Fast lane for wheeling and dealing at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Those heading to Abu Dhabi’s Grand Prix this weekend will find plenty of action off the track as well as on it.

Because on top of being the region’s biggest sporting event, it is also one of the biggest annual business meetings.

In the moments between the roar of engines whizzing past, billions of dirhams in deals will be signed, hands shaken and business cards exchanged in the corporate hospitality suites dotted around Yas Marina Circuit.

“C-level executives, CEOs and leading dignitaries from government and commerce all converge for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix”, says Al Tareq Al Ameri, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit.

“It’s a tailor-made audience for the business professional looking to expand his or her contacts book. The fantastic atmosphere takes away the formality of the office. People can meet in a mutual place, break down barriers and make business flow easier.”

Nick McElwee, Yas Marina Circuit’s director of sales and marketing, says talking shop with fellow spectators at a grand prix is all part of the event’s make-up.

“I used to work a lot in London and we’d go to football matches where you’d sit down 10 minutes before kick-off, grab a drink in the 15-minute interval, then be out as soon as the game finishes,” says Mr McElwee. “You’re not going to reach over and start talking business as a penalty is about to be taken. The F1, on the other hand, is played out across three days. There’s the build-up, the hour-and-a-half of the race then the celebrations afterwards — it’s a nice, drawn-out period of time.”

There are 48 general hospitality suites, offering private groups or companies a space to mingle with key clients and contacts.

While some are invitation-only events, others are also open to those keen to network. Prices range from Dh2,080 at the bottom end to Dh4,420 for the Al Dhiyafa suite in the West Grandstand.

At the top end is the exclusive Paddock Club, which holds another 24 private and shared suites, where industry movers and shakers get the deals signed and the drivers and celebrities hang out, according to Mr McElwee. Entry costs Dh19,835 a day.

Some of Abu Dhabi’s leading companies, such as Etihad Airways and the event’s sponsors National Bank of Abu Dhabi, always book a suite in the Paddock Club, says Mr Al Ameri.

“It is Etihad’s main business activation event for the whole year. They bring their international partners in and conduct their business schedule during the event. Every year we see their presence grow bigger, because they have seen the value behind it,” says the executive.

But securing an invite or spending your way into a corporate suite can reap the rewards.

“You might have been working on a deal for 11 months and then say ‘let’s go down to the grand prix to do the deal’. It’s a photo opportunity, and a great platform for making announcements, clinching and rubber-stamping deals,” says Mr McElwee.

So what is the best way to network at the event?

Mr McElwee suggests using F1 to find common ground.

“If you don’t know the person, you can ask ‘who do you think is going to win?’ All the F1 drivers are known globally, so it’s really easy to get the conversations going.”

Mr Al Ameri, meanwhile, advocates dressing to impress.

“The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is one of the most glamorous races in the F1 calendar, so you will need to be on your ‘A’ game. No one will take you seriously as a power player if your wardrobe doesn’t reflect that.”

And before leaving home, don’t forget to pack a wad of business cards.

“While this may seem like a very basic tip, you would be surprised at how often people forget this fundamental tool and embarrass themselves at the key ritual of the business card exchange,” says Mr Al Ameri.

With many from the British Business Group of Abu Dhabi taking in the action this weekend, the networking group supplied its members with a list of tips ahead of the event.

Steve Martin, committee member for communications at BBG, suggests practising saying what you do for a living and what you’re looking to achieve succinctly.

“Do not appear to ‘pitch’ too early. It is important to build a rapport before trying to strike a deal,” he says. “Remember the rule about the six degrees of separation. If the sector or role of the person you are speaking with doesn’t directly relate to your interest, they might know someone who does.”

And don’t forget to smile – even if the driver you are backing is losing.

“It is a simple and often overlooked rule of engagement,” says Mr Martin. ​

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