In the fast-paced world of Formula One, race organisers must maintain a full-throttle ethos at all times.
Nobody knows this more than Al Tareq Al Ameri, Chief Executive Officer of Yas Marina Circuit, the home of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
For no sooner than he had finished staging last year’s race, his third as CEO, Al Ameri began strenuously preparing for this November’s extravaganza.
And the Emirati former engineer has no intention of slowing down in his relentless pursuit of excellence at the season-ending race, which was first held in 2009 and which he foresees continuing on the F1 calendar for years to come.
This year, like his first Abu Dhabi GP in 2014, a world championship-deciding showdown between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg remains a tantalising possibility.
But as Al Ameri told Gulf News this week, the three-day Grand Prix encompasses much more than just high-octane action on the track, given its heady cocktail of family fun and musical entertainment.
Quite simply, this is the biggest event of the year for Abu Dhabi, Al Ameri insists, and it will be better than ever before.
So it’s just two months until this year’s Grand Prix on November 25-27. How have preparations gone so far?
Preparations are a 12-month process for us. As soon as we finish one Grand Prix, we’re into a delivery programme for the following year. It’s important after every Grand Prix that we wrap up with a really good understanding of what worked well and where we can improve. That’s what we use when we plan for the delivery of the following year’s Grand Prix, but really it’s a 12-month cycle so we never stop thinking about the programme. This year is our eighth Grand Prix and given that we have done so many now, the system at the circuit is pretty well organised and everyone knows what they need to do and when. Now what you’ll find is that there’s a very structured and organised approach to how we deliver the Grand Prix. Also a large proportion of the key staff involved have seen most, if not all, of the grands prix, so we’ve got that ongoing knowledge which allows us to build and improve as well as deliver on schedule.
This is your third Abu Dhabi GP as Yas Marina Circuit CEO. What lessons have you learnt over the years?
Attention to detail and focus on the customer. In a huge event like this, you need to make sure that every single little detail is being looked after; never assume anything is being done by somebody else, always check. My predecessor Richard Cregan used to say “check, check and check again” and that’s something I’ve carried forward. The emphasis on detail is really important to ensure that the weekend goes off absolutely as planned. It also places us in the best position to manage the unexpected. The other thing I’ve learnt is the importance of customer focus, understanding why we’re doing this. It has to be a brilliant customer experience. We have a customer satisfaction survey on the ground across our race weekend, as well as a post-event survey, and it’s really important that we get that customer feedback so that we continue to grow and better develop our Grand Prix.
Will there be anything new and improved that racegoers can experience this year?
Every year we look to improve and build on the previous year’s success. Obviously what happens on track is key for us. This year, it’s looking good as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fight it out for the championship. There are no guarantees, of course, but it looks like that battle could go to the last race. We like to position ourselves as a very modern Grand Prix, so we like to push on the digital and technology side. Our YasHUB app continues to enhance and improve the customer experience on the ground, giving customers immediate and real-time access to what’s happening across the race weekend. This year we will introduce ‘AskYAS’ within the YasHUB app, which provides a real-time chat support function for customers looking for information. Also new this year is that with your F1 ticket you get free access to Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, that’s different for this year and enhances the overall experience. Overall, it makes it a great Yas Island experience.
What makes the GP special for both Yas Marina Circuit and Abu Dhabi as a whole?
It’s the biggest event of the year; the buzz, the excitement really are electric. It’s important that we present ourselves successfully to the world stage and that’s what we try to do with the Grand Prix. It’s an honour for us to deliver an event on this scale and be responsible for that delivery at Yas Marina Circuit. The way we work across all the stakeholders is a testament to Abu Dhabi also. It is a truly collective effort and it is something we should all be very proud of.
What makes it such a great event for the family as well as for motorsport enthusiasts?
It’s all about the weekend. For the motorsport fans, you have the on-track action with GP2 and GP3 as well as the Formula One racing itself. But it’s also much more than that. It’s about a weekend of fantastic entertainment off-track as well as on-track. We continue to put an emphasis on our after-race concerts and the full line-up has now been announced. We have The Chemical Brothers playing on the Friday, Lionel Richie on the Saturday and Rihanna on the Sunday. Then there’s the live entertainment we put on in the Oasis areas, the food and beverage offerings, the Yasalam festival across Abu Dhabi and all of the activity that happens on Yas Island. It’s a great opportunity for people to come together, have fun, relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
How do you measure the success of the event every year?
It goes back to the customer. We need to ensure they have had a fantastic Abu Dhabi experience.
What is the latest news on ticket sales?
Sales started back in March and we have been selling well all year. The international market has again shown great interest in our event and we look forward to seeing them here this November. Equally, the local fans took advantage of our early-bird discounts to purchase early. Now as we head towards race day, we’d encourage fans to purchase their tickets now to avoid disappointment. We’ve just announced Lionel Richie for the Saturday after-race concert and the excitement has been strong around that.
Is the immediate future of the Abu Dhabi GP assured? Do you envisage it being on the F1 calendar for years to come?
Absolutely, we’re here for the long term. We’ll continue our hard work to deliver a fantastic event for our customers and work with F1 so that all of the Abu Dhabi stakeholders continue to get as much out of it as we grow and move towards the future.
*Al Ameri will be launching Yas Marina Circuit’s 2016-17 calendar on Tuesday morning. For more information on this and how to buy F1 tickets, visit www.yasmarinacircuit.com.
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