale lingers.
“It was a historic race,” said Saif Al-Noaimi, the CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management. “The fact that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton arrived with exactly the same points to Abu Dhabi, the final race of the season, the championship-deciding race…that is for me the memorable moment.
“We have to remember that last year, we modified the racetrack.
“It was no coincidence that arguably the most exciting Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in its 13-year history came after the track had been revamped to produce more wheel-to-wheel racing and provide more opportunities to overtake.
“It is fantastic to see the results of that work over the last summer, in 2021, and to see how competitive the race was. In that Grand Prix, we had 33 overtakes on the track and four lead changes. So clearly the effort and the changes that we’ve made to the track in 2021 have paid off.
“And it was a historic race, record number in terms of attendance on the ground last year. Then also, we had a record number in terms of viewers on the livestream — we had over 108 million viewers. It was actually the largest sporting event globally of 2021. So definitely a proud moment for us at ADMM.”
Previously, Yas Marina Circuit was considered a difficult track to overtake on, but according to Al-Noaimi, the feedback from the drivers has been overwhelmingly favorable.
“The feedback has been amazing. We did some interviews over the weekend last year, overall extremely positive. Generally, they were saying ‘We were able to follow each other better, we were able to stay closer, we’re able to overtake.’
“But for me also, the biggest piece of feedback is they said it felt like a completely different track. So, the changes were made to several corners, but the flow throughout the entire lap felt different. They felt that there was a good rhythm. And they were able to push and get more out of their cars. I think we saw that on the ground with the race.”
This year, there will be no titles up for grabs, but there is still a big battle for second place to be settled, and the demand for tickets is as high as it has ever been according to Al-Noaimi.
“We’ve had actually record numbers for Thursday and Friday attendance to Yas Marina Circuit over the Grand Prix weekend. We’re extremely prepared, and we’re planning for record numbers for (Saturday) as well as Sunday. We have some really exciting new products that we developed this year. We’ve increased our capacity. Because of the unprecedented demand, we had to build an additional grandstand for 5,000 spectators.
“And we’ve also built various hospitality units that accommodate 1,500 guests across the different parts of the venue,” said Al-Noaimi. “There are some fantastic new products with amazing views, like the deck at Turn 9, which is on the iconic Marsa Corner, with amazing views of that new bank corner at Yas Marina Circuit. It’s a completely new experience we created this year.”
Al-Noaimi also highlighted the food and beverage on offer, with restaurants like C’est La Vie, Luna Lounge and Opa.
“(We’ve had) unprecedented demand,” he added. “We’ve sold out in record numbers even though we increased capacity. We’re seeing a lot of interest and demand in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.”
The sport in general has seen a rise in interest, helped in large by the drivers’ embrace of social media and the Netflix show “Drive to Survive.” Al-Noaimi says these have played a big part in F1’s immense — and rising — popularity, but added there are many other, sporting, factors.
“Definitely we’re seeing an increase in interest in the sport, we’re seeing a changing demographic also. I would say there are multiple things,” he said.
“I think generally in F1 as a sport, the rules and the changes that they’ve made over the last few years — the cost cap, the new technical regulations for the cars in 2022 — (mean that) the racing on the track is a lot more exciting.
“You have to agree that Netflix played a role also in the growing interest. It’s providing a very different perspective to F1.
“F1 has always had the hardcore motorsport fan that follows the championship and watches the races, but now we’re seeing more of a different demographic that is becoming more interested. The great thing is they’re getting to see a different angle of the sport, they’re getting to see behind the scenes, they’re getting to see the challenges between the different teammates. They’re getting to see the team principals and different personalities in the sport. So it’s definitely a positive; it’s grown interest. But I would say there are multiple things that have caused this increase in demand for F1.”
On Sunday, Yas Marina Circuit will bid farewell to one of its early favorites when three-time Abu Dhabi winner Sebastian Vettel, of Aston Martin, walks away from the sport — for now.
“He’s definitely a legend of the sport; he’s the third most successful driver in F1 history,” said Al-Noaimi.
“I think he has done quite well in Yas Marina Circuit over the years. We’ve always been huge fans of Vettel and he won his first championship over here,” he said.
“So being the last race in the season, we’ve seen a lot of champions moving on from F1 into the next phase of their career, and in some cases, coming back, the likes of Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher.
“It’s obviously sad to see Sebastian (leave). I think he’s had a big impact on the sport. He’s definitely left his mark and he will always be remembered here at Yas Marina Circuit.”
With Abu Dhabi traditionally closing a season that includes Grand Prix races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and, imminently, Qatar, Al-Noaimi is optimistic that F1, and indeed all motorsports, will continue to grow in this part of the world.
“I think this region is extremely important for Formula 1, but also motorsports are definitely growing, and having four Grand Prix in the region is going to support that. I think we will all support and complement each other.
“We’re also seeing growth in grassroots motorsports. We as Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management are investing and ensuring that there are development programs and platforms to grow young talent in the UAE and in the region. We just launched our Yas Heat Academy just a couple of weeks ago, where we’re moving from karting and esports into circuit racing.
“We have our Formula Four UAE team that’s going to participate in this Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend for the first time, racing in front of the same fans.
“We’re seeing the F4 UAE Championship for the first time going outside the borders of the UAE. Potentially there could be further expansion in the region. We’re seeing other regional championships that have expressed interest, and I think in the next few years we’ll see a lot more opportunities for development and championships in the UAE.”
With such support and some of the best facilities in the world available, the big question remains: Will we see an Emirati driver rise through the ranks and eventually even race in F1?
“I have no doubt we’ll see Emirati drivers in the top tiers of motorsports in the next few years,” Al-Noaimi said.
“There is Rashid Al-Dhaheri. We actually just announced that he has joined us as an ambassador to our Yas Heat Racing Team. Rashid is still 14 years old. He’s not at the age of racing in F4. But he has done amazing in karting, winning international races and competing at the highest level.
“We’ve had Amna and Hamda Al-Qubaisi also making their way up the ladder in motorsports and racing Formula Three in Europe. They’ve done F4 as well.
“We have some exciting up-and-coming drivers in the UAE. I have no doubt that we will continue to see that grow and develop, and we do expect to see them at the top tiers of motorsports globally.”
 


LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million
Updated 28 January 2023

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million

LeBron James jersey sells for whopping $3.7 million
  • Sotheby’s in New York sold the jersey, which James wore while playing for  Miami Heat in their 2013 NBA Finals Game 7 victory against San Antonio Spurs

NEW YORK: A game-worn jersey of basketball superstar LeBron James sold for $3.7 million at auction Friday, five times more than the previous record for one of his shirts.

The sale comes with interest even higher than usual in the 38-year-old LA Lakers icon as he nears the NBA’s all-time scoring record.

Sotheby’s in New York sold the jersey, which James wore while playing for the Miami Heat in their 2013 NBA Finals Game 7 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

It smashed the previous record of $630,000 for a James All-Star jersey worn in 2020.

Game-worn sports memorabilia is big business.

Michael Jordan’s 1998 NBA Finals jersey, which sold for $10.1 million in September 2022, is currently the most valuable such item.

Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey sold for $9.3 million at Sotheby’s in London last year.

James needs just 178 points to eclipse Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s tally of 38,387 points, one of the most coveted and longstanding records in basketball.

Sotheby’s also sold a dress worn by the late Princess Diana for $604,800 Friday.


Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart
Updated 28 January 2023

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart

Inspired Szoboszlai leads Leipzig to victory over Stuttgart
  • Szoboszlai showed off his technical skills with the second goal in the 49th

LEIPZIG, Germany: Two sweetly hit shots from Dominik Szoboszlai lifted Leipzig to a 2-1 win over Stuttgart to close within a point of Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich on Friday.

Szoboszlai had not scored in the league since September before the Hungarian midfielder gave his team the lead with a swerving, dipping free kick in the 25th minute that goalkeeper Florian Muller could only push into his own net.

Szoboszlai showed off his technical skills with the second goal in the 49th, using one touch to control a header from teammate Andre Silva on the edge of the penalty area before letting the ball drop and striking a half-volley that left Muller no chance.

Embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation, Stuttgart had plenty of chances to exploit defensive errors from Leipzig but couldn’t convert enough of them.

Shortly before Szoboszlai’s second goal, Stuttgart’s Niklas Nartey could have leveled the score when he was one-on-one with Leipzig goalkeeper Janis Blaswich, but his shot bobbled wide of the far post instead. Stuttgart finally scored when Chris Führich powered a penalty past Blaswich in the 68th after a handball by defender Joško Gvardiol. That ensured a tense finish for Leipzig but the hosts largely kept Stuttgart at bay in the closing stages.

Bayern has drawn both of its opening games of 2023, including one against Leipzig last week, as it adapts to life without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who has a broken leg. Bayern can restore a four-point lead if it beats fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.


Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup
Updated 28 January 2023

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup

Manchester City knock out Arsenal 1-0 in FA Cup
  • England’s two best teams have a league showdown at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 15

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester City issued a statement of intent by knocking out Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup on Friday.

Nathan Ake’s 64th-minute goal settled the fourth-round match at Etihad Stadium and the result may yet reverberate through the rest of the season.

Arsenal lead City by five points at the top of the English Premier League, but their seven-game unbeaten run was ended by City, who have three straight wins in all competitions.

England’s two best teams have a league showdown at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 15. For now, City manager Pep Guardiola has gained an edge on his former assistant, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.

“I know how difficult it is to beat Arsenal. They lost one game in the Premier League, so I know how difficult it is,” Guardiola said.

Defender Ake was the unlikely match-winner after curling a low shot past goalkeeper Matt Turner.

Arsenal had chances while enjoying the better of the first half. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Leandro Trossard forced saves from City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, and Eddie Nketiah fired narrowly wide from close range.

The visitors were made to pay when City improved after the break and Ake produced the decisive strike.

“(I’m) really disappointed,” Arteta said. “We could have got much more out of the game. In the big moments in big matches you have to make the difference.”

While a place in the fifth round of the cup was at stake, it was impossible to ignore the wider context of a match between the teams who are the front-runners in the league race.

Arsenal have been in outstanding form, picking up 50 points after 19 games and playing with a confidence not seen since Arsene Wenger’s title-winning teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As if to underline the fact that the cup is neither team’s priority, Guardiola and Arteta left key players out of their lineups.

Guardiola benched Ederson, Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva.

Arteta left out Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, William Saliba, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Arsenal’s new signing, Trossard, was given his first start since joining from Brighton last week.

Despite the changes, Arsenal created the better chances in the first half but could not make them count.

City began to control the game after the break without creating many clear-cut openings until Ake broke the deadlock.

Substitute Alvarez’s strike from outside the box beat Turner, but came back off the post. Jack Grealish picked up the rebound and laid off to Ake, who hit a first-time effort low into the corner.

Elimination gives Arsenal one less distraction in its bid for the title and Arteta hopes to strengthen his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

The London club has been linked with a $74 million move for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, but Arteta would not answer specific questions about the player.

“We have been pretty active in the market. We have some necessities,” he said. “If something else is available, the club is willing to try to do it when it is reasonable and hopefully he’s a player that can improve our squad.”


Sprinting great Bolt says ‘stressful situation’ trying to recover lost millions

Sprinting great Bolt says ‘stressful situation’ trying to recover lost millions
Updated 28 January 2023

Sprinting great Bolt says ‘stressful situation’ trying to recover lost millions

Sprinting great Bolt says ‘stressful situation’ trying to recover lost millions
  • SSL said in a Jan. 12 statement that it had become aware of fraudulent activity by a former employee and had referred the matter to law enforcement

KINGSTON: World 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt said on Friday that it was a “stressful situation” trying to recover more than $12.7 million that has disappeared from his account with a Jamaican investment firm.

The 36-year-old Bolt earlier this month was informed that his account balance at Kingston-based Stocks and Securities Ltd. (SSL) had inexplicably dwindled to just $12,000, lawyer Linton Gordon told Reuters on Jan. 17.

“It’s tough you know, but I think through the years I’ve competed it has helped me to understand and focus on what matters,” Bolt told reporters on Friday.

He was speaking at the Gibson McCook Relays launch in Kingston where he was unveiled as the ambassador of the athletics meet, now in its 50th year.

“I will leave the matter in my lawyer’s hands and focus on my family, try not to think too much about it because it’s a stressful situation,” the 11-time world champion added.

SSL said in a Jan. 12 statement that it had become aware of fraudulent activity by a former employee and had referred the matter to law enforcement, adding it had taken steps to secure assets and strengthen protocols.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force said its fraud and financial investigation teams were probing “alleged fraudulent activities at (SSL) which are said to have affected the accounts of Mr. Usain Bolt among other individuals.”

Bolt’s account was intended to serve as a pension for the eight-time Olympic champion and for his parents, Gordon said.

Bolt retired in 2017 after dominating global sprinting for a decade, reviving a sport plagued by doping scandals and becoming a household name like Brazilian soccer great Pele and American boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

 

 


Victory for Pascal Werhlein and Porsche on day one of Diriyah E-Prix

Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 28 January 2023

Victory for Pascal Werhlein and Porsche on day one of Diriyah E-Prix

Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
  • Wehrlein looked the quickest on the track as he picked his way through the points-paying positions to the front of the pack

DIRIYAH: Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix, with standings leader Jake Dennis of Avalanche Andretti Formula E following home in second after starting in 11th.

Wehrlein looked the quickest on the track as he picked his way through the points-paying positions to the front of the pack.

The move for the lead came on lap 30 at turn 16, with Sam Bird in the Jaguar TCS Racing car unable to hold back Wehrlein’s 99X Electric Gen3.

Both driver and car looked dominant for a second straight race. It was an emotional win for the 28-year-old, who once again credited his team with a monumental amount of work off-track to get things so right on it.

Jake Dennis in the Porsche-powered Avalanche Andretti took the fight all the way to the line with his factory Porsche counterpart from all the way back in 11th on the grid, but he couldn't find a way beyond Wehrlein — who sealed his second Formula E win on his 50th start.

 

 

The result was a reversal of the one-two we saw two weeks ago in the 2023 Hankook Mexico City E-Prix — and both TAG Heuer Porsche and Avalanche Andretti look to have thrown down the challenge to the rest of the field as the GEN3 development race continues at pace.

Sam Bird was overjoyed to make the podium for the first time since winning in New York City in Season 7 — calling it a "mini victory" for himself and Jaguar after a tough Season 8 for the Brit — the only season he has failed to claim Formula E silverware.

Sebastian Buemi started in pole position and finished in fourth, his best finish since the Season 6 finale in Berlin.

NEOM McLaren Formula E Team’s René Rast started fifth and ended fifth following a long battle in middle of the points-paying positions. He also sealed the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap.

Nick Cassidy made it two Envision Racing cars in the top six. Jean-Éric Vergne fought from 12th to the points for DS PENSKE, winding up just ahead of Jake Hughes in the sister McLaren. André Lotterer and Mitch Evans rounded out the top 10 - the latter slipping from sixth on the grid.

That leaves Dennis as standings leader at just a point over Werhlein — 44 to 43 points — while Avalanche Andretti retain their Teams' advantage over TAG Heuer Porsche, 58 to 49 points, with Envision Racing third.

Formula E’s return to Diriyah, a historical and cultural destination in Saudi Arabia, marks a groundbreaking move as it continues to prioritise sustainability and shift the paradigm in the sports industry.