Preview of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel cruised to victory in India to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship and although Fernando Alonso battled to a damage-limiting second place, the Spaniard was left bemoaning Red Bull’s resurgence back to the summit of Formula One. However, twelve months ago in Abu Dhabi, Vettel failed to even complete the first lap after he suffered a puncture. As Formula One returns to the Yas Marina, it serves as a reminder that the Championship could still be turned on its head.
So what should you expect this weekend?
Track and Conditions
The circuits three sectors clearly separate high-speed corners from the straights from the low-speed turns. The first sector opens up with a medium speed corner before heading into the only really fast corners at Turns 2 and 3 which should be flat-out in qualifying although the drivers need to be more careful with race fuel loads on board.
Sector 2, by comparison comprises the two straights, separated by a left-right chicane. The first straight is the longest currently on the calendar and, preceded by a hairpin bend, in theory an ideal overtaking opportunity. The problem is that the hairpin is itself preceded by a chicane – a compromise accommodating Ferrari World which hems in the run-off at the hairpin and which impacts on the straights viability for overtaking as it strings drivers out.
The final sector is dominated by low-speed, second-gear corners with large run-off areas. Technically challenging, and calling for more down force, the drivers wind their way around the edge of the harbour before spilling out under the colour-changing architectural wonder that is the Yas Marina hotel.
The climate in Abu Dhabi at this time of year tends to be hot and sunny but the teams are faced with the unique challenge of the race finishing after dusk with track temperatures falling accordingly. More of the same is expected this year although their might be some quite gusty breezes to deal with too.
Suspension tends towards a soft set-up to help ride the kerbs, particularly at the chicane separating the straights and through the final sector, although a slightly stiffer set-up can reap rewards through the chicanes where a sharp change of direction is beneficial. The final sector dictates the downforce set-up, with good traction and stability under braking desired through the tight turns. However, sufficient front wing to dial out understeer at Turn 2 is also required.
Turns 5, 8 and 11 have high braking demands but although temperatures need to be monitored, they are sufficiently spaced apart to give the brakes some respite.
Last year’s race saw no less than six different strategies adopted by the ten points scorers. Variations on two-stops was the norm although Mark Webber made a tactical switch to three to leapfrog Felipe Massa, only taking the prime tyre for the final lap. However, more notable may be Paul di Resta who stopped just the once as Force India tried to cover the possibility of a safety car mixing up the race. He failed to finish higher than he probably would have done on a two-stopper but it shows that the one-stop was almost as competitive. Therefore, with this year’s tyres generally lasting longer, one-stops seem more probable, especially further down the order.
Of course, some flexibility will have to be allowed in the event of the safety car being deployed but that has only happened once in the previous three races. Indeed, the Yas Marina features the lowest number of retirements due to accidents on the calendar – just 2.9% of starters.
2010 saw the World Drivers’ Championship go down to the final race with four drivers still in with a chance of clinching it. Sebastian Vettel, third in the standings, led away from fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton but Championship leader, Fernando Alonso was still set for the title even after slipping back to fourth at the start. However, everything changed when Mark Webber made an early pit stop and, as Alonso’s nearest title challenger, Ferrari opted to cover his stop. By lap 18, Alonso, trailed by Webber, had caught up with the Renault of Vitaly Petrov but still three places away from the points needed. By the time the chequered flag was shown, Alonso was still frustratedly staring at the rear of the Renault. Vettel was champion.
Ones To Watch
In it’s three years on the calendar, Abu Dhabi has been dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Whether it be pole position, taking the victory or suffering an unusual failure – a first lap tyre failure for Vettel last year and a rare brake failure for Hamilton the year before, when both promised to runaway with the win. It would be hard to bet against one of the two to shine again.
McLaren, however, have their eye on a milestone – a record 56th consecutive points finish. Of course, these things are a lot easier now that points go down to tenth place…
Note on Timing
Over the weekend, daylight saving ends in those parts of the USA, Canada and the Caribbean observing it. If you’re wondering why the race hasn’t started yet, you’ve probably not adjusted your clocks accordingly on Sunday morning.
Food for Thought
Who do you think will win in Abu Dhabi? Will the Yas Marina finally produce a race worthy of the majestic facilities?
Circuit Profile – Yas Marina Circuit
2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Hamilton Takes the Spoils in Abu Dhabi
Photos: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Sauber Motorsport AG, Mercedes AMG Petronas, Sauber Motorsport AG