Looks like the oil-rich sheiks of Abu Dhabi are getting more serious about the prospect of hosting a Formula One grand prix than we thought. Last week we reported that they're adding an FIA-regulation race track to the Yas Island project that will also host the Ferrari World theme park, and with big question marks rounding off the one main restriction, they could be planning on hosting a grand prix very soon.Word is there will be an event on February 1st where an official announcement may be made. If it happens, expect some teams and cars to be in attendance, along with the sport's most irresistible force, McLaren's newest driver, the inimitable Fernando Alonso.
Abu Dhabi has accumulated a vast amount of wealth from oil revenues, but fully aware that their natural resource won't last forever, the royal family is investing in other spheres, including tourism and motorsports. Crown corporation Mubadala Development Co. owns 5% of Ferrari and 17% of Spyker, and is investing a reported (and jaw-dropping) $40 billion on the Yas Island development. They've also invested heavily in creating their own airline, and are sinking serious money into expanding their airport. With all that money floating around atop the oil reserves, Bernie Ecclestone's fee must seem like a joke.
Money aside – and money is never an aside in F1 – the one factor standing in their way is Bahrain, their nearby gulf state that has an exclusive contract with Bernie for the only grand prix in the region. But as secretive as these arrangements are, no one but the signatories knows how long that contract is for. Insiders suggest it could expire next year, leaving Abu Dhabi free to submit a competing proposal for 2009 onwards.
Looks like we won't have to be holding our collective breath for too long; Abu Dhabi has got a big presentation scheduled for February 1. Rumor has it defending world champion Fernando Alonso will be there in person, and Abu Dhabi has asked each team to send over a car to add to the spectacle. What will they be announcing? We doubt it'll be another robotized camel race. Stay tuned....