Thursday 23 February 2017

Title finale will be poetry in motion

David Kennedy

The dark eyes are visible through the narrow aperture. The passion is evident. The delivery fearless. The ultimate prize is highly prestigious, its monetary value runs into millions. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) puts on this show and it has a huge following.

But this isn't today's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It's a TV programme called the 'Million's poet' competition. Earlier this year a female poet, Hissa Hilal, in full black niqab, recited her poetry, which railed against fundamentalist Islamic clerics, criticising their fatwas, and defending freedom of speech. She was favourite to win.

ADACH is also responsible for staging the Grand Prix. Poetry and motorsport seem unlikely bedfellows. But in Islamic culture poetry is a part of their heritage. Since the sixth century tribal stories have passed down through verse.

The Prime minister of the UAE, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has penned a poem, which features on his website, that ends 'And to whoever missed his chance, we promise victory, prizes and glory in the future'. Take note Hamilton, Vettel, Webber or Alonso.

His nephew HH Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum conceived the A1GP championship, which was won in its final year by Ireland's Status GP. F1 on the other hand is a new phenomenon -- this is Abu Dhabi's second Grand Prix -- and the city enjoys the honour of hosting a race that will crown the World Champion.

The CEO of Yas Marina is ex-manager of Toyota F1 Richard Cregan from Co Kildare. Richard is doing an admirable job in a demanding role. All his dreams came through with the outcome of this classic battle for the title being played out at the Yas Marina circuit. To add to his perfect day, the race is a complete sell-out.

While a new champion is being minted, the sole tyre supplier Bridgestone bows out at this its valedictory grand prix. The company leaves F1 with a fine record in safety, one which new supplier Pirelli would do well to emulate.

Colm Conyngham, marketing and public relations manager for Bridgestone Ireland, is proud of their achievements. "It has been an incredible journey for Bridgestone internationally and in Ireland over the last 14 years.

"From the early success of Olivier Panis and Prost GP in year one, Mika Hakkinen in year two, and the record-setting Michael Schumacher Ferrari years, we showed Bridgestone's advanced engineering ability on the world stage". Colm added: "We enjoyed it most when we were able to compete against other tyre companies -- and win. Bridgestone Ireland was particularly proud to have Eddie Irvine and Jordan GP racing on our tyres."

Status GP sponsor, Marussia Motors, announced in Abu Dhabi that they have taken a major shareholding in Richard Branson's Virgin Racing. This is significant news for the Status drivers'.

Nikolai Fomenko, president of the Marussia company, said they will use F1 as a platform to promote sales of their Cosworth V6 engined B1 & B2 Sportscars. "This will prove that Russian high technologies are not only in the military and space industries, but also in the car-making sector". Russia will host a Grand Prix near the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

And so to today's contenders. Jenson Button says he hopes whoever succeeds him is not a cheat.

Will the fight be clean? There is an old Arabic proverb 'Al-hila matwassil dar' which means 'Trickery opens no doors' but of course everyone knows trickery is the currency of F1. Who your friends are on the F1 grid could determine the outcome.

Fernando Alonso will have Massa on his side but could he also rely on Sauber, who are Ferrari-powered? Toro Rosso will obviously support their sister team, the newly-crowned Constructors' Champion, Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel will support Mark Webber if his own chances evaporate. Lewis Hamilton would prefer to see Webber win over Alonso. Button will be helping Hamilton, as the current World Champion helps the past World Champion become the new World Champion. Hamilton will be going flat out to try to win this race, so he should provide the entertainment factor.

Backmarkers could make or break the aspirations of any of the four contenders. There's a plethora of permutations regarding where they have to finish, but the basic ones are: If Alonso comes first or second, he is the Champion irrespective of where anybody else finishes. Webber has to finish in the top five, Vettel must finish in the top two while Hamilton has got to win the race with the others not scoring. Last year the race was won by Vettel, followed by Webber, Button, Barrichello, Heidfeld and Kobayashi.

Getting back to the TV poetry competition, Hissa Hilal, who is a fan of Dickens and Hemingway, came in third, earning the tidy sum of half a million euro. She has broken new ground in this progressive Arab state. She said she hopes her daughters don't have to wear the veil. Poetry and Formula One may be poles apart, centuries may separate their origin but Abu Dhabi provides the stage for their respective art.

Of the four contenders today, one will have rhythm and three will have the blues in the arid sands of the Arabian Desert. But for the newly-crowned World Champion the perfect race will truly be poetry in motion.

David Kennedy is F1 analyst for Setanta

Sunday Independent

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