Will Yas Marina’s three key changes put an end to F1’s follow-my-leader finales?

2021 F1 season

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Yas Marina, the home of Formula 1’s season finales since 2014, will have a new look for this year’s race.

Since it opened in 2009, the track been renowned for producing processional races. In our index of race ratings by RaceFans readers, its average score is just 5.91 out of 10, ranking 27th out of the 32 different circuits used since 2008.

During that time the track has decided the outcome of the world championship on three occasions, all of which were season finales. Even these events underlined the sheer difficulty of passing around the 5.5-kilometre track.

Fernando Alonso watched the 2010 title get away from him as he tried in vain to pass Vitaly Petrov’s Renault. Six years later Lewis Hamilton backed up Nico Rosberg and the cars behind in the hope someone would pass his team mate and make him champion. It never happened.

Artist's impression: Changes to Yas Marina circuit for 2021
Report: Yas Marina changing track layout to aid overtaking at F1 season finale
As RaceFans revealed yesterday, two areas of the 5.5-kilometre circuit will be extensively overhauled ahead of the last round of the championship on December 12th. A clear focus of the change is creating overtaking opportunities.

Another section of the track will also be reconfigured more subtly. A series of corners which pass beneath the dramatic Yas Viceroy hotel will also be reworked, increasing the tempo at a section of track which punishes the tyres.

But will the revisions add up to a more exciting race in just under five months’ time?

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Removing the turn five-six chicane

George Russell, Williams, Yas Marina, 2020
Drivers will have a straighter approach to a repositioned hairpin, aiding overtaking

The chicane immediately before the turn seven hairpin was always one of the strangest features of the original, 21-turn Yas Marina course. There was some good thinking behind it – lowering the approach speed to the hairpin meant a smaller run-off area could be used, allowing the fans to sit closer.

But there’s little benefit in moving the fans closer if the don’t get to see much action. Slow chicanes tend to arrange cars single-file and inhibit overtaking moves. Removing it is a sensible step, even if it means the new hairpin needs to be moved away from the stands to create more run-off space.

The preceding four corners are unchanged, so F1 will drivers will have a flat-out run from turn one to the new hairpin, where passes may be possible. They may at least force a leading driver to defend, and carry the benefit of a superior exit onto the following straight for another crack at passing. It’s hard to see how this isn’t going to be a change for the better.

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Yas Marina’s fastest corner?

Yas Marina track map, 2019
The Yas Marina circuit in its 2020 configuration
Perhaps the most surprising change is the dramatic corner which will replace the current turns 11, 12, 13 and 14. The left-hander, which is slightly banked and opens out at its exit, will likely be one of the fastest corners on the track.

Its addition will completely change the character of the middle part of the lap. The current sequence of bends is slow, tight and unspectacular. The new bend is anything but.

Drivers will approach the new corner at significant speed. There isn’t a corner much like it on the track at present, and with the banking it’s going to put added strain on the tyres. Pirelli has currently specified its softest compounds for the Yas Marina race but the addition of this corner, along with the rising speeds elsewhere in the lap, may mean they need to rethink that.

Cars will come out of the new corner at higher speeds than from the existing turn 14, meaning they arrive in the third sector going quicker than before. Here they will find further, less dramatic changes.

Faster final sector

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2020
Drivers find it hard to follow at the end of the lap at Yas Marina

A signature feature of the Yas Marina circuit is the section of track which passes beneath the on-site hotel. It’s an impressive piece of architecture, but the same can’t be said for the track itself at this point, which is decidedly pedestrian.

The tempo will rise this year as several corners are being opened up here to increase the cornering speeds. Turns 17, 18, 19 and 20 will all be eased, increasing the speeds at this part of the track as well.

With so many corners occuring so close together, this area of track is unlikely to become an overtaking opportunity. But as with the previous change, the quickening of the circuit is going to have an effect on how teams set up their cars and particularly how they use their tyres.

Jeddah Street Circuit, 2021
Analysis: Analysis: Jeddah’s surprising track layout swerves F1’s usual formula for overtaking
The final sector has always been especially punishing on the rubber. This sends tyre temperatures soaring, making it harder for drivers to follow closely. Quicker corners means less severe braking and fewer low-speed ‘traction events’, easing the strain on the rubber. That should help drivers reduce overheating and stay closer to their rivals.

With its peerless facilities and spectacular setting, Yas Marina has always offered a sumptuous visual spectacle to conclude the F1 season. The racing has, however, usually come up short.

We’re a long way from knowing whether Hamilton, Max Verstappen and anyone else will arrive at the final round still disputing the destiny of this year’s silverware. But whatever shape the title fight is in by then, these changes mean the circuit should offer a more satisfying contest. If nothing else, it will add another variable to a championship conclusion which now features three heavily revised or entirely new circuits.

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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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  • 35 comments on “Will Yas Marina’s three key changes put an end to F1’s follow-my-leader finales?”

    1. The turn 4-5-6 overhaul will be a golden opportunity to allow drivers to follow each other more closely, especially on the following straight. I am really looking forward to it. I also like that the new corners will be slightly banked. The track will now have both (on?-)camber and off-camber corners, maybe we will see some variation in setup because of this. This will also spice up the on-track action.

      1. If only circuit managers and designers had to compete for driver popularity!

    2. You kind of feel like they have nothing to lose right? The racing is pretty bad here and cars simply can’t follow. The worst case scenario is they make these changes and the same applies. The benefit could be much much better racing, I’m all for giving it a go. The new corner at turns 11, 12, 13 and 14 could be amazing, but bit worried by Pirelli’s ability to supply tyres to cope!

      1. @burden93 I agree. The racing can’t be much worse and this is something the fans have been calling for for a while now, especially T4-6.

      2. but turn 11-12 gave us some good switchbacks and actual battles, change the rest.

    3. These changes might create 4 possible quite good overtaking spots (rather than 2 mediocre/ok ones).

      • First the run from Turn 1 to the new Turn 5 hairpin is a new possible overtaking spot. We’ve seen some few overtakes there to the old Turn 5, but in the new version the straight is a tiny bit longer and it will be easier to attempt the overtake in a hairpin rather than the odd chicane+hairpin
      • The old Turn 8 (the chicane at the end of the first big straight) will become and even better overtaking spot as the cars will be closer because of the changes to the turns before it
      • After that, the cars will go full speed before the enter the new sweeping banked corner, where in theory they could tackle it as a higher speed “Suzuka Turn 1” or “Paul-Ricard Signes”, so they can go side by side over different lines
      • And that sweeping corner will slingshot the cars to the old fast Turns 15-17, where there is also an small oportunity to attempt an overtake

      All in all very intresting (and overdue) changes!

      1. @black The new corner following the 2nd-longest straight reminds me more of Mugello’s and Zandvoort’s respective T1s, San Donato and Tarzan angle/radius-wise than Suzuka’s or Signes.

    4. The Yas Marina Circuit website also has a picture that kind of shows what the changes look like, at least the remodelled 11-14 corner:

      https://www.yasmarinacircuit.com/en/formula1

    5. We may have to wait until next year for the impact since UAE is on UK’s red list unless it gets removed in time for December. I’m not entirely sure if racing would improve as following another car is generally harder through higher-speed corners than slower ones, but lap flow will improve at least.

      1. As this will be the last race of the season, it is possible for the UK based crew to travel to UAE !

        The worst scenario would be a 14 or 21-days quarantine at home (UK) afterwards — This would be a welcome break for the team members in winter after a long 23-races season !

        1. @sb12 I don’t think so. I doubt the seven England-based teams would be willing for the required 10-day hotel (not home) quarantine despite no races on the horizon afterward. Home quarantine is one thing, but a hotel one and that close to Christmas, forget it. Being on the red list automatically means 10 days in a hotel for UK arrivals, so your scenario is incorrect.

    6. I’m glad they are finally trying to correct the quality of the racing. Hope it works.

      I think the long camera shots encouraged by Yas’ layout (and also Paul Ricard) are also somewhat to blame for the dull visual experience and those seem easier to correct.

      Here’s hoping it’s better.

      1. Paul Ricard gave me a migraine.

        Too many stripes!

        1. Bring back the old gravel!

        2. I wonder what they were thinking? The old configuration with gravel runoff areas was far superior and less of an eyesore.

          1. @ryanoceros Old configuration with graven runoff areas? Circuit Paul Ricard has pretty much always had tarmac runoffs.

    7. Well finally they do something. It can only be a change for the better and up to what was until now turn 17 it even looks like a half decent track.

      But then the horrible last sector with its off camber 90 lefts and 90 rights still remains unchanged.
      It was this sector (for me it’s the worst part of the whole calender) that used to kill every racing. It’s just impossible to follow through there and I fear it will be the same this year…

      1. The article says that the third sector will also be altered. @roadrunner

        1. You are right of course. I somehow missed the whole paragraph…

          Let’s hope it’ll work

          1. while there isnt much that can be changed on those corners, they will round them off a bit, which I hope is enough to make it a little less dull. I for one like that there is an off-camber corner, but the shape of those is awful.

            I feel the only place they could’ve changed and didn’t is the final 2 corners, but perhaps it’s best to change the previous 3 corners and see how the cars behave for 2021 and 2022 and then decide if those 2 need revisiting or not.

            IMO 11 132 and 13 were fine IF they were the only 90 degree corners and I would much rather change sector 3 entirely and keek those 3 corners, but since its not physically possible due to the hotel and harbour, I’m at peace saying goodbye to those corners. They did provide quite a few silly overtake attempts and off-track shenanigans.

            Reply moderated
    8. While they’re fixing the track can they also get rid of that bizarre wobble in the back straight that means the whole right-hand lane is lost?

      1. @dave-m Yeah that really winds me up!

    9. Also another question: Will Yas Marina’s three key changes finally be seen in the new F1 2021 game?

        1. Just like they updated the liveries on F1 2015 updates!

          1. @Dave Or Mercedes livery color, Albon’s and Gasly’s 2019 swap, etc.

      1. I feel it will be too late for the 2021 game. hopes for 2022

        Reply moderated
        1. I don’t trust you…In F1 2015 post-release, they updated the liveries of the cars and changed the lap counter for the Mexico track. In F1 2019 post-release, they updated the Gasly/Albon swap. And in F1 2020 post-release, they updated the liveries of the cars. Nothing’s too late for them, expect the new Australia and Abu Dhabi track to appear there post-release.

    10. Jared H (@thejaredhuang)
      22nd June 2021, 20:52

      All they had to do was get rid of the chicane between the 2 straights, current F1 cars can really only pass each other on straights, its only possible in corners when someone makes a mistake or there is a big tyre disparity.

      1. That’s what happens you cave to demands that F1 cars must be miles faster than anything else out there “for the sake of purity.” Purity would be no drivers at all and engineers tweeking super computers while some automated vehicle does G forces and reaction times beyond human limitations.

      2. Not as simple as that. There’s a big section of grandstands there, which you can’t just bypass. Also, there’s some small changes in elevation, which, taken at top speed (which you’d be if you removed the chicane) would need to be altered, meaning significant earth works.

    11. A fast banked corner and Pirelli Tyres. What could possibly go wrong?

    12. My answer to the original question would be no. With several no’s after that for good measure

    13. Does anyone have a link/source to changes in the last sector? First I’ve heard of it!

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