Reshaped Yas Marina looks a better fit for Mercedes than Red Bull

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

Posted on

| Written by

The first and most obvious thing to take from free practice is that the changes to Yas Marina circuit have been as dramatic as predicted.

In first practice Max Verstappen beaten his 2020 pole lap time by more than 10 seconds. By the end of second practice all bar the slowest six cars had done the same.

Being faster, the revised track has been widely tipped to suit Mercedes. As the circuit’s length has been slightly reduced, the proportion of the lap spent at full throttle is not that much more than on the previous layout. The higher average speed is what makes the difference.

The removal of several slow-speed, right angle corners it should, in theory, play better to the strengths of the Mercedes. And this is a track where they only suffered their first defeat in seven seasons last year. There was plenty on paper to say this was going to be a Mercedes track even before the alterations.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021
Verstappen ended the day six-tenths off Hamilton
There’s no question both championship contending teams operated well within their capabilities on Friday. Mercedes and Red Bull did plenty of running during both practice sessions, but the gap between them swung considerably. Verstappen topped first practice but was less than two tenths ahead of the Mercedes. Hamilton’s lead of more than six tenths over Verstappen in second practice might have looked more realistic were it not that Esteban Ocon’s Alpine was second-fastest.

Although the Alpine driver has won a race this season, and the team has recently found some better form, Abu Dhabi’s new layout wouldn’t be especially expected to suit their car to the extent seen in Friday’s times.

The general impression from both sides of the title fight was that in the cooler evening temperatures, when qualifying and the race will be held, Mercedes have better pace over a single lap than a race distance. Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, said: “In the morning we weren’t particularly happy with the single-lap work but the long run was well balanced. In the afternoon, the single lap was coming quite easily but the long run wasn’t great and neither driver was particularly happy with the car.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

That was borne out by Verstappen topping first practice and Hamilton the second. Verstappen also remarked that he was happier with his car’s long-run pace than its single-lap performance.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2021
Report: Pirelli seeking changes to Yas Marina’s “aggressive” kerbs following Qatar punctures
What will this mean for qualifying? Getting through Q2 on the medium rubber will be a priority for drivers, and should be possible for the top two teams, with the soft proving a bit quicker than expected – six-tenths of a second faster than the medium compared to a projection of 0.3-0.4s.

Pirelli’s head of F1 Mario Isola said that overall, the new layout of Yas Marina is straining tyres a bit more, but isn’t as harsh on the rears. Again, this is likely to tilt things towards Mercedes’ car. The old scenario of drivers suffering big problems with traction at the end of their qualifying laps may be a thing of the past.

However with the championship hanging in the balance, and so many unknowns surrounding teams’ race performance, the title contenders may well explore alternative tactics for qualifying, such as splitting the tyre compounds between their drivers in Q2. And with Mercedes likely to hold a straight-line speed advantage again, Sergio Perez may be pressed into service to offer his team mate a slipstream.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Report: Changes made Yas Marina “more fun” but drivers unsure overtaking will be easier
Another factor which may play into qualifying strategies – especially for the likes of Ferrari and McLaren who may not find it straightforward to reach Q3 on medium tyres – is the expected high track evolution. As the track cools during the night sessions for qualifying and the race, graining may be more of a problem on the soft tyres, so timing a fast lap earlier in a session on the red-walled tyres or making sure to cross the line last to take the biggest advantage of mediums will be crucial.

But of course running last in qualifying leaves drivers vulnerable to mishaps, and we’ve seen a few of those already. Valtteri Bottas, Nicholas Latifi and Kimi Raikkonen all had prangs in the final sector, the latter ending second practice with a crash into barriers out of turn 14 which brought out the red flags.

In a practice context, that doesn’t matter. But for anyone who is trying to take advantage of a perfectly-timed lap and track evolution, the risk they might not get to complete it could make the difference between going out or getting through.

Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’25.3551’23.69150
2Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’26.0251’24.03453
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’25.2051’24.08355
4Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’25.0091’24.33247
5Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’25.3631’24.40049
6Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’25.6251’24.49552
7Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’25.3781’24.53248
8Charles LeclercFerrari1’25.8461’24.55748
9Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’25.8861’24.84454
10Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’25.8221’24.94054
11Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’26.6761’24.95954
12Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’26.4091’25.10851
13Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’26.1231’25.15352
14Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’26.0071’25.19552
15Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’26.6081’25.38551
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’26.1891’25.44047
17George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’25.54929
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’27.4871’25.68748
19Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’27.6981’25.78450
20Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’28.3051’26.33647
21Jack AitkenWilliams-Mercedes1’27.48126

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix articles

Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

12 comments on “Reshaped Yas Marina looks a better fit for Mercedes than Red Bull”

  1. Not so hyped about this track unlike Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but it’s a lot better than the original even though I really liked driving the original in simulator games. Personally, I think they should have done something about the chicane in between the 2 back straights if they were really pushing for overtaking. Also, the kerbs here are a absolute killers.

  2. I don’t think that these changes benefit Mercedes more than RB. Mercedes have always been strong around here, especially in S3. The time spent on full throttle has gone up by about 5%, that’s not a massive difference.

    Mercedes seems to hold the advantage on single lap pace, though we don’t know what kind of engine modes they were running on their fastest laps. Considering that RB was slower than Ocon on their short runs, but then about 1 sec per lap quicker on their long runs, suggests they have quite a bit in reserve for tomorrow.
    Still, I don’t think they will be able to beat Mercedes in qualifying.
    As already mentioned, long run pace looks vastly different. Verstappen had a very strong long run on the softs, lapping consistently in the low to mid 1:28s and Pérez’s run on the mediums was comparable to that of Hamilton (though not as consistent as the Mercedes), lapping in the 1:28s and low 1:29s.

    This race could offer some interesting strategies. I’m almost certain that RB will split their strategies and put Pérez on a 2-stopper (maybe soft-medium-soft), while they keep Verstappen on the “safe” 1-stopper (medium-hard).
    The start will have a big impact on strategy. If Verstappen leads after lap 1, RB will probably bring Pérez in early to put pressure on Hamilton. If Hamilton wins the start, RB might switch Verstappen to a 2-stopper, to be able to attack Hamilton towards the end of the race on fresher and possibly softer tyres.

    1. If HAM is leading, switching MAX to a two-stop would simply mean that HAM can copy the same strategy, isn’t it?

      1. Not if Max is inside Lewis’ undercut window after the first pit stop. If that’s the case, then Mercedes would leave Hamilton on a 1-stopper (most certainly hard tyres), as he would otherwise fall behind Verstappen. Even if Max has the faster car towards the end of the race on fresher tyres, Hamilton will have track position and passing still isn’t that easy around Abu Dhabi.

  3. I hope for his finaly race that Botta comes good again. His contribution could be key.
    Mercedes could use Bottas to dictate when the Redbulls stop, whilst Hamilton drives long.

    1. In some ways, last race was pretty good from him, though as often, the single major off was that restart where he got caught up by what was happening ahead of him and ended up behind Ricciardo – who had good pace given where he ended up – apart from that, he did well. But those starts, not sure what it is, but it’s far away from that Austria superstart!

  4. Okay then, we will see on Saturday when Red Bull crank that Honda PU to 11. One thing to note is the incredible reliability that Honda has delivered this year, especially compared to Mercedes. Red Bull can and will give it full beans on Sat and Sun, I have no doubts.

  5. If you actually think that Perez is just 1 tenth faster than overstepped then keep thinking that. The reality is that verstappen is always faster than Perez almost by 6 tenths, so that tells you where he might be compared to Hamilton.

  6. Indeed. Fewer slow-speed corners look encouraging for Merc.

  7. We shall see. Merc has the car red bull has the driver.

    1. @f1fan-2000 – Ridiculous statement

  8. Reshaped Yas Marina looks a better fit for Mercedes

    Yeah, nobody is surprised about that

    Now that they are at it, the MIA/HIA could issue a 30 second penalty to every non-Merc driver, for not driving a proper machine.

Comments are closed.