Friday 11 November 2011

Abu Dhabi Preview: The circuit that landed

There has been a never ending succession of gleaming new circuits debuting on the F1 calendar over recent times it seems. But even among these, Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina well and truly stands apart.

Yas Marina circuit - a venue like no other
Credit: / CC
It is very much the facility that landed, one that at first viewing you would have more expected to see in a sci-fi movie, with space ships ascending from and descending onto it, than hosting a modern day F1 event. More so than even the tracks that have been built since, Abu Dhabi seems to represent the future.

No expense has been spared it its creation. It forms part of the shimmering Yas Island, consisting of various attractions including Ferrari World and the world's fastest roller coaster. It is F1's first and only day-to-night race, and it has a icon all of this own in the Yas Marina hotel, which the track passes under, and shines in ever varying coloured lights which attract many a wide-angled camera lens.

And in terms of providing F1's width it's clear where the Abu Dhabi sits. The city of Abu Dhabi drips with money and, alongside Monaco, Abu Dhabi is the event that F1's money providers, both current and potential, want to attend, entertain guests and do business at. The Paddock Club there is booked up far in advance, as is the deliberately Monaco-reminiscent harbour with room for 150 boats. Tickets also usually sell out, at the admittedly modest capacity of 50,000 (and in previous years some of these ticket holders appear to attend the race disguised as empty seats).

The circuit has landed!
Credit: Jitesh Jagadish / CC
The track has one major problem though: in two attempts a race there has yet to provide much in the way of entertainment for us watching on. Despite the presence of two long straights ended by large braking zones, neither Abu Dhabi race has contained much overtaking (only 6 passes in 2009 and 13 last year), and the difficulties in F1 cars getting close enough to pass each other was brought home graphically by Fernando Alonso last year, with the championship at stake, getting nowhere near to passing the much slower Vitaly Petrov in the space of 40 racing laps.

So in many ways this weekend's race is the ultimate test of the new 2011 overtaking-friendly spec of F1. It can't be said that the boat hasn't been pushed out (appropriate given the venue), with two separate and generous-looking DRS zones. Also, after a few relatively calm weekends, tyre wear may again be a particular factor in this race, with the high temperatures, low grip surface and abundance of braking and acceleration zones, which may in turn create sufficient variation in pace between the cars to encourage passing (though on the flip side, the Abu Dhabi track conspicuously lacks quick corners, which tend to take a lot of life out of the tyres).

So, what of who's hot and who's not in terms of pace? Well, not for the first time this season the main question this weekend is who can stop Sebastian Vettel. Only he has ever won an F1 race at Abu Dhabi, and as is usually the case he looked strong today, especially on the long runs as well as considering that the Red Bulls tend to go a bit more heavy than others in their 'qualifying' runs on a Friday.

Still, McLaren look close to them, especially in qualifying trim, and if they can lead into the first corner on Sunday they may disrupt the Red Bulls' day. Further, Lewis Hamilton is usually mighty around the Abu Dhabi circuit, particularly through the final sector where he controls the car's lively tail beautifully. He came a close second here last year, and was on course for a victory in 2009 before he was hobbled by a brake problem. Of course, he needs to keep his tyres in shape in the race, and plan his strategy well - two things he hasn't always done this season. If he doesn't, then Jenson Button will be close enough to capitalise.

Ferrari may be pleasantly surprised with their pace
Credit: / CC
Then there's Ferrari, whose seemingly evil handling machine provided some entertainment with plenty of off track excursion, especially in the first session. This disguised somewhat that their pace looks a bit more competitive than usual, which seemed to be a pleasant surprise to them. The lack of a long run sequence by Fernando Alonso (after a definitive off in second practice) makes it hard to judge where they'll be on Sunday, but they could be not far away, especially if tyre wear becomes an issue.

Friday Free Practice results
Free Practice One Highlights (UK users only)
Free Practice Two Highlights (UK users only)

1 comment:

  1. I think everything awesome is in Yas Marina Hotel. The place is such a rush to go to. I bet everyone will be amazed with it.