Abu Dhabi here we come - exclusive Q&A with Richard Cregan 26 Aug 2009
There is one new venue on the 2009 Formula One calendar and its going to be spectacular. On November 1 the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the championship finale, will run on the all-new Yas Marina Circuit. Amongst the tracks unusual features: a straight that runs through a hotel, a pit-exit tunnel, and an impressive waterfront section. As the venue nears completion we caught up with Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Managements (ADMM) Chief Executive Officer - and former Toyota team boss - Richard Cregan to get the latest news
Q: With little over two months to go before the 2009 FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, how is the track and its infrastructure coming along?
Richard Cregan: Very well. Everything is basically on schedule. As with any major project, it needs constant care and attention at this stage to make sure that it stays that way, but apart from some minor issues its looking good and were confident that everything will be delivered on time.
Q: Youre obviously out on the circuit a lot. What are your thoughts as you see it progressing?
RC: When you visit the circuit now you can see it is very near completion in terms of the track and the infrastructure. They have been fitting all of the Tech-Pro barriers, for example, and following the inspection by the FIAs Charlie Whiting we have some guidelines on issues there. Every time you go out there you can see major changes. Its very encouraging - and to see how its growing out of the plans into reality.
Q: How excited is Abu Dhabi about the forthcoming Grand Prix?
RC: People are looking forward to November 1st and are planning to welcome friends and family from overseas, as well as having the ex-pat and the Emirati community attending. Theres a growing expectation that this is going to be the biggest event thats ever taken place in not just Abu Dhabi, but in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a whole. With that in mind, were tailoring a second marketing campaign to boost understanding of what motorsport and Formula One is all about - were really looking forward to being able to give people an overview of what to expect.
Q: With outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim art galleries, and Ferrari and Warner Brothers theme parks, Abu Dhabi is hoping to become a real destination for the future. How important is the Grand Prix in this aim?
RC: Yas Marina has been created as a centre of motorsporting excellence for Abu Dhabi and the whole region. I think that its the first major event to be held in the UAE, in terms of viewers around the world and visitors. There have been some great - and very successful - events here over the years, but in terms of numbers I think this will be the biggest. From that point of view, its very significant.
I believe its also very significant in terms of where it fits into all those other projects you mentioned. The fact is that its the first one to be delivered. Aldar Properties have done an amazing job delivering this circuit, together with (track architect, Hermann) Tilke, and I think it will be an icon long into the future. The Guggenheim and the Louvre are also incredible projects, and together we will make Abu Dhabi a destination of choice for tourism and business alike.
Q: With a tunnel for a pit exit, a waterfront/harbour section, and the track passing under a hotel, the circuit is an exciting proposition. What part are you most excited about?
RC: I was just out there the other day driving around, and I think every time you go round you see something else amazing. Im sure we all have our favourite views of the circuit, but I think one of mine is when you come to Turn Three. It really is at the top of a hill, as youre about 18 metres above the start/finish straight, and you can look towards the North Grandstand. That complex is just amazing. When you stand there and look, its stunning. I think that would be my favourite. But then all the other features are amazing as well, especially when the cars get out there.
Q: Several drivers have visited the track, including championship leader Jenson Button. What have been their reactions?
RC: Very good. We had Kimi Raikkonen here very early on in the project, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, and David Coulthard - all very credible drivers and we were very encouraged by their remarks during and after their visits. They cant wait to come and race here, so I think were in for a great spectacle. By that time of the year we may be hosting the championship decider, who knows, and if you see some of the corners that have been created, theyre just amazing - its a very technical circuit.
Q: The track has been designed to host both day and night time events. Does the timing of the race really matter?
RC: I dont think so. I think whats most important is that we give everybody a great experience, and on Sunday night theyll go home and want to come back to the next event at Yas Marina - and definitely the next Grand Prix. Whether a day race or a night race, the most important thing is to create that atmosphere. I think there is something special about racing Formula One cars at night time. If in the future we can maximise that, and do something that has never been done before, then I think it would just add to the buzz of the whole weekend.
Q: As a former Toyota team manager, youre in a great position to know just what those in the paddock want when they arrive at a circuit. Has this insider knowledge helped you enhance the welcome Abu Dhabis Yas Marina will give them?
RC: Ive always believed that any experience you have is good - you can always apply different elements of it. Im very lucky to have been in motorsport most of my life and coming from Toyota it gives you a different perspective on things. I think if you havent been in motorsport before its very difficult to understand what the teams require, and the fact that we are the last race of the season will affect what they need. I also feel that we have a great team of people here at Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Management (ADMM) and at Yas Marina, who will make it a memorable weekend for guests, spectators and teams alike.
Q: On a personal note, how are you enjoying the challenge of running the circuit in comparison with your old job at Toyota?
RC: When first offered the job, you dont understand the enormity of it. When I came down here for the first time and I visited the circuit, with Philippe Gurdjian, and we had a look around, it was just amazing. I couldnt believe the size. And looking at internet articles, you couldnt imagine how important the project is in terms of Abu Dhabi and what the government is trying to create. You put all that together and its just enormous. Its an amazing challenge, but throughout your life you need iconic projects and this is certainly one of them. My past has been in rallying, Le Mans and Formula One and this just leads on from that. Personally I just look on it as a huge challenge and as a privilege that the UAE, and in particular Khaldoon (ADMM Chairman His Excellency Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak), obviously along with all the other stakeholders, trust me to deliver this project. Its an honour.
Q: Earlier this year there was an announcement about cooperation between ADMM and the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC). As your nearest neighbouring Formula One event, what type of advice have they provided?
RC: We have a very good relationship with BIC and in particular with CEO Martin Whitaker. Hes been incredibly helpful, and we both believe the future of motorsport in this region is going to be achieved through cooperation - that means ourselves, BIC, Qatar, Dubai, and also the track in Saudi Arabia, which I believe is being built or is ready. Martin and I both have very similar views on things, and we had a lot of people there during the Bahrain Grand Prix, having a look at how they do things. They run an incredibly efficient race - one of the best races of the season - and they have been honoured with various awards for that. Our target at the moment is to live up to the standards that they have set in this region. If we can surpass it, then Ill be very, very happy. If we can equal them this year, Ill also be very happy. Theyve been very cooperative, and I want to thank them for their help and continued support.
Q: What support races and events have you got planned to run alongside the Grand Prix to entertain the fans?
RC: Our target from the beginning has been to put on a support programme that lives up to the standards of Formula One. Weve been successful in securing GP2, weve also got Porsche Supercup and Bahrains Chevrolet V8s. So I think the on-track programme will provide great entertainment. Off-track, weve got three different oasis areas where people will be able to enjoy various forms of entertainment, including cultural displays from this part of the world, in particular Abu Dhabi. We believe weve got entertainment for everybody, young and old alike - I think this is a great thing. We want this to be an enjoyable weekend, filled with motorsport, but at the same time a cultural window to see what is out here in the UAE and in particular Abu Dhabi. I think Abu Dhabi has a lot to offer, and people will see that when they come here.