Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Don’t be fooled. Ferrari World’s raison d’etre is for the old boys, not the young ones galloping excitedly between the candy-apple red race cars.
When I made my future husband list, in the top five criteria was: must not like organized sports. I was thinking hockey, baseball or football, something that can be religiously followed anywhere by all media, TV, newspapers and radio. Not only did MacGyver not watch these sports, he seemed to be a modest participant in the favorite five activities of men, worldwide, that are loathed by women; drinking, gambling, womanizing, smoking and extravagant festivals. (He doesn’t smoke. The truck is only big enough for one woman, and she’s often too much. He only drinks off the road, beer, wine and a little scotch. Despite my disdain for lotteries, he insists on buying MegaMillions tickets. And before we met he was an avid concert goer. Modest.)
Five years ago, strangely coinciding with our foray into the world of transportation, he shocked me by developing, not an interest, but a passion for an organized sport. I blame his Brazilian buddy, a fashion photographer in New York for exposing him to an xBox game called Forsa. MacGyver was entranced by the most extravagant festival of them all. Formula One car racing.
This is why I found myself in Abu Dhabi, the home of Formula One’s Yas Marina Circuit and Ferrari World, celebrating his 50th birthday.
Worse than being a golf or hockey widow, I am an F1 hostage because MacGyver and I spend 365 days a year within three feet of each other, often shoulder-to-shoulder and in that time he insists upon educating me in all things Formula One.
“You know way more than you should,” said a friend of a friend who was impressed with my knowledge of the sport. Everywhere I turn, F1. There’s even an App on MY iPhone. MacGyver briefs me almost every morning as we switch drivers on the latest news from the podcasts.
It’s easy to memorize the names of the top six drivers for Ferrari, MacLaren and Mercedes, but I know the top 20 drivers, their names, country of origin, name of team, engine maker. I know that Kobayashi was dropped by Sauber even though his 2012 season was stellar, placing third in his home Japanese Grand Prix. I know that Kimi Raikkonen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012. I know that Michael Schumacher, considered one of the greats, should have stayed retired. His return was a flop, making people wonder if the car was the reason he won seven World titles. I have even seen the documentary on Ayrton Senna, the last driver to die in a race.
I am a hostage.
I have been to two Montreal Formula One races, but not to the actual race, yuck too noisy. Number three is scheduled for June. This time I recruited Salena and Eddie from The Daily Rant. Eddie will keep MacGyver company while Salena and I amuse ourselves with lunches and spas.
Like everything he does, for business or pleasure, MacGyver likes to excel. His Formula One knowledge is broad, he didn’t stop with being a stats geek. He owns his own steering wheel and throttle and brake pedal set up so that he can race with the xBox at home or in a hotel.
Before arriving in Ab Dhab, as the F1 crowd calls it, we stayed a few nights in New York, and he set up his traveling race car in the hotel to practice on the Yas Marina circuit.
Searching for airfare to Bangkok for our annual Medi-Spa trip, he found a great deal on Emirates airline through Dubai. When I said I was interested in seeing Dubai, he began his research and discovered it is only an hour by car from Yas Marina. He decided this was IT. The best way to mark his mid-life milestone.
MacGyver’s no dummy, while he was setting his F1 itinerary, he included
treats to keep his wife happy and compliant. He booked a one-bedroom suite in the Yas Hotel, a Viceroy property, an opulent, sheikh-ready hotel which straddles the F1 race track.
The hotel complex was put up in two years by a crew of 50,000, which probably explains why the drainage in the luxury bathroom is no better than the Pilot truck stop. We turned on the shower and the rain spout flooded the entire bathroom, the water failing to find the drain.
Impromptu river aside, the room was straight out of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The rate, an eyepopping $400 a night — an extravagance made possible because of the money we saved in Dubai with a FREE Hilton hotel, which will be the subject of my next post — included smoking fast Internet, a daily hand selected fruit plate, each piece Dean and Deluca worthy, the exact point of ripeness, perfectly colored and blemish-free. Enough bottled water to raise the Arabian Gulf, as the Gulf States call the Persian Gulf. A Nespresso machine with latte and cappucino capsules. The toiletries evoked a wild, exotic herbal and flower garden, packaged in apothecary-styled brown bottles, inspired by medicinal bottles of yesteryear. I took everything that was not nailed down, twice, on each day, including three pads of note paper, three elegant, white and silver pens stamped Viceroy, four bars of soap and three bottles each of shampoo and shower gel. The nouveau added touch for the rich and famous these days, an individually packaged loufah sponge. Two of those.
The room included a posh buffet breakfast with smoked salmon, kingfish and tuna, steak, made-to-order eggs, sauteed vegetables, turkey bacon, veal sausage and a selection of Asian, Middle Eastern and European breakfast staples, yogurt, humus, moutabel, noodles and vegetables, porridge and meusli. Fruit from around the world, rambutan and lychee, plump, thumb-sized raspberries and blackberries, mandarin oranges as big as a fist, apricots and plums. Fresh-baked croissants, plai
n, almond, chocolate and Zatar, a Middle Eastern spice that is savory, yet sweet and hand-made lattes and cappucinos. I think I drank $15 a day in lattes alone.
We ate breakfast overlooking the turquoise-colored track — the same color as the water surrounding Abu Dhabi — which makes this circuit unique in F1.
Admission to Ferrari World, with the fastest rollercoaster in the world, was also part of the package. The coaster car, shaped like an F1 race car, shoots out of the building using the same launching catapult found on an aircraft carrier. I did not ride this because I’m not fool, having survived pulling many Gs in a acrobatic ride 30 years ago on the Canadian Snowbirds, still a sore point between us. MacGyer said the coaster’s G forces made it feel even more violent than shown in the video of Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso.
There are two simulators, the one-included in the price, full-motion simulator of a Ferrari F430 road car that you race with 7 other competitors. I drove the Yas Marina Circuit at 20 mph to keep from tossing my cookies. And the other much faster full-blown Ferrari Formula One simulator that is a hand-me-down from the team’s training center, which MacGyver also drove.
MacGyver’s winning time in the simulator, for his trip around the track, posted on screens around Ferrari World for all to see, stood the entire day, beating all other comers by a country mile.
The final special event, a real life turn around the track. One Tuesday each month the circuit opens the track to runners, walkers and bicyclists. We arrived just in time. This circuit is the only F1 race which starts in daylight and ends after sunset. We too hit the track before sunset on rented bicycles and drove the track as the sun set.
It was exciting to know that we were seeing the same view that the drivers see, except we had a lot more time to look around and enjoy it. The track, the corners, the straight away and a hill. We were surprised to find there is a grade on the track, it’s not completely flat.
Returning the hotel, my old boy was as giddy as a young boy. “That was a great day,” he said.
The first race of the 2013 season is March 17 in Melbourne, Australia. I wonder where we will be watching this race.