At the start of 2010 I started following AirAsia CEO and Lotus Racing Team Principle Tony Fernandes on Twitter. Along with following many other people involved with Formula One this was just to get a better insight into the world of Formula One. I didn’t for one second think that I’d be joining Tony and Lotus Racing as a VIP for the final and deciding race of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
It all started when Tony put a very easy competition on Twitter to win a trip to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (Q: What is airasia holiday website called? A: AirAsiaGo.com…. it was that easy!). I answered the question thinking nothing of it. It was the sort of competition that someone else would win and not me. A few hours later I got a reply from Tony saying I’d won, this was a huge surprise, but a welcome one! Not long after, the wheels were in motion and before I knew it I was at Manchester Airport waiting to board my flight to Abu Dhabi.
On arrival I was greeted by the spectacular Abu Dhabi International Airport and before long I was checking into my hotel, and what a very nice hotel I’d be given for the weekend!
I was collected on Saturday morning by Kate McCleary who was my guide for the weekend. Just being given my pass for the Saturday made me feel quite excited. I’ve been an F1 fan for years and getting to sit in the grandstand at one of the most spectacular circuits in the world was an exciting proposition.
The view from the grandstand was quite stunning, taking in the fantastic Yas Hotel and the huge Yacht Harbour, it was something else.
Saturday passed quite quickly with the GP2 and Porsche support races followed in the early evening by the Formula One Qualifying. A tense session which ended with Sebastian Vettel on Pole Position, but more importantly the Lotus Racing drivers (Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen) were 18th and 19th beating the other 2 new teams.
Sunday couldn’t come quick enough and I was more than happy to be back at the circuit early on Sunday morning. After a short while I was taken down to the Paddock. This was most definitely a dream come true. I never once thought I’d have the chance to be around all the garages and hospitality areas whilst rubbing shoulders with the stars of F1. The first person I saw as soon as I entered the Paddock was Ross Brawn of Mercedes GP, I instantly knew I was in for a great day.
Once in the Lotus Racing hospitality area every person I spoke to was incredibly welcoming and went out of their way to answer any questions I had, whether about Lotus Racing or AirAsia. A little later I was in the garage having a guided tour of every area, this was special, not only because it was an amazing experience but also to be able to see such a great team working their socks off to prepare their cars for the race. I then got to meet the main man himself, Tony Fernandes.
Before I knew it the race had come and gone. I had the amazing experience of watching the race from the garage, being able to see the hive of activity that is an F1 garage during a race. Everyone with a job to do, especially during the pitstops. To be only a few metres away when the cars came in to pit was a priviledge in itself. Sebastian Vettel took the win and the championship, and I was under the podium watching the presentation surrounded by celebs from all over the world.
The biggest moment after the race was seeing the joy on the Lotus Racing Team after securing 10th place in the championship.
This resulted in the fantastic moment of Tony Fernandes presenting Richard Branson with an AirAsia Air Hostess Uniform!!
And then came the party….. with Lotus Racing securing P10 it was time to celebrate and what a great night it was. The champagne was flowing and everyone was so welcoming.
Even though I was only a competition winner I felt like part of the team for the celebrations, I really don’t think any of the other teams could’ve made me feel as welcome, especially Tony!
It really was a trip of a lifetime and something I doubt I’ll ever repeat in my life. I can’t thank Tony Fernandes, Kate McCleary, Lotus Racing and AirAsia enough for the great weekend and hospitality I received. A credit to AirAsia and F1!