A celebration of speed and sumptuous Qatari hospitality

“We’re only just getting started.” That was the reaction of Hamad International Airport (HIA) Chief Operating Officer Engr. Badr Al Meer as Qatar Duty Free scooped the Frontier Airport Retailer of the Year award last Wednesday night in Cannes.

The words were a reference to the continued high ambition associated with the development of retail, dining and services at HIA, but also neatly sum up the philosophy at Qatar Airways Group, and the wider agenda to promote Qatar through state agencies and their partners.

A memorable moment in Doha as Max Verstappen clinches his third World title at Lusail International Circuit

Sport is at the heart of that drive. Having hosted the FIFA World Cup in football in 2022, the momentum in the Gulf state continues with a series of high-profile events this year, led by this weekend’s Formula 1 Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix.

‘Fly to Doha’ – the Qatar Airways branding resonates around the world this weekend. Below, the F1 branding begins on arrival at Hamad International

We are on the ground in the excellent company of Qatar Duty Free – led by Senior Vice President Thabet Musleh – over three days of qualifying (Friday), the Sprint Race (Saturday) and Grand Prix (Sunday), and even before the big day dawns, it has been all action.

On the Lusail track moments before the Sprint Race begins; below, views of the key corners on a superb track tour

There are echoes of last year’s football extravaganza everywhere, from the themed carriage handles in the Doha Metro to the gleaming lines of the Lusail Stadium which you pass on the road to the Lusail International Circuit race track, home to F1 from 6-8 October. In turn, F1 cues abound today, from the signage lighting up the arrivals corridor at HIA to branding at city hotels.

Qatar Duty Free and Hamad International Airport are hosting an array of guests this weekend. Above, HIA Chief Operating Officer Badr Al Meer and his son Omar greet Dermot Davitt. Below, an exciting moment for a Manchester United fan with QDF partner David Beckham

The Paddock Club, where Qatar Airways, HIA and Qatar Duty Free are welcoming guests, has been abuzz throughout. Yesterday, famous footballer and style icon David Beckham paid a visit amid a schedule that sees him planning a big collaboration with QDF, to be announced soon. Brand partners from across the industry are also well represented, with more due on race day today.

The first-rate hospitality extended not just to a walk in the pit lane in between sessions on Saturday, but to a ride right around the circuit on a truck – offering an insider’s view of how the drivers negotiate this tricky circuit.

A lovely photo of Badr Al Meer, David Beckham and Thabet Musleh enjoying a warm moment in the QDF/HIA hospitality area

Not only that, but the second ever Qatar Grand Prix saw a landmark moment too on Saturday – with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crowned F1 World Champion for a third time due to the points he picked up in the Sprint Race, in which he was second to Oscar Piastri.

FAB to the fore: Qatar Duty Free celebrates its recent accolades at the Airport Food & Beverage + Hospitality Awards with prominent signage at the Paddock Club, Lusail International Circuit
Dermot Davitt, TFWA Managing Director John Rimmer and Nestlé International Travel Retail Senior Regional Business Manager MEASA Hanno Hellwig catch up in the Qatar Duty Free/HIA suite

As any rugby fan will know, this weekend is not just about F1. With the quarter finals a week away, Ireland and Scotland put everything on the line in a make or break game in Paris.

In late night Doha, finding a place to watch the crunch match wasn’t straightforward, but the resourceful Thabet Musleh found a way – with the live feed pumped into a downtown restaurant, accompanied by the most magnificent Qatari food for guests.

Thankfully for this viewer, Ireland’s hot start and strong performance meant I could enjoy the food and the friendship from a relatively early stage rather than fret about the outcome too much.

“Your guys have got this.” The reassuring words of two-time World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams early in the game between Ireland and Scotland – although he is equally confident of a New Zealand win against Ireland next week

I also had the reassuring presence of two-time Rugby World Cup winner with New Zealand Sonny Bill Williams, who had no doubts about who would win. Although, a little worryingly, he seems just as sure that New Zealand will beat Ireland in next week’s quarter final. Roll on Saturday.