Abu Dhabi promoter hoping for F1’s first title-deciding finale for five years

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While Max Verstappen could clinch the world championship at the penultimate race of the season in Saudi Arabia this weekend, the promoter of the final event wants the title fight to last the full 22 rounds.

Saif Rashid Al-Noaimi, deputy CEO of the Yas Marina circuit, is hoping the championship will be decided in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The title hasn’t been settled in the final race of the season at the Emirati venue since Nico Rosberg’s triumph in 2016.

“We’re really excited about the way the championship is looking,” Al-Noaimi told RaceFans in an interview ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, when Verstappen held a 19-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. Since then the Mercedes driver has trimmed his rival’s advantage to just eight points, meaning to clinch the title this weekend Verstappen needs at least a second-place finish with Hamilton finishing far down the order.

“We are hopeful that that the championship will come down to the wire here at the Yas Marina circuit and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” Al-Noaimi added.

Following its first grand prix in 2009 the Yas Marina circuit has been the venue for the season finale more often than not, and has concluded every championship since 2014. Next year it will tie Adelaide in Australia as F1’s most frequently visited destination for the season finale.

Marsa corner, turn nine, Yas Marina Circuit, 2021
Feature: How fans’ designs inspired the team behind Yas Marina’s dramatic new layout
“The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has become known as the season finale for the championship,” says Al-Noaimi. “What we hear from the F1 personnel, from the teams, from the drivers and from the fans is they really like coming to Abu Dhabi for the last race.”

However he acknowledges the track configuration has long been criticised for offering few overtaking opportunities. Discussions around how to improve the layout intensified following last year’s race, and in March the track owners and Formula 1 decided to proceed with changes.

“We’ve been looking at doing this for quite some time,” says Al-Noaimi. “Over the last few years, as the cars have evolved, we’ve seen how difficult it has become to overtake with the more recent cars struggling to stay close to each other and some of the challenges that the drivers have faced.

“We’ve heard the feedback over the last few years from the teams, the drivers, but more importantly, from the fans, whether fans that are in the venue or watching over the live feed. So we’ve been exploring options over the last few years and we’ve had several iterations of those changes.

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“At the start of this year I would say things got quite serious in our discussions with Formula 1 Management. We took the decision to go ahead and put a team in place to work through the designs and details.

“We had the concept, we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do. It was a matter of refining it, adapting it to the 2022 rules and we ran simulations using the 2022 car. And at the start of this year we took the decision and we broke ground towards the beginning of summer.”

The revisions were designed by Driven International and implemented in conjunction with MRK 1 Consulting. Several slow corners have been deleted or eased and a sweeping new banked turn added. The first impressions from the circuit’s driving instructors and others to have driven the revised configuration are “extremely positive”, says Al-Noaimi.

The original track’s slow, off-camber corners attracted some criticism from F1 drivers. Following last year’s race Esteban Ocon suggested changing them to improve the racing while Sebastian Vettel also questioned the prevalence of off-camber corners in modern track design.

As a result of the redesign several of the track’s off-camber corners, though not all of them, have been removed. The track operators are hopeful this will allow the cars to follow each other more closely this year.

“We looked at where are the areas where the cars struggle to follow each other and stay close to each other,” Al-Noaimi explains. “Where are the areas in which we felt in the momentum was being broken by some of the slow, off-camber corners?

“We identified those areas and, jointly with Formula 1, we said these are the areas we need to focus our efforts on. And we came up with these principles that we want to make, some changes that will allow the cars to stay closer to each other, that will allow them to retain heat in the tyres, that will allow them to not overheat their tyres because of the off-camber slow corners where there was quite a bit of sliding going on.

“So those were kind of the principles that we had agreed and that’s where we zoomed in on these three zones that we ended up making the changes in.”

We’ll learn next week how successful they have been. But as Yas Marina has made this investment in overhauling its track, has it also signed a new deal with F1 to continue holding the season finale?

“You’ll have to wait a little bit longer for me to be able to answer that question,” Al-Noaimi smiles.

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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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29 comments on “Abu Dhabi promoter hoping for F1’s first title-deciding finale for five years”

  1. If Lewis Hamilton wins and gets fastest lap in Jeddah, and Max Verstappen finishes second, the two title contenders will go into the final round on equal points for the first time since 1974 (Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni). Reason enough to move the title finale back to Interlagos instead of Yas Marina from next season.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      30th November 2021, 9:09

      Equal on points but won’t Max be in the lead because he has more second places

      1. Tommy Scragend
        30th November 2021, 9:48

        Verstappen will be in the lead because he has more wins. He currently has nine, Hamilton has seven, so a win for Hamilton in Jeddah will still only have him on eight.

        @f1frog was only referring to points though, not to the “championship leader”. In 1974 Fittipaldi went into the last race with three wins, Regazzoni only one, so Fittipaldi was leading the championship. But nonetheless they were still on equal points.

      2. He has more wins, no?

    2. i’m pretty sure neither Lewis nor Max will get another fastest lap point this year. it will be either Valteri or Sergio

      1. If there’s enough gap between hamilton and verstappen, as you can see in qatar, it’s possible.

        1. yes but it wont happen unless Bottar or Sergio are out of contention (like Bottas was in this race). not very probable

  2. Jonathan Parkin
    30th November 2021, 8:37

    The fact that Abu Dhabi will soon overtake Adelaide for last race in the championship is really depressing to me. And I prefer Albert Park!

    1. @Jonathan Parkin, What do you mean? Surpass in how many times Abu Dhabi GP has been a season-finale or something else. I don’t quite get what you mean by overtaking Adelaide for the last race.

  3. It is most likely that the championship will be decided at the very last race. Considering it is also very likely that either Verstappen or Hamilton wins the final race (Bottas and Perez are not allowed to), it really doesn’t matter who is leading the championship coming to Abu Dhabi, as long as the difference is less than 7 points. I think that Red Bull should seriously consider changing Verstappen’s engine in Jeddah, because it is all about who wins the final race.

    1. If something happens to hamilton or verstappen, even just that holds them back enough they can only recover to the points, you can bet perez and bottas are allowed to win.

    2. But you make a good point, if everything goes regularly it’s a winner takes it all situation for the last race.

    3. Yes. That bring in new engine is the best strategy. Not only to ensure having more powerful engine at title decider race, but also because the chance of having safety car in Jeddah is high.

    4. I think it does matter, if they go side by side into a corner, the driver leading the championship has less to lose. Its not like the top two in the championship haven’t crashed into each other in the final race.

  4. @matthijs – It’s a tough call though because Max needs to be in 2nd putting pressure on Hamilton. Merc’s new engine will be on it’s 3rd race in Abu Dhabi so won’t have the same sort of advantage it had in Brazil and Max has to finish 2nd in Jeddah at all costs. With the high chance of a safety car, the tactics will be interesting as they’ll want to protect against getting caught out which will allow some to take a risk and go for the optimum strategy… I think even though the Mercedes will have a decent pace advantage in Saudi, there’s a good chance that it won’t be straight-forward.

    If Max could find a way to win, he only needs 2nd in Abu Dhabi and Lewis’ new engine will be of no use. The time to take a new engine was Brazil and he could have then used his existing engines in Qatar and Saudi to give him an extra boost at the final race.

    1. @petebaldwin
      He used engine #5, i.e., the Turkey one in Qatar, so engine #6 only has the Sao Paulo GP weekend thus far.
      He should be perfectly okay with the Brazil engine in the remaining two events since Qatar GP was the Turkey one’s 4th & he still won comfortably, disregarding the final gap caused by Max’s extra pit stop.

      1. @jerejj Yeah so that’ll be his 3rd race – Brazil, Saudi, Abu Dhabi. His engine will be fine but won’t have the same advantage as it did in Brazil as it will already have 2 full races under it by the time the should up to the final race.

        I think a lot more of the pace is coming from their rear wing but as they’ve changed their engine, it’s been a bit of a smokescreen as everything is being attributed to that. As you say, they were comfortably faster in Qatar with an older engine so there’s definitely more to it than simply having more power.

    2. @petebaldwin

      Max has to finish 2nd in Jeddah at all costs

      I am not saying I disagree with your statement, but I am trying to paint a different scenario: “It doesn’t matter where Verstappen finishes in Jeddah, as long as he stays within 6 points of Hamilton”. Realistically, Lewis and Max are the only contestants for the win in Abu Dhabi (when everything goes regularly, indeed @esploratore1), so the winner in Abu Dhabi takes the championship. So Verstappen can take a new engine in Jeddah, finish a lowly fourth (12 points) and still become champion when he wins in Abu Dhabi with his engine to the max.

      1. @matthijs – Yeah fair point. The advantage of finishing 2nd is obviously that in the event both were to DNF in Abu Dhabi (we know how Max drives and Lewis isn’t going to pull out of a move if it’s required to win the Championship) then Max would win. If he goes in to the final race, it’s Hamilton who can be more aggressive against Max.

        It would certainly be a bold call to gamble on a new engine being enough to beat Lewis in Abu Dhabi…

      2. @matthijs It’s worth noting that Honda have stated that they aren’t suffering with the high levels of engine deg that Mercedes are which (Mercedes say) prompted their decision to use so many new engines this season. So Max taking a new engine will be less of a benefit than it was for the Mercedes drivers. Whatever the case, I’m sure Redbull will do whatever they think gives them the best chance of winning one of the last two races. Given that they didn’t replace an engine in Qatar which would have give them the benefit for up to three races, I don’t expect them to take any more engines unless a reliability issue pops up.

        1. @keithedin Fair point indeed. But I am wondering whether Mercedes indeed has a higher level of degradation than the others, or that they are able to run the engine in a higher ‘party mode’ in the race, resulting in higher degradation. It sure seemed that Hamilton was running a high engine mode in Brazil, so perhaps this engine is already effected after only 1 race.

  5. & This is very likely since Lewis retiring in the Saudi-Arabian GP is effectively the only way WDC can get mathematically clinched beforehand.

  6. I think it’s still advantage Max. Lewis most likely needs two perfectly executed weekends to win the championship. As a fast, tight and probable low grip street track, Jeddah could easily trip up Lewis if it’s a crash-strewn, safety car ridden affair. You could argue a similar case for Max, but the difference really is that he only need win one of the remaining races to likely become champion.

    It’s very possible Lewis could win the remaining two races to take the title, but he may need things outside of his control to go his way.

    1. Agreed, it must be Max’s title to lose now.

    2. @rossorob

      Lewis most likely needs two perfectly executed weekends to win the championship.

      Like Brazil and Qatar? I don’t think anyone predicted Hamilton beating Verstappen in Brazil after his qualifying back-of-the-grid penalty. I think the execution will be perfect enough. Mercedes need to have the faster car at both races, otherwise Max wins one race at least and so the championship. If Mercedes are faster at both, that still leaves the threat we didn’t see in Qatar due to Max’s 5-place grid penalty, i.e. a ‘feisty’ first lap of Max challenging Lewis with far far less to lose if they both go out. And we already know what the outcome of that calculation is: he will push until Lewis cedes or they collide, even if it means going off track to do so. That scenario will almost certainly happen. So really it’s all about how Hamilton negotiates the inevitable ‘incoming’ and whether he has any chance to do so. And if they collide (they will) then who comes off worst.

  7. I will bet on verstappen colliding with lewis to get his championship in the last race at least.

    1. i don’t know. there is precedent. he might be disqualified from the Championship.

      i think if that’s really his plan (which I don’t believe) he’d be better off trying it on this round. less likely to get a penalty that’s out of the ordinary here

  8. Barring complete disaster for Mercedes this weekend, it’s pretty certain it will come down to the last race, and I suspect there’s a lot of commercial interests invested in making that happen.

    My fear is that we’ll end up with a controversial “collision”, like we’ve seen in the past, that will decide the outcome at Abu Dhabi rather than a flat out race between them. Commercially that won’t be unattractive to the owners, and the players involved are hardly saints either, so fireworks is definitely likely.

  9. Besides MB’s newer engine, Hamilton’s recuperation from long COVID will play a definitive role.

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