A visit to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is an exhilarating smorgasbord of racing cars, spectacular sunsets, ecstatic yacht owners energetically sounding their horns and a bewildering array of entertainment venues. As virgin Formula One tourists we had no idea what to expect of our visit to the Abu Dhabi F1. Indeed, we questioned whether the sight of cars whizzing past in a blur would be overrated and underwhelming.
Instead, we found ourselves entirely mesmerised by the entire spectacle. From the pre-race driver’s parade to the aerial acrobatics of Al Fursan (the local equivalent of the Red Arrows), race day is an endless parade of excitement.
Whilst qualifying day lacks the same fervour (largely because we had no idea what was happening due to a lack of sufficient big screens) we concluded that this will be the first of many Formula One trips. If you are an F1 fan and contemplating Abu Dhabi for your next trip, read on to find out everything you need to know for the Abu Dhabi Formula One. For a first time visitor, it can be a little daunting trying to figure things out, so this guide should tell you everything you need to know if you plan to visit the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Where is the Abu Dhabi F1 circuit
The F1 circuit is about 30 minutes west of downtown Abu Dhabi on the man-made Yas Island. Since its debut on the F1 scene in 2009, it has delivered thrills and spills galore including the heart-breaking finale of 2021 when Hamilton saw his title hopes dashed. For an adrenaline fuelled F1 there can surely be no better circuit. From the bright swatches of turquoise and pink that decorate the track, to the glamour and opulence of the Abu Dhabi W hotel, a glittering centrepiece in the middle of the circuit, this sun drenched F1 packs a punch. The circuit races past the marina and around 16 corners and chicanes and underneath the futuristic façade of the W Hotel.
Yas Marina circuit aims to be the ‘meeting place of champions’ and epitomises the glamour and glory of F1 attracting the rich and famous.
Yas Island Map
Click here for a 360 tour of Yas Island or check out the map below.
When does the Abu Dhabi GP take place
As part of the contract with F1, Abu Dhabi hosts the season finale in November. Hot on the heels of the inaugural Las Vegas F1, the 2023 event takes place between Thursday 23rd and Sunday 26th November. Tickets sell out well in advance so if you want to go, now is the time to bag your seats.
What time does the race take place?
The race takes place at dusk and spectators can enjoy spectacular sunsets from the stands as the race hots up. The circuit descends into darkness just in time for the fanfare of tooting yachts and magnificent fireworks that signal the end of the F1 season. It truly is a fireworks display to remember.
Where to stay for the Abu Dhabi F1
To reduce the cost of a trip to the Abu Dhabi, one option is to stay in Dubai and book a package which includes transfers to the F1. If you choose to stay on Yas Island, you will pay thousands more. Rooms start at over £1,000 a night and packages including a Yas Hotel start at over £4,000. By contrast, you can purchase a package with a four-star hotel in Dubai from around £1,200.
Note that many of the much more expensive packages in Abu Dhabi include flights to Dubai so you still must transfer to Abu Dhabi. My advice therefore (unless you want to extend a stay in Abu Dhabi), is to save your money and stay in Dubai. Although the transfer can take anywhere between one and two hours each way, this inconvenience will save you a fortune. That saving will pay for your food and drink at the circuit.
Check out some options for Dubai and Abu Dhabi to see whether you would prefer to DIY your trip or book a package.
Getting around Abu Dhabi
The following section covers the various ways to get around if you do book a package or DIY your trip to Abu Dhabi. Obviously if you opt for a Dubai package, then it should include transfers to the circuit on qualifying and race days.
The journey from Abu Dhabi airport to the city takes about 40 minutes and costs around 70-80 AED (approx. $20 USD). It’s even cheaper to get from the airport to Yas Marina, which is just 10km away. Turn left out of arrivals to find the taxi rank then follow a long passage to a covered platform next to the taxi stand.
A trip from the centre of Abu Dhabi to Yas Island should also cost in the region of 70 AED each way (around £15) and can take you directly to the entrance gate in the morning. The best place to catch a taxi home after the concerts at Etihad Park is near the entrance to Ferrari World and Yas Mall, a short walk from the exit of the open-air concert venue.
If you choose to drive to the F1 when you arrive you will need to park in one of the designated car parks. If you do not have allocated parking in with your F1 ticket, there are plenty of free parking spaces at Yas Mall. From there you can jump on the Yas Express bus which drops off at the West, South and North grandstands.
Parking can be pre-booked for Yas Island Marina, but permits are limited (one per three ticketholders). This is to encourage car sharing and limit congestion but it isn’t working as the traffic post-race is CRAZY!
If you fly into Abu Dhabi, bus 490 runs from the airport to the city every 40 minutes 24/7. It costs a bargain 4 AED ($1 USD) and departs from outside Terminal 3.
Once in the city centre, bus number 190 runs from the Abu Dhabi bus terminal to Yas Island.
Visit Abu Dhabi shuttle
The vibrant fleet of Visit Abu Dhabi shuttles are hard to miss. They offer free WiFi and are free to tourists. Once you book your hotel, or purchase admission tickets to any Abu Dhabi attraction, you can claim your free access. To do this, you need to register on the visit Abu Dhabi online booking platform. You can then find the nearest shuttle bus station and track buses. The shuttle buses call at many of Abu Dhabi’s top hotels and attractions on two routes that connect Yas Island, Jubail Island, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi city centre and the Grand Canal area.
The Yas Express runs around Yas Island and connects the various stands which is a relief as it is around 3 miles from the South Grandstand to the Etihad Arena. You can find the map and schedules on Yas Express.
The full Yas Express circuit can take anything from 30 minutes to upwards of 90 minutes depending on the time of day. My advice is to jump on the transfer bus to the circuit but when you leave the circuit after the race, ditch the bus. Not only will you wait ages to get a seat but the bus barely moves as it inches its way through traffic with no designated bus lanes. Although it is probably around 3 miles to walk from the South Grandstand to Yas Mall, it is still quicker than jumping on the tortoise like Yas Express.
Hotel shuttle buses
Several hotels operate their own complimentary shuttle service for guests visiting the Grand Prix. Hotels on the Corniche that offer free shuttles are Shreaton Al Khalidiya Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, and Novotel Abu Dhabi Al Bustan.
If you come by coach transfer, your bus will drop you at Yas Mall by the Trygano store. From there you will also transfer to the Yas Express. It only travels in one direction and visits several hotel areas before heading to the South, West, Marina and North Grandstands. You can access both the Marina and South Grandstand from the South Entrance and the Main and West Grandstand from the West entrance. The North Grandstand and after show concerts are adjacent to stop 10 of Ferrari world. YEBusTimingsDEC22 will help you decide which stop you need.
Tickets to the Abu Dhabi F1
There are several ways to purchase tickets but for most international travellers, the best option is to book a package including flights, accommodation and tickets. These usually give you access to a grandstand for two or three days but no hospitality.
If you plan to DIY your trip, you can book tickets directly with F1 hospitality but these seem to be for the super-rich and include unlimited drinks and access to the paddock. You can also book more reasonable ticket only packages with Gootickets from $536 for two day entry or check out ticket packages with F1 experiences. These include three day entry and a pit walk from £1,595.
There are no discounts for children. However, holders of 3-day and Friday tickets can bring up to 4 children (aged 12 and under) on Friday free of charge. I am not sure how useful this deal is if you travel from the UK. You can hardly ditch the kids on the Saturday and Sunday!
Yas Marina circuit restrictions
There is a long list of prohibited items for visitors to Yas Marina circuit. If you wish to read through them all, you can find them in the terms and conditions. The main prohibited items are alcohol, food, beverages, glass bottles or containers not purchased at the venue. Although the terms prohibit ‘containers’ we did see several people carrying refillable water bottles. This may be an expensive item to have confiscated however if you come across a power-hungry security guard!
There are several other rules which may seem illogical but staff are enthusiastic in enforcing them however ridiculous they may seem. You must not;
- deliberately obstruct the view of any entrant seated in a seat in the immediate vicinity. In other words, do not get so excited that you jump to your feet and block someone’s view.
- cause unreasonable annoyance to any other entrant, official or employee. I suspect we Brits could breach this in numerous ways!
- use indecent or obscene language or threatening or insulting words (oops, again we Brits might struggle with this one!)
- drink alcohol in your seat in the grandstand even though you can go up into the bar area a few metres away and drink alcohol.
Which grandstand should you select
Personally, I think it doesn’t matter unless you are a die-hard F1 enthusiast. The layout of the circuit means that each stand has magnificent views. Each has the desert camp style roofing so distinctive of this circuit and a big screen (although they may not be in the best position to see the on screen action).
The Marina Grandstand
The Marina Grandstand nestles between the West and South Grandstands. It has spectacular views over of the marina and the second DRS zone in the straight leading into turn 9. Directly across from the W Hotel, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of turns 10, 11 and 12. Furthermore you will have easy access to the Orange Zone. In this designated area, an army of Dutch fans unite in boisterously singing party songs translated into Dutch. It’s a strange scene watching revellers singing YMCA and other dance anthems in Dutch! I have never seen such a creative assortment of orange outfits in such a small space!
This stand offers prime views of overtaking action on turn 9. Spectators can enjoy fabulous views of Yas Hotel, sunsets over the west stand and super yachts in the marina opposite. We had tickets in this stand and loved the views of the marina and the exhilarating action on the chicane.
The Main Grandstand
From the Main Grandstand you can revel in the race build up and enjoy great views of all the exhilarating action on the start grid and in the pits. Not surprisingly, it is the most expensive stand. It is not immediately obvious how to get to it but if you enter the Circuit through the West Grandstand dates, there is a tunnel from the West Oasis under the track.
One of the largest grandstands on the F1 circuit, the North Grandstand clings to the hairpin bend of turn 5. It is a great spot for overtaking action as well as the debut of the first DRS Zone. Furthermore, you will have a birds’ eye view of the W Hotel in the centre of the circuit.
The West Grandstand borders the end of the first DRS zone and clings to turns 6 and 7. From here, you can see cars hurtling down the straight before braking hard for turn 6.
Food and drink
The Fan Zone is packed with food & drink choices from Asian inspired carts to Western fast food, burritos, sandwiches and salads plus a variety of other international cuisine. You can find full details here of the Yas Marina Circuit food and drink options in each stand. I was pretty impressed with the selection as there were plenty of options for healthy eaters.
- Pizza 60 AED (£13.50)
- Meal deal including burger fries and drink 70 (£15.75)
- Burger 55 (£12.50)
As you probably know the UAE is a Muslim country that is loosely tolerant of alcohol consumption.
As a result, alcohol in the UAE is far from cheap. You will need to have very low tolerance to alcohol or a large budget to get drunk!
A beer at the circuit costs 58 AED (£15). It can only be consumed in designated areas and only for those over 21.
Remember that you should not bring in food and drink according to the terms and conditions of the circuit. However, if you have a refillable bottle there are water towers throughout the circuit. In the South Grandstand there is one hidden next to the burger and pizza bar and one just north of the Orange Zone by the Marina Grandstand.
If you cannot bring in a refillable bottle, buy bottles of water (5 AED or £1.30 each) and then you can refill them at your leisure.
The great thing about the Abu Dhabi F1 is that your ticket gives you access to all Fanzones, although you may need to exit and enter at the relevant gate. We had tickets for the South Grandstand which gives you access to the Fanzones of the South and Marina Grandstands. To access the Main Grandstand, enter through the West Grandstand gate and take the tunnel that winds beneath the track to the main grandstands.
In the shade of the Main Grandstand, guests can feast on a variety of free gaming options to test their engineering prowess and a range of other skills. There are stages in all stands where interviews with past F1 legends take place. We also witnessed a fascinating interview with the technical guy responsible for all the camera footage. Grab a seat and settle in to hear some fascinating stories while you sip on your cold beer.
You can download the Yas Hub app for a full schedule of events including details of the concert and interactive maps. Note however the WiFi at the circuit is rubbish. If you do not plan to roam, the app is a total waste of time.
After race concert
The after concert takes place at Etihad Park which is immediately north of the North Grandstand and south of Ferrari world. If you have seats in any of the other stands, you will either need to walk or take the bus from the stand to the venue. You must have a wristband which you can only collect inside the circuit during the day.
The concerts attract big names with previous performers such as Pink, Beyoncé and Depeche mode. They are worth a visit even if the performer is of no interest to you. Etihad Park is a pretty spectacular outdoor venue that hosts big names throughout the year!
There are no lockers at the circuit however we did leave a large bag under our seats and it was absolutely fine. My advice is to travel with as little as possible.
Time to book your Abu Dhabi F1 tickets??
You may not experience the drama of the 2021 finale but whenever you visit the Abu Dhabi F1, you are sure to have a fantastic time. As you watch cars hurtling towards the chicanes, passionate Dutch and Mexican fans frantically wave their flags as they cheer on their heroes as they erupt into chants waving their sombreros aloft. Book your tickets now – you will not be disappointed!!