Guest Author - Christine Blachford
Despite the massively exciting end to the 2008 season taking place in Brazil, the circuit has lost the final round of this year's calendar to a new track at Abu Dhabi. There are many arguments about Formula 1's rapid expansion into the Middle East, and there's nothing to say that this new track will be a success. However, organisers are putting their all into making it work.
The new circuit is being built on Yas Island, a development currently under construction that will include a massive infrastructure of hotels, golf courses, a water park, even an F1 theme park. The design of the track is also pushing the boat out, with the pit lane coming out from under a tunnel as it rejoins the track. There will also be a section where the gravel trap and run off area actually go underneath the spectator grandstands, to provide unique viewing - if any driver manages to spin off there.
Organisers are taking the fan perspective very seriously, and making sure grandstands have good viewing above any safety fencing, and including high level plans for facilities. A lot of money is being spent on making a premium space for Formula 1 to attend, and there's no doubt it will be a sparkling and astonishing venue.
The big problem comes with the lack of fanbase in the Middle East. We've already seen Formula 1 struggle trying to break into new global markets. China have admitted they have struggled to attract fans to their stunning facility. Bahrain has seen empty grandstands, and that is the closest track to this new Abu Dhabi venue.
The season finale needs to be an energy filled event, whether or not the championship goes down to the wire. In Brazil, the fans are passionate and the entire race is a frenzy of emotions, that really build the event into something special. Abu Dhabi has the makings of a good looking venue, but may end up being a clinical corporate event, just as the other new venues seem to be. It's impossible to build a fan base without investing time and money into the sport, with history and heritage being super important to fans these days. Abu Dhabi will struggle to match this, but it has yet to be seen if they have the makings of a sustainable race.