Case study, Yas Marina Circuit and Ferrari World: The Changing Role of Sport History in Visitor Attraction Destinations
The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place on 25, 26 and 27 November 2016 and the driver’s championship will be decided in the last race of the season. The only F1 race to be held at twilight each year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is an important annual date for Middle Eastern tourism, since it is the region’s biggest international sporting experience. The first Grand Prix race at Yas Marina Circuit, in Abu Dhabi capital of the United Arab Emirates, took place in 2009 and the racetrack has become one of the most exciting venues in the motor sport calendar. It also hosts GP2 and GP3. The Hermann Tilke designed track features a waterfront setting, referencing aspects of both the Monaco and Singapore Grand Prix races. Tilke, a German-born motorsport professional and engineer, has designed many of the recent tracks added to the F1 racing calendar. The Yas Viceroy Hotel is a key element of the site, which also features a 60-metre solar powered Shams Tower.
Altogether there is a mixture of technological innovation and references to the past of motor sport in the circuit, with the track itself outlining the shape of a pistol. Also helping to make the circuit a year-round tourist destination, nearby are the Yas Golf Links and Waterworld facilties, but perhaps most interesting in terms of using motor sport to drive tourism, is Ferrari World. This venue uses the heritage of the globally famous Italian racing and sports car marque to attract an international visitor audience.
Is Ferrari World a heritage outlet, a sport company fanshop or a museum?
The short answer is that Ferrari World blends elements of all three, although museum professionals would probably question whether it has a collection sufficient to merit the status of a museum. It is nevertheless based on an extensive Ferrari collection at Maranello, so this is an ambiguous point and remains to be debated. Inaugurated as a tourist destination as recently as 2006, Yas Island houses the only Ferrari theme park in the world. Created by legendary Italian racing driver and manufacturer, Enzo Ferrari, the brand has licensed the use of its images and some archival collections to the government of the United Arab Emirates to create an entertainment facility for leisure and corporate use. Abu Dhabi is both the capital of the UAE, and the largest of the seven emirates so the positioning is strategic in seeking to place motor sport as part of a broader cultural heritage tourism offering.
Heritage Attraction Review: Ferrari World
At the entrance to the visitor attraction we are greeted by Khalil the camel, a plush mascot wearing a Ferrari race suit, and this is a perfect illustration of how global trends can be evidenced throughout the visit. In addition to the striking design of the facility itself, Italian motor sport history is evidenced in the main attraction, the Formula Rossa roller coaster (which had been called F1 Coaster in the development phase). At the time of writing Formula Rossa is the world’s fastest with a top speed of 239 km/h (149 mph) reached in 5 seconds of the ride by a hydraulic launch, generating a velocity similar to that of catapult systems on an aircraft carrier. Its shape was inspired by the Monza racetrack, in Italy and guests will experience up to 1.7 G force during acceleration and almost 5 G force throughout the ride.
While there are many Ferrari specific exhibitions and experiences, such as a factory tour and driving simulators, as well as historic models of cars and brand history. Some of the other experiences are more tangential, including family rides through the Italian Dolomites and Little Italy. There are also live shows and interactive experiences. Most visitors stay for about three and half hours, with restaurants and bars and the Ferarri shop encouraging guests to linger longer.
If surviving the Formula Rossa is discounted (and yes of course we had to follow F1 riders like Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel and take the roller coaster) it was a diverting, if unchallenging, afternoon. The blend of motor sport and visitor attraction raises the wider question of whether F1 specifically and motor racing heritage has been exploited sufficiently, and how this may change in future.
Museology and Methodology
Many of the key methodological questions facing both museum specialists whose work focuses on sport, and those who work in the historical visitor attraction industry focuses on the role of the past. How can complex historical issues be explained in a nuanced way to appeal to a broad public interest? Does the history of sport differ from heritage? How does legacy impact upon what is collected and curated? Have tourists replaced visitors as the key audience for collections with international aspirations? At the time of writing, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) tends to subsume sporting collections under other broad categories, rather than as a discrete group, so the Ferrari World visitor attraction nicely shows how a sport company can leverage its global reputation, to use history and a heritage outlet to appeal to fans of the brand. Moreover, it is not just individual brands but governments who are using sport to differentiate their countries globally.
In the meantime a number of topics for further research have emerged. It was noticeable that an Italian racing marque had such a global appeal that the UAE as a whole and Abu Dhabi in particular has sought to promote itself through an association with motor sport. Beyond those who will actually visit the circuit and its related attractions, a global media audience can see, and interpret, such unique design and this may in turn affect motor sport related museums as the blend of technological excellence and historic interpretation engage a wide audience. There is also the broader question of whether F1 specifically and motor sport generally has neglected its potential economic impact; both as a sport and as a heritage offer. In the meantime, those of us who are Lewis Hamilton fans will be wondering this weekend of he manages to win another World Championship or will lose out to his team mate. Exciting times…