How The UAE Hosted Its First Grand Prix 40 Years Ago

The Hyatt Regency on the Dubai Corniche

The Hyatt Regency on the Dubai Corniche
Photo: Hyatt

This weekend Formula One will end their dramatic season with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in the race’s titular emirate. While the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix became the first and so far only Formula One World Championship race in the United Arab Emirates in 2009, it was not the first race to be referred to as a grand prix within its borders.


The neighboring emirate of Dubai hosted its own grand prix 40 years ago. In October 1981, the Formula One season concluded in Las Vegas with the infamous Caesars Palace Grand Prix. Two months later, there would be a race on the Dubai Corniche around the Hyatt Regency hotel. Despite the name, there’s no relation to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia, just a similar general geographic location.

Yes, the Dubai Grand Prix wasn’t an F1 race. The headline event of the grand prix itself was a sports car race. The race was won by a Lola T70 with Gerry Marshall behind the wheel. The field primarily consisted of British drivers. This was due to the race being organized by Martin Hone, who would later bring the Birmingham Superprix to fruition.

If the spectators weren’t interested in sports cars, the stars in support events were worth the price of admission alone. Stirling Moss, Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Bruno Giacomelli, Derek Bell, Nigel Mansell and Helmut Marko drove in a Citroën XC all-star race. Giacomelli proved to be the fastest in the Citroën XCs and won the race.

Fans did get to see Formula One machinery out on the track as John Watson in a McLaren MP4/1 and Patrick Tambay in a Theodore TY01 attempted to win $5,000 in a fastest lap contest. Also, Juan Manuel Fangio drove one of the Mercedes-Benz W196s, in which he saw his 1950s success. Unfortunately, Fangio suffered a heart attack during the demo run, requiring the five-time world champion to undergo cardiac bypass surgery.

The 1981 event to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the UAE’s independence would be the only time the Dubai Grand Prix would be run. This month, a vintage motorsport event was held at the Dubai Autodrome to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Dubai Grand Prix and the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation. Despite Abu Dhabi’s now-perennial place on the F1 calendar, this 40-year old race still holds significance in Dubai.

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