Round 17, the last round of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship, takes place at the Yas Marina Circuit, located near the city of Abu Dhabi, the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates. Although oil business is still booming, in the near future the oil wells will dry up and countries like the United Arab Emirates will have to find other resources to support their economy, and are now heavily investing in development projects. Dubai has its Palm Islands project, and Abu Dhabi has build the state of the art Yas Marina circuit on Yas Island situated north of the city. Abu Dhabi has secured the rights to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix for seven years from 2009 to 2016.
The circuit has a number of unique features; the pit lane exit includes a tunnel with a 90 degrees right turn, the longest straight of all circuits on the 2009 calendar of almost 1.2 km, and a run-off area at the end of the straight which is partially situated under the West Grandstand, drivers who spin off will disappear below the spectators. Another unique feature of the track is the Yas Marina Hotel, the only hotel in the world to have a Formula 1 track running through it, giving an unparalleled view to those lucky guests resident on race weekend.
The original plan was evolved by creative mastermind Philippe Gurdjian in conjunction with ALDAR, the builders of the track, and Hermann Tilke. In addition the Yas Marina Circuit features two fully air-conditioned pit buildings, an innovative dragstrip, a unique butterfly formation karting track, stylish covered grandstands and a sophisticated Marina area including hotels and yacht clubs. Whether a driver, a racing team or a spectator, the Yas Marina Circuit has been designed to produce an unforgettable experience.
From a drivers point of view the circuit has the hallmarks of a street circuit like Monaco or Valencia. There are several run-off areas, but a major part of the circuit is surrounded by Tecpro barriers which will give drivers the impression of a tight street circuit Any mistakes and a driver will be looking at the barriers from close-by. The circuit has two long straights and several very tight corners to improve overtaking. For KERS equipped cars the long straight is also an excellent opportunity for overtaking.
According to Martin Brundle and Bruno Senna, who both have driven the Formula One two-seaters at the new circuit this week, the first hairpin will give the best overtaking opportunities. But the sand and dust off-line on other corners of the circuit will make it very difficult and treacherous, but not impossible, to overtake.
Uncertain future for BMW-Sauber
The last race of the season is sadly enough also a goodbye from the BMW-Sauber team. Two months ago the Bavarian car producer decided to stop their Formula One activities, and has now been taken over by previous team boss Peter Sauber and the mysterious Qadbak consortium. Whether we will see the Swiss based Sauber-Qadbak team in 2010 remains to be seen, there are 13 slots available, but Frank Williams and other team bosses have sofar blocked a fourteenth entry, which would need the approval of all 13 teams.
The team entered Formula One in 2005, and in 2006 they scored two podium finishes and became fifth in the Constructors Championship. In 2007 they became second in the championship, albeit with a little help from the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), who excluded the McLaren team from the championship after the Spy-gate scandal. Sofar Robert Kubica gave the team its first and only victory in 2008 at the Canadian Gilles Villeneuve circuit. Current drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica are now looking at their options, stay at Sauber and hope the team will be admitted to the 2010 season, or look for another employer in Formula One.
Fernando Alonso leaves Renault
More goodbyes from drivers who leave their current employer to explore new opportunities to satisfy their insatiable hunger to win more races, and possibly win the Drivers Championship. Fernando Alonso is such a driver and he will leave the Renault team after he has won the championship twice, of course with the help of now ex-team principal Flavio Briatore and ex- engineer Pat Symonds. After years of speculation and public flirts from both sides, it is now official, Alonso will join the Ferrari team in 2010. Joining the Reds has always been a dream for any Formula One driver, and I'm sure Alonso will shine at the Maranello-based team next year.
But Alonso, still disappointed by his early exit of the Brazilian Grand Prix, is determined to end his Renault career on a high. For him it will be an emotional race, but he also loves the challenge of the new Abu Dhabi circuit, and hopes he can score a podium place this weekend. Together with the team he has been examining the circuit data. Alonso hopes it will take him a few laps to get to know the circuit, and find a good car set-up for the qualification on Saturday.
Kimi Raikkonen leaves Ferrari
After three years, Kimi Raikkonen will leave the Ferrari team, but he still hasn't found a new Formula One employer. And like Alonso, Raikkonen is also determined to end his Ferrari career at a high. Raikkonen is specially determined to get the third place of the Constructors Championship back to Maranello, after the McLaren team took that third place from Ferrari in Brazil.
Raikkonen stated it would be difficult to make any predictions about the race in Abu Dhabi, but he loves the challenge of a new circuit, while the transition from daylight into artificial light will pose an extra challenge for all drivers. Raikkonen won the championship with Ferrari in 2007, the same year he joined the team. He is still not sure what the future will bring, but he will stay in Formula One when he gets the chance to drive for a team with a winning car, and has in the past showed his interest in participating in the World Rally Championship, which would be an altogether different challenge for a Formula One driver.
McLaren and Heikki Kovalainen
Another driver who finds himself in the spotlight is Heikki Kovalainen, he has to show what he's worth if he wants to keep his McLaren race seat. Several drivers are in the race to take over his place, Raikkonen and Rosberg are both interested to drive for the British McLaren team. Kovalainen had a very problematic season, he sofar scored 22 points, while team mate Lewis Hamilton scored 49 points. McLaren needs to score points if they want to keep their third place in the championship.
Renault is interested in Kovalainen, but after a disastrous season and the Crash-gate scandal, Renault will have to sort out some things during the winter stop before they can start thinking about hiring drivers.
The other teams and drivers
First the bad news: Toyota driver Timo Glock is still not fit enough to drive in Abu Dhabi, and he will again be replaced by Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi. The Toyota team was very happy with Kobayashi's race in Brazil, and are even considering hiring him for the 2010 season. A very uncomfortable and unfortunate position for Glock, who has no contract for 2010, and now, while he is forced to sit out the race at home, he also is confronted with the fact that Kobayashi could replace him at Toyota.
It must be said, Kobayashi showed us in Brazil that he is an extraordinary talented driver, who in his very first Formula One race, managed to take over third position from Sebastian Vettel during the race, and battled for positions with Kazuki Nakajima, Jenson Button, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg, In a way he reminded me of the debut of Eddie Irvine for Jordan during the Japanese Grand Prix in 1993, where he several times passed and challenged Ayrton Senna on a very wet Suzuka circuit.
Kobayashi was criticized by some drivers because of his GP2-like driving style which included blocking other drivers in the braking area's. Halfway the race he vigorously defended his position after Nakajima came back from his pit stop, which ended in tears for the latter, who ran into the back of the Toyota. Nakajima went off the track with his front wing stuck under his Williams and ended his race in the tyre barrier. But Kobayashi has shown us he has the 'fighting spirit', and that is what you need in Formula One.
Freshly elected FIA World Motor Sport Council member Vijay Mallya told the media his Force India team had exceeded all expectations this season, and hopes that the Yas Marina circuit will suit the characteristics of the Force India car, which was so successful this year during the weekends at Spa and Monza.
At Williams, drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima will leave the team, and -- although nothing has officially been confirmed -- Rubens Barrichello and new German Formula One hopeful Nico Hulkenberg will replace them. Williams currently holds sixth position in the championship with 34.5 points, but could lose that position to BMW-Sauber, who are now seventh with 32 points.
That leaves us with the Toro Rosso team, who attracted our attention during the last races with the crashes of their drivers Jaime Alguersauri and Sebastien Buemi, rather than for their race results. Toro Rosso is tenth and last in the championship with 7 points, but could move up one place if they score at least seven points more than the number nine in the championship, Force India. This will of course be a very difficult, if not impossible task. Toro Rosso hasn't made any statements regarding their drivers line-up for 2010, so this race is a last chance for both drivers to show the Toro Rosso team what they are made of.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Circuit length: 5,554 km
Longest straight: 1173 m
Total number of race laps: 55
Total race distance: 305.470 km
Estimated lap time: 1m 40sec
Estimated top speed: 316 km/h
Estimated average speed: 200 km/h
Tyre usage: Medium
Tyre Compounds: Soft / Medium
Brake wear: Low to medium Downforce level: Medium to high
Speed limits in the pit lane:
60 km/h during practice sessions
100 km/h during qualifying and race
Friday: Dry and partially cloudy, min 22? C, max 33? C
Saturday: Dry and partially cloudy, min 24? C, max 34? C
Sunday: Dry and sunny, min 22? C, max 35? C
The last preview of the year
A new circuit poses all kinds of problems for all teams, and the team which finds the right set-up for their car first, will have an advantage this weekend. As for Brawn GP, it will also be interesting to see if the winner of both 2009 championships, still has the fighting spirit they showed in Brazil. Ferrari and McLaren are still battling for third place in the Constructors Championship, so both teams will be prepared to fight for every point they can score this race.
The government of the United Arab Emirates has build an awesome circuit for Formula One and other race series, they spend almost $1.5 billion on the Yas Marine project, let's hope this brand-new circuit will bring us all the action we want to see in our favorite sport. With the race starting in daylight and ending in artificial light, the race in Abu Dhabi promises to be an interesting race for teams, drivers and spectators all around the world.
Let's enjoy the last race of the season, the next race will take place in Bahrain on March 14, 2010, and we will have to wait four months to witness yet another awesome Formula One season.