Neither of the previous Abu Dhabi races provided the excitement to match the spectacle of the ultra-modern venue.
With no alterations to the track this year, it’s down to the much-vaunted 2011 rules changes to buck the trend of tedious races at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Will they make a difference – and can anyone keep Sebastian Vettel from his 12th win of the year?
“A very, very popular event”
That got a lot of things right and at least one thing spectacularly wrong when they built the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi two years ago.
The architecture is ambitious and exciting, and helps make this a desirable event for the money men, as Renault’s Eric Boullier explains:
“Abu Dhabi is a very, very popular event and racing spectacle. To give you an example: we are absolutely jammed to the rafters in terms of the number of guests we have, and the interest we have received.
“It arrived on the calendar back in 2009 and since then it has acted as an extremely important race for the annual F1 circus. It brings motorsport to the United Arab Emirates in a big way.”
As you’d expect for a modern circuit, its safety standards are impeccable. These were put to test in a big way during the first round of the GT1 world championship in 2010.
Sebastien Buemi’s cousin Natasha Gachnang, driving a Ford GT, experienced every racing driver’s worst nightmare: brake failure at maximum speed heading towards turn eight. In her attempt to slam the brakes on as hard as possible she inadvertently caught the accelerator, and hurtled into the barriers with the front wheels locked and rear wheels still spinning.
This had the makings of a truly appalling accident. Gachnang’s life was saved thanks to the large run-off area and TecPro barrier, which contained the car’s deceleration at between 20-40g. She survived with only a broken leg.
The worst track in F1?
|5.554km (3.451 miles)
|55 laps (305.5km/189.8 miles)
|1’40.279 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
|1’39.394 (Sebastian Vettel, 2010)
|Medium and Soft
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
But while the facilities may be first-rate, there is one significant flaw with the Yas Marina circuit: it is an irredeemably awful track, perhaps the worst in F1.
Slow corner after slow corner with straights too long and wide to give any impression of speed. It’s broken up by chicanes which hinder overtaking and is too long for traffic to have much effect on the leaders.
“It’s not one of the most challenging venues of the season,” admits Mark Webber, “with every real corner being second and third gear.”
The hotel the track passes under may look spectacular, but the two races held at this circuit previously have been anything but.
There were rumours the circuit owners would address the track’s many manifest flaws before this year’s race. Sadly, that has not happened. Once a track is built and its infrastructure is in place, further renovations are costly, as Silverstone architects Populous explained in an article for F1 Fanatic last year.
The chief executive of the Yas Marina circuit, Richard Cregan, decided they would wait and see if the 2011 regulations changes improved the racing at the circuit before deciding on any alterations.
Last year provided a graphic illustration of the difficulty of overtaking at the circuit as Fernando Alonso spent 40 laps stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, losing the championship in the process. Despite being quicker, at no time was the Ferrari driver able to get close enough to even try to make a pass.
But would it really have been a more satisfactory outcome to see Alonso press the DRS button on his steering wheel and fly past the Renault on the straight?
Vettel eyes 12th win of 2011
As was the case at the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix two years ago, both championships have already been decided. So will this race see a continuation of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance?
He is the only driver to have won here, though Lewis Hamilton has also gone well here in the past. The McLaren driver took pole position and led before retiring in the inaugural race, and finished runner-up to Vettel last year.
Once again, the question facing Hamilton going into this weekend is whether he can stay out of trouble and away from Felipe Massa.
The most significant action from a championship point of view is among the midfield teams. Toro Rosso appear to have single-handedly saved Renault from losing fifth in the championship by keeping Force India and Sauber from catching them. The latter pair are fighting a rearguard action to keep Toro Rosso behind.
Sauber’s efforts in this are not being helped by Kamui Kobayashi enduring a seven-race streak out of the points. He needs to bounce back at the circuit where he scored his first points finish two years ago.
Another unusual feature of the race is its late evening start, with darkness falling throughout the race: “The challenge doesn’t really come from the changing light, but the track temperature drops significantly when the sun sets,” says Kobayashi. “This makes it quite difficult to adapt during the race.”
Novel it may be, but it’s made little difference to races here in the past – just another example of how this Grand Prix is an exercise in style over substance.
Who do you expect to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? Can anyone keep Vettel from victory? Have your say in the comments.
2011 driver form
2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Images © Yas Marina Circuit, Renault/LAT