Of course the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is sold out, they’ve only got 50,000 seats

F1's newest track has a small capacity of just 50,000

F1's newest track has a small capacity of just 50,000

Yesterday the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix organisers put out a press release patting themselves on the back for selling out their first Grand Prix. Several other F1 sites obligingly regurgitated it for them.

Although it’s nice to hear the phrases “F1 race” and “sold out” together for once, I think a little more attention should have been paid to how low the bar was set with just 50,000 tickets available.

If that number of fans turned up for Manchester United’s next football match more than one-third of Old Trafford’s seats would still be empty.

A typical F1 race day crowd is well in six figures – 50,000 is exceptionally modest for an international Grand Prix track.

The British Grand Prix boasted 120,000 fans on race day this year. The total three-day crowd was 310,000, yet Bernie Ecclestone calls this a race F1 can do without.

Singapore managed 100,000 for its first Grand Prix last year, though it has the advantage of holding its race in a city.

I’m not against Abu Dhabi having a Grand Prix and I don’t expect them to match the kind of demand for tickets you see in Britain, at least not right away.

But I do think the pinnacle of international motor sport should be aiming for a bigger audience at one of its 17 races this year than you get at a domestic football match.

This is a dispiriting trend among most of F1’s newest venues. Istanbul had 32,000 fans on race day this year, Sepang had 30,000 – and they only got to see half a race.

High ticket prices are to blame for falling attendance at many circuits. But the root cause of the problem is the huge sums Ecclestone charges race promoters to run Grands Prix.

FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo has drawn attention to the problem before, but the FIA under Max Mosley never bothered to get involved. Will that change under Jean Todt?

2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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88 comments on Of course the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is sold out, they’ve only got 50,000 seats

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  1. Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th October 2009, 6:22

    I don’t blame for them only building 50,000 seats. It’ll spare them the embarrassment in future years that Turkey has suffered. I don’t rightly know how easy it is to access Abu Dhabi – I know it’s growing as a tourist destination – but as the championship has been settled (as nice as it is to see the battle go down to the final roud, it doesn’t always happen), I can’t see too many people being dedicated enough to go. So Abu Shabi gets full stands, more people will be watching on televsion becuase they’re not going to the actual, physical race, and everyone wins.

    Except maybe Romain Grosjean. I’m not expecting him to win anything except maybe another first-lap retirement.

  2. Cesar said on 26th October 2009, 6:45

    The great problem is that Bernie Ecclestone requests a lot of money to the circuits in order to run a GP. As long as Ecclestone could find another country that holds the GP if Canada, UK, Germany cant GP tickets will be really expensive because someone will accept his charges.

    • Derek said on 26th October 2009, 10:07

      It’s time that Bernie Ecclestone did the decent thing and retired with all the other old cronies! F1 will be a lot better for it. He’s the TV rights guy and can’t even provide HD coverage of this sport! I thought F1 was supposed to be the cutting edge of technology !!

  3. mp4-19b said on 26th October 2009, 6:46

    FIA under Max Mosley never bothered to get involved. Will that change under Jean Todt?

    There is a fine line between being an optimist & being a fool. I think we are all fooling ourselves by thinking that Jean Toad will bring in sweeping changes to the sport. I see the situation only worsening. We are all in for rude surprises & non-ferrari followers are screwed for the next 5 years(period).

    As for Abu Dubai, there are so many pleasant places on this planet, dunno why Bernie has this “Fetish” for deserts? He shamelessly proclaims to the world that F1 can do without a “British GP” & at the same time recommends Knighthood to be granted to Ross Brawn!!! Why would he care about that? As if he really respects “HONORS” granted by the Queen.

    Bernie is a disgrace to F1 & to Britain. All he thinks about is $$$!!!

    So where do you plan to host the next new gp Bernie?

    Maybe the Gobi desert in Mongolia? Or perhaps Atacama desert? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he goes ahead with that!

    • LewisC said on 26th October 2009, 9:29

      Ah, great to see that the MP4 bile flows so well, so early on a Monday morning. :D

      Bernie probably respects “Honours” quite a lot. He has one, after all.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 26th October 2009, 10:11

      I’m sorry MP4, but I don’t think there’s anything right in your post except for the spelling.

    • A SAHARA GP will be good if Ghadafi would agree :-)

    • Linksys blue said on 26th October 2009, 10:29

      There is a fine line between being an optimist & being a fool. I think we are all fooling ourselves by thinking that Jean Toad will bring in sweeping changes to the sport. I see the situation only worsening. We are all in for rude surprises & non-ferrari followers are screwed for the next 5 years(period).

      If you think you know too much, why are you sitting in front of comp, just commenting and talking becoz you have a voice!! Give the man sometime, then come to conclusions!! Evolution is always better than the so called ‘sweeping changes’ revolution that Mr.Ari Vatenen proposed. Maybe better things could happen, maybe not. But this ‘I am cool cos i hate ferrari’ or ‘McLaran is the car of the pure gods’ theorists need to shut up!! ppl like Schumi, or Ferrari, or Macca or Williams for some reason. So millions of Ferrari lovers can’t be wrong. Please make an educated comment. Cant stand reading your crap every other story n this esteemed site.

    • Linksys blue said on 26th October 2009, 10:31

      Maybe this baseless self induced wannabes are the reason the ‘free-speech’ and fair-for-all stuff never works in this world.

      • Well, sorry to say guys, he’s right at times. First of all, the new tracks suck, they’re crap, most of them. And who the hell wants a race at Abu Dhabi? Only extra-rich people are gonna be there, so you cannot possibly compare this type of event with a Manchester United match, sorry Keith, that was just insane of you.

        And yes, I feel another 5 years of boring Ferrari dominance coming this way; I’d hate it if I wasn’t one of the biggest Alonso fans. I actually dislike Ferrari as much as I dislike McLaren, but it’s great to see them fighting hard. I don’t understand how can Todt be running for this thing; he worked for Ferrari and his son manages Massa… No good can come out of that. Hope Ari Vatanen wins and that he’s crazy as his fellow Finn Rosberg, and changes a lot of stuff and we can go back to see some wheel to wheel, spectacular accidents, people running out of fuel, great overtakes and hopefully a lot of guys fighting for the title (like Rosberg-Hamilton-Massa-Alonso-Vettel-Button with Kubica trying to steal some wins from them…)

        • BT52/B said on 26th October 2009, 15:39

          Hey Keith, what’s the stats on attendence in Bahrain and Turkey and China? I ask because, while I agree that prices are too high and should be dealt with, I believe it’s a bit unfair to deride the UAE for a low attendence. The season is over already, the track is new, publicity has been low for the race (the recession really hurt them), the country has no racing history/legacy and sporting events there, which are catered to a small number of wealthy people (and tourists) usually have small attendance numbers. To compare it to countries like Great Britain and Brazil is a little unfair, and maybe these three that I mentioned would give a more accurate reading.

          Furthermore, I believe Abu Dhabi will always have low numbers, unless it is moved to the start of the season, possibly.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th October 2009, 19:52

            Hey Keith, what’s the stats on attendence in Bahrain and Turkey and China? I ask because, while I agree that prices are too high and should be dealt with, I believe it’s a bit unfair to deride the UAE for a low attendence.

            It’s not an easy thing to get data on. You’re basically stuck with what the circuits themselves report. They’re likely to be over-estimated, but even if the figures for Sepang and Istanbul quoted above are 100% accurate, they’re depressingly small.

          • Good point Keith I’m sure they do round up figures a little bit..

            According the Bahrain International Circuit’s website, they said that 94,000 attended in the 2009 GP, while the latest F1 Racing magazine-Middle East edition-mentioned that 90,000 attended this year’s GP. They said it said it was “especially exceptional” given the global economic downturn.
            The 2008 Bahrain GP was close to 100,000 which is the best figure so far.. Not bad for a tiny island..

        • Flig, I’d forgotten about Nicolas Todt. Yet another reason why Jean Todt’s rule of F1 is compromised before he even begins.

      • Free speech and fair for all not working?
        Huh? I hope you mean that only within the context of F1.

      • Achilles said on 27th October 2009, 6:51

        Everyone on this board or any other is entitled to an opinion, whether it be MP4, or Linksys blue, It does’nt matter if it is crap, or factual, what you don’t like you don’t have to read or get involved in…I would say Linksys that once you let go of the right to free speech, and the right to reply, will that be fair to anyone?

  4. i think there aiming for consistency. if they can get a constant 50,000 that would be a good score for its first few years in F1.

  5. Remember that the City of Abu Dhabi only has some 900,000 inhabitants, and the United Arab Emirates a mere 4.7 million. ‘Only’ 50,000 seats doesn’t surprise me.

    Marc has a point, too.

    • And that’s not bad at all either for a country’s first race in a location that will be expensive for international travellers to go to and stay in.

      Thing is though, we’d still rather have large numbers of fans going to a GP than larger percentages of the population, balanced with the location of the GP, coming out on top of the traditional ones.

      Kudos to Abu Dhabi for not being over-optimistic for its first race, and it looks like it might be in the top tier to decent Tilke tracks, but surely a better option for this and other tracks would be to build more seats and reduce the ticket prices accordingly? You’re more likely to get 1,000 people buying £50 tickets than 500 people buying £100 tickets. Of course, there may be issues with the location of the place, such as Turkey which is poorly serviced by transport links (even Silverstone is no easy place to get to), but if that’s the case then maybe they should have though about investing in that before holding a GP few want to spend all that effort to get to.

      As impressive as 50,000/4.7m is, I’d rather have a race with some atmosphere. Sadly, with Bernie increasingly holding races far from the reaches of traditional F1 fans, whilst these countries are trying to build up their own F1 tradition (and that’s being optimistic about it – most likely for most of them it’s a tourism cash cow), current F1 fans can’t afford to go to these places. So we’re stuck with 50,000 in the middle of the desert.

  6. DGR-F1 said on 26th October 2009, 8:07

    The other question is how many of those seats have been sold as part of a package with the hotel? Are these going to be 50,000 true F1 fans, or just those who can afford a) a ticket and b)to get to Abu Dhabi?

    • Jonathan said on 26th October 2009, 8:45

      Lots of fans are priced out of attending any GP… I hardly think Abu Dhabi is special in this regard.

      You could replace “Abu Dhabi” in your post with “Spa” or “Monza” or “Nurburgring” and still have a good point.

  7. Patrickl said on 26th October 2009, 8:10

    The Valencia GP was sold out too. At least on race day. With “only” 70,000 seats. I guess most (new) countries don’t have such huge numbers of seats available anymore?

    In the case of Valencia they sold 35,000 tickets in the last few days when it turned out Alonso was coming after all. Before that the Schumacher rumours helped them to an extra 3,500 tickets sold.

  8. Jonathan said on 26th October 2009, 8:43

    Expecting the GP to get more spectators than an Old Trafford football match seems a bit hopeful.

    Anyone who follows a sport other than football will at some point ask, “Why isn’t my sport as popular as football?”

    But people can watch what they want… it’s up to them.

  9. GeeMac said on 26th October 2009, 8:58

    The 50 000 figure must include people who will be staying at the rather impressive looking hotel.

    The Yas Marina website (www.yasmarinacicuit.com)states that:

    “Approximately 50,000 spectators can view the action on the circuit from the comfort of permanent, covered grandstands and VIP facilities.”

  10. S Hughes said on 26th October 2009, 9:01

    I think that’s a bit negative. Do we know what the average size of a stadium is in Abu Dhabi? Maybe this is a large capacity for Abu Dhabi. I think it is good that the venue is sold out and I think we should take positives rather than negatives from it. I do agree that they should definitely keep Silverstone or a British GP though. That is just ludicrous if it is lost.

  11. wasiF1 said on 26th October 2009, 9:57

    One of the biggest challenge for Todt will be to fight against Bernie which Max couldn’t.Secondly I don’t blame them because there are few F1 fan in Abu Dhabi than in Britain.Yes I do agree about the number in Britain yet Bernie is saying no British GP.Bernie needs to stop taking huge amount of charge from the venue.

    I think is Abu Dhabi can keep the consistency then they may increase its capacity by 5000 per year.

    • Nitpicker said on 26th October 2009, 10:58

      Hopefully Todt’s much-feared tenacity could work wonders if used in the right way, ie. bullying Bernie to provide HD, keep Brit GP and lower ticket prices. Wishful thinking?

  12. sumedh said on 26th October 2009, 10:06

    Hmm, Have you cared to find out how many people attended the first ever Belgian GP or the Silverstone GP whenever it was held.

    Out of a population of 9 lakh, 0.5 lakh are attending. Thats a ratio of 1:18. Which is very very impressive. And its just their first race.

    Don’t look for the tiniest of reasons to rant off against the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and other asian races in general.

    • sumedh said on 26th October 2009, 10:16

      I share your sentiments regarding the British GP. It will be ridiculous to lose it. With 2 WDCs on the grid, it is stupid not to have.

      Having said that, kudos to Silverstone officials for standing up to Bernie. Bernie will eventually have to succumb to their lower rates, coz. if another race is lost (after French) Bernie will go down the same road as Max did. With 2 WDCs on the grid and British GP being home to 7 of 10 current teams (i think), the silverstone officials have sufficient bargaining power.

      Bernie is just getting rattled since he is unable to force his will on the race organizers like he does with other nations’ officials.

      But trying to justify a British GP by comparing the seating capacity of Abu Dhabi and Silverstone or comparing number of people attending a football match to that attending a formula one race is just puerile.

    • S Hughes said on 26th October 2009, 10:28

      I agree with you 100%.

    • seskuj said on 26th October 2009, 19:21

      lakh???

  13. HounslowBusGarage said on 26th October 2009, 10:09

    The numbers of attendees ‘live’ is irrelevent. It’s the TV audience that matters. Abu Dhabi wanted the last race on the calendar, and the Championship decided there so that the worldwide TV audience would be huge, thus bring recognition (and interest too, they hope) to Abu Dhabi).
    If they thought they could have safely filled more seats, they would have built them. But nothing is worse than seeing empty grandstand seats in the background of TV coverage, doesn’t matter what the sport is.

  14. Arun Srini said on 26th October 2009, 10:33

    Its good they filled 50k seats ‘atleast’!! Lets see how the track is, and the race is, anyway, this aint the final next year, so not expecting a repeat.

  15. gabal said on 26th October 2009, 10:47

    I think it is a good business plan – they can always add more seating if necessary.

    Also, tracks should form a FOTA of their own to fight for better conditions, maybe they should request a deal where the profits are shared with FOM instead of paying a fee which grows bigger every year. Drivers said people in Istanbul are really passionate about F1 and whole town is buzzing – they just can’t afford the tickets which are sky high for them. Australian GP has tickets for general admission which cost only 10 € more and glancing on average pay in Australia and Turkey you can see that Australians can afford going to F1 race much more easily. Nothing bad can come from lowering prices of admission to F1 races, I know that I would spend a fortune on merchandise on race so they better leave me with some spare change to buy it ;)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th October 2009, 19:55

      I think it is a good business plan – they can always add more seating if necessary.

      I don’t think the quality of their business planning is that important. They don’t need the money from spectators because they have massive government support. Not every circuit has that luxury.

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