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A close encounter with F1: A fan's eye view of Abu Dhabi driving experience

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A close encounter with F1: A fan's eye view of Abu Dhabi driving experience
Oct 1, 2010, 11:40 AM

Long time F1 fan Neil Donnell won a JA on F1 competition to come with me to Abu Dhabi as a Fan Ambassador to a unique 2 day event designed to give ...

Long time F1 fan Neil Donnell won a JA on F1 competition to come with me to Abu Dhabi as a Fan Ambassador to a unique 2 day event designed to give an insight into what it takes to be a Grand Prix driver.

Here is his post about the experience and some of his photos. Please let us have your comments.

"So as my experience with James at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi draws to a close it's hard to distil into words the sheer level and variety of enjoyment this adventure has given me.

It has been the ultimate dream come true and I have been riding a wave of adrenaline that is sure to come crashing down soon. Over the last 48 hours I have driven Go Karts, Renault Clio’s, Aston Martin's, Radical Supersports and the Formula Yas 3000 cars. On top of that I managed to have a run in the back of the F1 2 Seater with Jean Alesi at the wheel and 2 runs down the Yas Marina Dragstrip with 'Hot' Rod Fuller up front and Jake Humphreys from the BBC by my side.

Along with the other fans taking part in the event, I have had the chance to rub shoulders with the people that generate the content that I watch on TV and read in the press and their sheer passion for the sport that we follow was just great to see and be part of.

It was a pleasure to just sit in the bus on the way to various activities and spend time with such great people. Listening to the stories of the inner workings of what we see from the outside and gaining an understanding of the professionalism and effort these guys put in to get us the breaking stories and insightful coverage that we want or demand.

You really have to pinch yourself when 30 minutes after he has driven you around the circuit in an F1 car, you can share a car back to the hotel with Jean Alesi and just talk to him about his career, home life and day trips to Chamonix.

The drivers were all like this, totally approachable, relaxed and great fun to be around. As soon as the helmets were on though they were down to business.

I just don’t think they can help themselves and you get the feeling that they didn’t leave much on the table on some of the hot lap runs.

Wednesday afternoons Renault Clio race - with us as passengers - was a great example of the drivers' characters in action. Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi are obviously old friends and this came through in their racing. Throwing these cars around and generally causing chaos on the track, and all of this after a direct warning from the course director that any messing around would result in a black flag!

Jean’s advice on the racing line went straight out the window as he cut the grass and corners and then proceeded to drive through all the bollards to ‘open up the line’. I couldn’t help but smile on the slowing down lap he looked at me with a big grin and said, “Johnny is great to have these races with as ‘he’ knows all the dirty tricks!”

If there is one take away from my experience then it would probably have to be the sheer ability of these drivers. From their performance in the mental and physical tests to the car control is simply phenomenal. These drivers wear the car like an extension of their bodies. I struggle to co-ordinate my own limbs as well as they handled these race cars.

I think a lot of us harbour the thoughts that given the opportunity we could compete in motor sports at the top level but from my 2 days here I think I can safely say it’s not in the fabric of my existence.

As a games developer I have a lot of experience playing games and in various reaction time tests I normally perform well, but going up against these professionals was a real eye opener.

It is surely no coincidence that a world champion drag racer like Rod Fuller can consistently beat everyone that was put in front of him on the reaction time machine.

I could talk for hours about the driving experience and the ‘pinch me’ moments but bizarrely it has not only been the sheer performance and ability of the drivers and vehicles that has left me stunned. As we know, F1 can sometimes have a slightly cold external face but the warmth and hospitality of our hosts, drivers and the members of the media has been simply amazing.

I will always be indebted to the staff at the Yas Marina complex. What they have managed to build and achieve is simply fantastic. Surely no other venue in the world could lay on an event like this.

The circuit, facilities and hospitality are out of this world and you can tell that this was built and operated by people with a real passion for racing. Photos and videos really don't do justice to the scale and splendour of the venue.

It is like Disneyland for race fans.

Here's a rather shaky video of my Aston Martin GT ride with Johnny Herbert!

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