Driving has never really come naturally to me. Now, this probably isn’t the kind of revelation you want to strike while squeezing into the cockpit (it’s small, OK, it has nothing to do with the extra pounds I’ve accrued from regularly eating out in the capital) of a super-charged F3000 car in the pit lane of the Yas Marina Circuit. But it is true. If you don’t believe me, just ask the many diving instructors who have made a small fortune out of my countless attempts to to pass my test – I’m sure one of them has a yacht mooring somewhere named in my honour.
But since I finally got on the road at the tender age of 29, I have been trying to make up for lost time. So the chance to tear around the Yas Marina Circuit, going through the same twists and turns as the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, was too good to turn down.
The circuit offers an array of unique opportunities for petrolheads to get the ultimate adrenaline rush, from going full throttle on the track’s own drag strip in a Chevrolet Camaro to cruising around in an Aston Martin or a Jaguar, you can live the driving dream without needing to be a motorsport jet-setter with a second home in Monte Carlo.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to get behind the wheel of a Formula Yas 3000, a sleek racing machine packing a 250 horsepower, Jaguar V6 engine made by Cosworth, running on slick Pirelli tyres and with adjustable front and rear wings that generate a staggering 500kg of aerodynamic downforce at speeds of 270kmh.
Armed with that mindboggling array of statistics, I must admit to having second thoughts as I slip into my racing overalls and prepare for a vital briefing from senior instructor Sean Stevens before taking to the track.
I feel like an established member of the paddock as I take a seat in the conference room, as the affable Stevens talks me through the layout of the track and explains the intricacies of the car I will be jumping into.
He explains that gear changes are made by hand by operating paddle shifters on the side of the car and that the clutch is very sensitive when starting off, requiring a lot more foot-down-to-the-floor than your standard car. He leaves me with key advice: never break when steering into a corner, as this will cause the high-speed car to go into a spin.
I try to keep a calm head – and keep all that information locked inside it – as I put on my racing gloves and helmet and prepare for my date with destiny. My heart pumps more vigorously with every deafening roar of the engine as I prepare to fly out of the pit lane and onto the famous circuit. And,well, third time is the charm, as they say.
After stalling the car twice, both times bringing me to an unceremonious halt, I finally set off smoothly, with experienced Yas Marina Circuit instructor Andy Crabtree further up ahead to guide me through the racing lines for my three-lap run.
As I build up speed on long straights and navigate my way through deep corners, with the Yas Viceroy as a stunning backdrop, I am given just a small taste of what it must be like to be in the racing shoes of a grid great. I am also left with a whole new respect for their craft. My hands squeeze tightly onto the steering wheel as I approach every corner – if I could cross my fingers, I would.
I feel like I am going at the speed of light, but a quick glance at the speed dial shows I am am only reaching a little more than half of the Formula Yas’s capabilities.
I put my pedal to the metal as I take on a long straight but when the turn approaches, it almost takes me by surprise. Forgetting for a brief instant what I had been told, I slam down on the breaks and steer, leading to a 360-degree spin that is as exhilarating as it is frightening.
I thankfully come to a gentle stop and, before I know it, it is time to return to the pits.
I am given a hearty pat on the back by Stevens and Crabtree, having enjoyed every minute of the experience but am happy to leave the circuit to the racing experts come F1 weekend.
Formula Yas 3000 driving experience: Dhs1,750. Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, www.yasmarinacircuit.com (02 659 9800).