ABU DHABI // Even though Sunday was a working day, there was a holiday atmosphere on Yas Island where thousands of fans flocked to the big race.
Marie Jacob, 35, from South Africa, travelled from Dubai with her friends to watch the race, arriving about 3pm.
“I am too excited and it’s one of the most thrilling races in the world,” she said.
Ms Jacob has been living in the UAE for about a year and had heard from friends about the excitement of the F1 weekend.
“My friends who have been living here for a long time told me about Yas Island and I really found it to be a great place,” said Ms Jacob.
It wasn’t just the finale of the F1 season that was on the bill, they were also treated to aircraft fly-bys and the post-race Rihanna concert.
“It’s great fun to watch the F1 but I also really liked the aeroplanes, filling skies with the UAE’s national colours – red, green, white and black.”
Many fans arrived early to watch, but as the afternoon progressed there was gridlock on the island as traffic built up around Yas Marina Circuit.
While there were about 60,000 spectators inside the arena, many more just turned up to soak up the atmosphere.
One of these was Emirati Mosa Al Baloushi, 30, who parked at the nearby Yas Mall and walked over to the racetrack.
“I was at work today and just finished my shift at 3pm so I came here to see what’s happening,” he said.
“Last year, I watched the race in the stadium but when you get inside you can’t grab every bit of the action, but on the TV you can enjoy it more thoroughly,” he said.
Zafarrullah Khan, 40, a Pakistani who lives in Abu Dhabi, spent the afternoon circling the island in his car.
He said: “The tickets are expensive and I can’t go alone as I have to go with all my family, so I will watch the race later on the TV.
“But still it looks great to see the festive mood and excitement of the people.”
There was strict security for the event, with police patrols on every corner, helicopters circling overhead and metal detectors to check all fans and vehicles entering the gates.
As the afternoon progressed, families strolled towards the Yas Marina Circuit gates, while others who were running late rushed to get to their seats.
At about 5pm, with the race under way, the roads on Yas Island became deserted and the only sound was of buzzing F1 cars and chanting audience.
Prakash Gupta, an Indian labourer, stood outside the track with four of his friends.
He said he could not afford a ticket, but made do by peering at one of the giant screens inside that was visible from outside the stadium. “It still feels good to be here and we can see it on the screen,” he said.
As well as the spectators, there was a host of VIPs and celebrities in attendance.
Among those present were Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.
With them were Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive of the Formula One Group.
Other world leaders included presidents Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, Rustam Minnikhanov of Tatarstan, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya and Masoud Barzani, of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
Qatari prime minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, and Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister of Serbia were also at Yas Marina Circuit.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, were joined by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, and other Royals and dignitaries.
Also in attendance were Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, Sheikh Rashid bin Saud Al Mualla, Crown Prince of Umm Al Quwain and Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud Al Qasimi, Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah.
Other international guests and fans of F1 included Dr Abdullatif Al Zayani, secretary general of the GCC, Juan Carlos, former king of Spain, prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, and Britain’s prince Andrew, duke of York.