Federer, Maldini light up the paddock at Abu Dhabi GP

Sport360's Reem Abulleil reports from the paddock at Yas Marina Circuit.

Reem Abulleil
by Reem Abulleil
27th November 2016

article:27th November 2016

It was a stellar race in Abu Dhabi Sunday night and a stellar cast showed up to witness it.

Tennis superstar Roger Federer, along with his wife Mirka, his father Robert and mother Lynette, were hosted by Mercedes AMG and he witnessed Nico Rosberg claim the championship from the best seat in the house – inside the German team’s garage.

British singer Rita Ora was also there, supporting Lewis Hamilton while Paris Hilton made an appearance.

Before the race started, Federer was escorted into the garage by Mercedes chairman and F1 legend Niki Lauda, before he paid a visit to Bernie Ecclestone’s hospitality villa that has a sign outside that simply say: ‘Mr. E’.

Roger and Mirka also stopped for a chat with Sir Jackie Stewart and even had a few quick words with me, joking that tennis probably provided better surroundings than F1 because it is “less noisy”.

Other athletes roaming the paddock included Italian ex-footballer Paolo Maldini, who is in town to give a seminar dubbed “Great Football Experiences” in the UAE capital. Cycling ace Mark Cavendish was also at the grand prix, so was Qatar’s high jump Olympic silver medallist Mutaz Barshim.


A generation gap keeps getting more and more obvious in Formula One with one part of the grid highlighted by the 35-and-over group like Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, and the other featuring a teenager in Max Verstappen, and several 22-and-under drivers like Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat.

Just six years ago, Sebastian Vettel was crowned the youngest-ever F1 champion when he won the first of his four world titles at 23. Today the 29-year-old feels part of the veteran crew and he made a slight reference to that when he was asked about the talk he had with Verstappen following their trouble in Mexico.

Verstappen had told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Vettel got in touch with him for a conversation and revealed part of what they discussed.

“I think, I don’t know maybe people nowadays are different, but whatever I spoke about with Max is between Max and myself so I’m not really willing to share much,” said Vettel.

When told that Verstappen had shared some of the details of their chat, Vettel responded with a laugh: “Well maybe you should talk more to him, since he’s more open than me. He’s a different generation so…”

Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.

Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.


Age is also separating the drivers when it comes to their physical training. Next year’s new regulations are expected to make the cars physically tougher to drive as they’ll have increased downforce levels and wider tyres.

While some drivers said they were going to readjust their winter training to add more muscle in order to be able to handle the new cars, others feel it’s too late to try and change their bodies right now.

The 27-year-old Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull sounded excited about the prospect of bulking up.

“I think for me it’s going to be more fun personally because we’ll do a bit more strength training. I kind of enjoy it,” said Ricciardo.

“The last couple of years you’re doing a lot of training just to keep you weight down so a lot of longer endurance but not very high intensity to not put muscle on. In a way the training we’ve done was a little bit more boring where I think now we can actually push harder in training and we can afford to put on some muscle and things like this. It will be more challenging but I think more rewarding.”

Alonso, 35, does not plan on doing much differently when it comes to his physical preparations for the new season.

“I’m okay. I think if you’re maybe arriving to Formula One, a teenager or something, maybe you need, as I needed when I arrived at 19 or 20. Your body is not ready sometimes for some air force that you need to deal with in Formula One, but my body right now at 35, I think it’s already done, I cannot change anything now, what I am is what I will be probably,” said the Spanish two-time world champion.​

Fernando Alonso.

Fernando Alonso.