Stuart Latham, Circuit Safety Operations Manager and Deputy Clerk of the Course, shares insights into his team’s preparations behind the scenes as Yas Marina Circuit gears up for one of the biggest ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekends
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 10, 2021: With the exciting season finale rolling out at Yas Marina Circuit, Stuart Latham and his Circuit Safety Operations team will be working behind the scenes at the FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX 2021 to ensure the safety of drivers, fans and staff alike.
As a veteran of Yas Marina Circuit since his first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2010, Latham has seen his fair share of exciting F1 action with years of experience in planning and preparing for an event of this magnitude in addition to the year-round racing calendar that the circuit hosts.
In the fast-paced, rapidly changing environment of Circuit Operations, Latham estimates he’s “spinning up to 100 plates per day” in the build-up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And with the exciting new track changes to the circuit and the major showdown between Hamilton and Verstappen imminent, Latham anticipates a “busy weekend”.
“The role of Deputy Clerk of the Course and Circuit Safety Operations Manager covers everything that helps the event run efficiently. We look after the track as well as the safety structure and deployment, planning with the medical recovery team, arranging requirements with the marshals and we need to have solutions in place at all times due to the unpredictable nature of motorsport. It’s a huge effort from all the team, but we’re up for the task.”
Planning for such a globally resonant event also takes significant preparation in advance, with the British veteran beginning his work on the end-of-year spectacle as early as February each year. “We usually start outlining the event plans from the end of February, in which we assess the plans for the previous year and take the key findings into our preparation,” Latham says.
“It gradually ramps up over the months, and we initially begin by arranging for any key items with a long lead time that need to be brought to the track to arrive first. This year there was quite a few changes to the track which will definitely make for a thrilling race on 12th December, and we started our work on the main structural changes from July this year.”
A new era of racing at Yas Marina Circuit also means a new strategy in place for Stuart and his experienced Safety Operations team, with the crew pulling together to complete the mammoth task in gearing up for a new year of racing on the iconic F1 track. “You can’t really appreciate the new track on a 2D drawing when you first see it, especially with the shortening of the track by 300 metres. We’ve rewritten the safety plans and outlines to accommodate the new inclusions to our now 5.28km course here at Yas Marina Circuit, with a great effort from the team in moving through the back-office preparation and making sure all aspects are covered,” he adds.
“It was a proud moment when we secured the official license from the FIA in October ahead of this year’s race, and we enjoyed celebrating the culmination of our hard work with a firm eye on the calendar, with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend kicking off quickly after this.”
The challenges faced in his role may seem daunting at first, but Stuart and his team experience a feeling like no other when the drivers cross the finish line on Sunday evening. “When the chequered flag falls on Sunday, you feel so much pride and emotion as you see your work come through and result in something truly phenomenal. That’s the highlight for me of the weekend, and if I could bottle up that feeling I get on the Sunday evening after the race, I’d be a millionaire.”
His year-round role sees peaks and dips in activity, something which he notes is to be expected as the preparation to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend sees the longest lead time in comparison to the wealth of spectacular events across the Yas Marina Circuit calendar. “The biggest difference between our F1 race weekend and our other sporting events here at the circuit is the sheer number of moving parts, and how many plates we’re spinning on a given day,” Latham says.
“To prepare for our Yas Racing Series for instance, this would take just over one day where as our final preparations for the F1 weekend will take at least two weeks including all the outside areas around the circuit, ensuring the track painting is all finalised, and minor repairs will be completed in the fortnight lead-up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It’s all important, and it definitely makes a difference to the race weekend experience.”
As the season finale approaches this weekend, a race for the history books is set to take place with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and seven-time World Champion, Mercedes AMG ace Lewis Hamilton, line-up in Abu Dhabi level on 369.5 points as the two drivers head into the final race of the season tied for top spot for the first time since 1974. A true fanatic of the sport, Latham thinks it will go right to the wire.
“From our side, we want to see a clean, safe race for obvious reasons and I’m sure it will be a day to remember for us all here at Yas Marina Circuit. My favourite race during my time here at the circuit was in 2016 when Rosberg won the title in the final race, so I’m hoping this one can live up to that!”
This year’s FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX 2021 will see sparks fly and a champion crowned to cap off a remarkable year both for the sport, and as the United Arab Emirates celebrates its 50th year. For more information on the impressive new track changes in the nation’s capital, please visit www.yasmarinacircuit.com.