Q & A with Abu Dhabi's Philippe Gurdjian

When autosport.com revealed earlier this year that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix project was facing a major design overhaul, there was little prediction at the time that the revamp would be as big as has happened

Q & A with Abu Dhabi's Philippe Gurdjian

At the Shanghai Circuit on Friday morning, the track bosses unveiled their vision for next year's season finale event - with a dramatic layout that winds it way around the Yas Marina.

Autosport.com spoke exclusively to circuit boss Philippe Gurdjian about the plans, what spectators can expect and whether the event will follow Singapore's lead and run at night.

Q. You unveiled the new plans for Abu Dhabi here. How happy are you with how the track is coming together?

Philippe Gurdjian: First of all, the most important thing is that the other people are happy - the media, the sponsors, the teams and the spectators. What we have done here is a very special circuit. We have given the spirit and the essence of Abu Dhabi, and the track will promote this image.

All the grandstands are covered, and we have done that for the comfort of the spectators. And from each grandstand you will see 35-40 percent of the race track, which is unique in the world. There are many things that are unique in this project - you will see the media centre which is quite interesting also.

Q. These plans are very different from the original draft. Why did you do that?

PG: When Khaldoon (Khalifa Al Mubarak), the chairman, asked me to take care of the project, I saw the old one and to build that one he did not need me. I said if I will do it, I should do something exclusive, more creative, more unique - and he said okay, take the key and do what you want. But do it well!

Q. Are the new plans totally different from the original concept?

PG: Completely different.

Q. So is anything the same?

PH: Well, we are close to the marina so part of the track design was included in that old project. But the hotel was not there, and all the grandstands were not there and the facilities were not like that. We have done something to make it world class.

Q. What are the things that will make the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix unique?

PG: First of all, they will come to one place with a very specific design. As I said to you before - it is immediately an Abu Dhabi spirit. You cannot simply take this project and build it at Silverstone or Magny-Cours or in Spain. It can only be done for this place. I have spent a lot of time to try and provide the spirit and the essence of Abu Dhabi.

There are also many, many very creative ideas. I have spent a lot of time just to be sure that the spectators will see something more important than they can see on other circuits. It is the reason we say we will welcome the world.

Q. Is it important for new tracks that come in that they raise the benchmark. You were involved in Bahrain, but it seems every new event since then has got bigger and better?

PG: On my side, this one makes a very big step if you compare to the other ones. On my side it is right that if we work tomorrow for a new race track, people have to understand what they have to do. I know on my side because, after 25 grands prix, I have a certain knowledge, but first of all you know what you should not do, and secondly what should be interesting to promote a place or promote a country.

You know that F1 is not only a race - it is also a way to show to the world the country. I suppose when people are going to discover the image all over the world, they will discover something very, very exclusive.

Q. Is there a particular part of the track you are proud of?

PG: All of it! I have taken care of each metre. You will discover for yourself the concept of the team buildings, the concept of the media centre, the concept of the grandstands and the concept of the hotel that crosses the race track.

There is also an exclusive bridge to give access to the paddock, so you don't need to take your car to the race track. You have to walk just 200 metres to the paddock. It's a bit different to Shanghai!

Q. How much consultation with drivers did you do for the track layout?

PG: I have discussed with them the many ideas about the track and they have given me their advice. After that I had to take some decisions, and I took that decision. If you look at the plans for example, it is the first track where you have a run off that goes under the grandstand. This is unique, and people are going to be closer to the action than ever before.

Q. Singapore was deemed a tremendous success, bringing F1 to a new audience. Can Abu Dhabi have the same impact as Singapore did?

PG: I suppose we will have more important things than Singapore. This race is going to be a huge one. On the track side it is something - the tower, the hotel, the solar panels. There are many, many ideas. If you have to write about it, I suppose you will not have enough pages.

Q. Does this project fill you with more excitement than others you have been involved with in the past?

PG: Yes. You know, as I said, Khaldoon gave me the key and asked me to try and do something very creative. The local people have seen the project now and they are very impressed and very proud. This is the most important thing for me. To be proud on myself does not matter though - the team will be happy, the racing driver will be happy, the media will be happy. I am working for the others, I am not working for me.

Q. What is the timetable for the building of the track?

PG: We are making progress. No problem.

Q. What is the situation regarding a night race?

PG: First of all, you know that Mr. Ecclestone has said that only the Singapore Grand Prix will be at night. But I am working to light the race track for different reasons, because we will hold many events at night. And I will manage many other races at night. For 2009 we do not plan to hold a night race, but I have another idea. You will know very soon what it is.

Q. Is it a dusk race?

PH: No, no, no. You will see. It's on the timing of the event. We can make something special.

Q. Would you like it to become a night race in the longer term?

PG: On my side, the problem is that if you want to light it very well you have to spend a lot of money for all the surroundings and all the other parts. We have spent a lot of time and will spend a lot of time to make something very unique. I want to show to the world the spirit of this place - and because this place it is so special it is important we show it to the world.

Q. Bernie Ecclestone has been pushing hard to take Formula One to new places and new venues, but traditional events like France and Canada have dropped from the calendar. Is it important that F1 maintains a balance?

PG: It is always important that you have a good balance. I can imagine that the Canada problem will be resolved, although the French one is a bit more difficult. The problem as you know is that now F1 is sport, but also media - and marketing.

You understand with this project that we are going to promote all the other projects of Abu Dhabi through this event. Do they need to do that in France? Do they need to do that at Silverstone or Donington Park? From the marketing side they have a very important focus on Singapore, so they do a night race. And of course they have better coverage than the French or British Grands Prix. I am sorry for that! It is marketing.

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