2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix track preview

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Yas Marina wants for nothing in terms of facilities. If only the same could be said of its track.

Track data: Yas Marina

Lap length5.554km (3.451 miles)
Grand prix distance305.355km (189.739 miles)
Lap record (race)1’40.279 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Fastest lap (any session)1’38.434 (Lewis Hamilton, 2011, qualifying two)
Tyre compoundsSee drivers’ choices
2015 Rate the Race5.25 out of 10
2015 Driver of the WeekendSergio Perez

Yas Marina track data in full

But the circuit which has the honour of holding this year’s title-deciding race leaves everything to be desired when it comes to challenging the world’s best drivers and cars.

It’s wide, smooth, flat and – aside from a pair of lengthy straights – slow. Whatever brief the track designer was given, showcasing F1 at its best was not it.

“It’s not the most thrilling of tracks,” says master of understatement Daniil Kvyat, “as many of the corners are very similar”. Other drivers have been similarly dismissive of its untaxing, stop-start nature.

The track has produced few riveting races since it first appeared on the calendar in 2009. The surprise outcome of the 2010 title-decider and Sebastian Vettel’s race through the field two years later stick in the mind. But last year’s forgettable finale was more typical of what we’ve come to expect from this venue.

Abu Dhabi’s stable climate means we can discount the possibility of surprising weather changes playing a role in Sunday’s championship finale. But Pirelli’s decision to bring its most aggressive tyre selection could offer the drivers new strategic options this year.

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A lap of Yas Marina

Out of a chicane, into a hairpin…
From the start line the drivers arrive quickly at turn one. This is the first of many 90-degree corners but is quicker than the rest, typically taken in fourth gear. Accelerating out of the left-hander the drivers approach what passes for the most interesting section on the track – the flat-out sweep through turns two, three and four.

The pit lane entrance joins the track at this point and we have seen some near-misses as drivers blend in with traffic. Fernando Alonso took a punishing ride over the kerbs here in 2013.

As the drivers leave turn four at speed they are quickly upon the next sequence of corners: a slow chicane followed by a hairpin. “You go down the hill, braking into six – very tricky braking turning into six, then straight away into seven,” explains Romain Grosjean. “You need to be well positioned for the hairpin going down the back straight. It’s tricky to get the car to turn.”

Two long straights separated by the turn eight/nine chicane follow. “Again you need to be well positioned between the left and right-hand side corners,” says Grosjean. “Then it’s another straight line on to 11, 12 and 13. It’s a triple chicane and as soon as you exit that part you go flat out then brake for turn 14, which is a 90-degree left-hand side corner.”

…and around endless more slow corners
Following the tricky curved approach to turn 17 the final sector of the lap involves a sequence of slow bends, most of which are right-angles. “As soon as you go out of 17 you have to brake again for 18,” says Grosjean. Two left-handers lead them beneath the Yas Viceroy hotel, with a “tricky exit” as the cars straighten up ahead of the final pair of bends.

“The second to last corner is good,” comments Grosjean. “It’s high speed in fourth or fifth gear.”

After that the run-off area at the final corner invites drivers to run wide. “The last corner is very tricky,” Grosjean explains. “It’s very wide on the entry phase with the pit lane on the right-hand side. It’s not easy to find a line.”

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix track preview”

  1. Sigh, this track truly is an abomination unto racing and stands, I think, as a fairly damning legacy of the latter years of Ecclestone’s stewardship of the sport, if anyone in the observable universe still needed convincing, that is. The really frustrating thing is it wouldn’t even need that many changes to be quite a bit better. Anyhoo, fingers crossed, I’m hoping against hope that the race will prove worthy of a title decider.

  2. The vanity project to end all vanity projects.

  3. Whatever brief the track designer was given, showcasing F1 at its best was not it.

    Parading the cars in front of the grandstands seems to have been the objective, particularly when considering turns 5 & 6, and pretty much the whole of sector 3.

  4. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
    23rd November 2016, 12:49

    I read somewhere that the awful track layout was designed to agree with the needs of rich people with supercars who want to test them and boast about “driving in an F1 circuit” but would destroy those cars in a challenging track.

    1. @omarr-pepper that really wouldn’t surprise me one bit. And if it is the case, it has worked very well, as every rich man and his and car seem to go round there and talk about it being a great track.

  5. This track is a disgrace to F1. How to have plenty of space, plenty of money, and end up with the worst layout on the calendar…

  6. Tilkes wet dream.. lots of money and low on inspiration.

  7. Its like the gold plated Ferrari’s I see pootling around near my office. It tells you what money with no limitation ends up looking like.

    1. Sorry, next time I’m in the area I’ll wave.

      1. Haha, good one!

  8. Absolute shambles of a track. And to have it for the championship showdown just highlights everything that’s wrong with the sport currently.
    Tilke had a blank cheque and blank piece of land to create a racing circuit for the ages. And what he came up with is an eye sore that does not promote racing. Its the EXACT same issue as the FOM tv camera positions. They are the way they are to promote sponsors and advertising. The sport and racing itself is not even on the priority list.
    Lets all hope and pray that Liberty media (with the help of Ross Brawn) sort out this mess before Formula E come up with better, lighter and longer lasting batteries!!!

  9. @keithcollantine

    I bet if you set up a competition to redesign Yawn Marina, you would get a lot of response. It would be really fun to see fan’s ideas. And. although highly unlikely, who knows what may happen if the right pair of eyes saw the winning entry.

    1. Oddly enough, it could be fixed fairly easily: Increase the radius of the 2-4 complex (rounding 2 off a little in the process), replacing the first chicane/hairpin with a more rounded off hairpin. After that, delete the second chicane and turn the connection between those turn complexes into a fast left-hand sweeper. The rest of the track just needs rounding off the corners.

      End result, you get a very fast, very fluid track that would look impressive in person and on TV, while fitting in the artificial island at less cost than one would assume is needed.

      1. @spdoyle17 more important than rounding off corners is giving them positive camber. Negative (which they are) destroys the flow and makes it harder to follow. I would definitely say get rid of, or at least modify, every chicane. They’re simply dreadful and there are three of them.

        1. I forgot about that part, why not both, then?

      2. Something like this ??

          1. 2-3-4: Round off two, increase the distance on 3-4 to be more of a long, high speed right hander, turn the first chicane/hairpin into a longer hairpin starting where 5 is now, delete the second chicane into a sweeping left not unlike Pocono in the US, the following complex rounded off similar to Spoon at Suzuka, with more rounding for the rest of the track. Think staggered esses for the third sector. It would be very fast, yet challenging, because if you can’t drive smoothly, you can’t win. Drivers like Button and Perez could do very well, Button for his skills at flowing circuits, Perez for being able to be fast while saving tyres.

    2. @shimks Funny you should mention that because back in 2010 I contacted another F1 architect to propose how they would improve the track’s configuration. Here’s what they came up with:


      1. While better, Keith, those triple hairpins remind me too much of Indy. I was there in ’00 and ’07, and it came across as stale in person. Yas Marina is horrible, and what I’ve gathered is that it was a genius idea turned rancid by 8-bit design power. All it needed was rounding off, and as @strontium mentioned, fixing the camber issues.

      2. Very interesting. Thanks for that. And to everyone else that responded!

    3. You can also check what @faketilke has proposed on Twitter. Seems fine.


  10. As someone who has driven the track (in one of YMC’s F3000 cars) and stayed at the hotel the track was asked to pass under I can tell you that the track is dull (though the F3000 car wasn’t) and the hotel is god awful.

  11. petebaldwin (@)
    23rd November 2016, 16:08

    What really annoys me is that there is no excuse for it being so bad. Several tracks are what they are because they exist in a fairly confined footprint. There isn’t a way of keeping the Peraltada because there isn’t room for a bigger runoff, for example. Similarly, Russia was designed around existing roads used for the Olympics and which limited the scope of what they could do.

    Abu Dhabi was just a empty piece of land…. It just baffles me that they would spend the money they have to create the facility, make sure it is the last race of the season and even have rules changed to ensure the season doesn’t finish before the final race and yet they didn’t bother to insist on an adequate layout that produces decent racing.

    1. @petebaldwin Worse still. It wasn’t a piece of empty land. It was a piece of purpose-built land. What a disgrace.

  12. Yas Marina is perhaps the most despised Grand Prix track currently on the schedule. A facility that simply doesnt challenge drivers and is usually a processional for better teams. Bernie please replace this mess with a new venue designed to be better for drivers, teams and fans world wide

  13. It’s like Tilke finished the first sector, then let the work experience kid finish off the rest with just a ruler.

    I don’t vehemently despise this place as much as some, but it’s definitely not a fitting venue for the last race of the season.

    1. Sochi IMO is worse because it’s so boring and repetitive. But Sochi and AD are the two worst circuits of the lot.

      1. Interlagos really should be the finale. Or Laguna Seca, provided they follow the old track a little longer before the hairpin. CART was my first love, and that was the finale when I really started to appreciate open-wheel. By the time I really got it, I got to see “The Pass.” Track limits abused in a legendary way…

        1. I personally wish Australia was the finale and Brazil or Austin was the season opener, but I agree (of course) Interlagos is a far more suitable season closer than Abu Dhabi. Laguna Seca almost got the US GP in 1989- it was a toss-up (believe it or not) between the streets of Phoenix and Laguna Seca- and Phoenix was chosen because Laguna Seca was seen as too remote- even though it is only 1 1/2 hours away from San Jose and there are a number of hospitable towns such as Salinas and Monterey near to it. So it’s not at the Watkins Glen or Sebring level of remoteness. Yes- even back in those great times of beautiful looking and sounding cars Ecclestone and the FIA made inexplicably bad decisions like that.

  14. Without having to really do a lot of work at all and keeping it realistic and easy, how I’d modify it:

    Get rid of the crappy little Turns 5&6 chicane near the start of the lap and pull the hairpin 50m forward to allow sufficient run-off (with a slightly curved exit onto the straight).

    Make Turn 11 into… basically exactly the same layout as the Mexico stadium (which would be pretty good if it had a high-speed approach), and have it lead out towards Turn 15 through a long, nicely curved left to maintain or even increase the approach speed to what are two decent corners.

    Double-apexify Turns 18 and 19 into a single corner.

    Flatten or bank some of the crappy negative camber corners.

    (and if that doesn’t work, get the bulldozers out)

  15. They could make this track better… by taking out all the tight turns and replacing/bypassing them with fast corners. What this track really needs is an average speed of 150+ mph.

  16. Abu Dhabi as the final race of the season just annoys me greatly. I’m trying to reserve judgement until Sunday but come on, who could really prefer it over a championship deciding season finale at Brazil in the wet?

  17. I’m a bit surprised that it’s so universally disliked. As most people, I am not a fan of Tilkedroms in the slightest but I would rate Yas Marina a thousand places above Sochi, Korea International or Mexico.

    1. On your near infinitely expanded sliding scale, I would rate all of those tracks a million trillion places below Spa, Silverstone, Suzuka and the other actual racetracks on the F1 calendar.

      To ease a little of your surprise, as mentioned above, Sochi and Mexico, while horrible, had to fit an existing environment – at least they have borderline plausible excuses. Agree Korea was terrible, but it’s no longer on the calendar, thankfully.

      Yas Marina was created with a blank slate and ended with a blank car park. Boggles the mind that an unlimited budget, purpose-built track could be so purposeless, dull and tacky – and the racing, worse. It’s a grand testament to Bernie’s Greed Gone Wild era.

      1. Maybe for Mexico, but in Sochi, they was a lot of room to make faster corners (for example in turns 2, 4, or 7).

        But in both cases, with a bit of imagination, something much better should have been done. Tilke has some constraints, I understand that, but nobody forces him to stay in that “straight-hairpin-straight-slow corner” pattern.

    2. I actually miss Korea, that was much more let down by location I feel. TThe track itself was ok.

      1. Agree. The 2nd part in Korea was fast, interesting and challenging.
        I miss India too: like Korea, the 2nd half of the track was very nice and fast.

        These 2 tracks were way ahead of Sochi, Shanghai, or Bahrain.

  18. I can picture it now, Verstappen will pull off a number of stunning overtakes (the majority of all overtakes in the race) and we will get responses such as “see there’s nothing wrong with Abu Dhabi, we don’t need to change it”.

  19. To me it looks like they tried to be Monaco, with the hairpin, dual straights, running alongside the docks. And by that I mean they literally just said ‘make it like Monaco’ because that’s the most famous track to anyone outside of F1. They forgot that Monaco isn’t a good track for racing and gets it’s excitement from the rough surface and tight walls – basically, driver skill to stay intact. Remove those and you just have a procession.

  20. Thank GOD it’s not double points.

  21. I enjoy driving around it in F1 2016, it’s one of the ones I most enjoy actually.
    I do not enjoy watching a Grand Prix around it though.
    Hasn’t Tilke worked out yet that 90 degree corners are not great for overtaking? As if he needs more examples, Sochi comes to mind…

  22. I see no mention here about the race in 2012 wich was an unforgettable classic. proves my theory that it’s not the ugly circuit that makes the bad racing (nor is the beatiful one that makes it good)

    1. @alfa145 even the reliably bad circuits can have a good race, just as the good circuits, such as Canada, have had occasionally dull races. A desert is dry but still gets rain a few times a year.

      2012 bizarrely gave great races at both Abu Dhabi and Valencia. However, having hosted 7 races, 2012 is the only Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that is remotely memorable for the (positive) on-track action. It’s also important to remember that that race was as exciting as it was because of Vettel being out of position, Kimi winning, and a few safety cars that mixed everything else up. On merit of the actual racing itself, it wasn’t exceptionally spectacular.

      To have 6 out of 7 races dull as they were is not a record that the track can be proud of.

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