Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- The race for second best still undecided
- Double DRS zone should improve overtaking
- Plenty to fight for at the Yas Marina circuit
Formula One has traveled to Abu Dhabi for round 18 of the FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship which will take place at the Yas Marina circuit. The state-of-the-art circuit was the scene of the 2010 championship showdown, and Sebastian Vettel took his first Formula One crown on the Yas Marina circuit after Ferrari had put Fernando Alonso on a completely wrong strategy which meant he lost the one and only chance on winning the 2010 title.
The circuit is one of the five circuits that run counter-clockwise and with the 1140 meters long main straight also has one of the longest straights of all venues this year. Without a doubt the main attraction is the beautiful five-star Yas Viceroy Hotel, the only hotel in the world where Formula One cars race beneath the lobby and reception of the hotel that has no less than 499 rooms and is lit during the night by thousands of color-changing LED lights.
Race for second best is still undecided
The battle for second place in the Drivers’ Championship continues this weekend; four drivers are still in the running. Favorite must be McLaren’s Jenson Button who is currently second with 240 points, while his next rival Alonso is third, 13 points behind the Briton. Number four is Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, who is 19 points behind Button, and the current number five is Button’s McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton, who is 38 points behind on his colleague.
Hamilton’s position is very precarious, after losing important points during the last three races the 2008 Champions has to win this race to keep his chances of beating Button alive. However, although 38 pints behind, Hamilton reckons it is still possible to take second place in the championship. “I have some fantastic memories of the Yas Marina Circuit. I started from pole position there in 2009, and I led the race until I was forced to stop because of a brake issue. Last year, I finished second and set the fastest lap, so we head there looking to convert all that potential into a race win,” Hamilton declared.
He also thinks his car will perform well at Abu Dhabi, “This circuit should really suit the characteristics of our car - we should be able to capitalize on the layout to maximize the benefit of DRS and KERS, both of which are very strong on our car.” And he added confidently, “I'm still determined to end the season on a winning high. I've won two Grands Prix this year, and I'd love to double that by the end of the year!”
But Button is also determined to keep his second place, although he thinks overtaking will be difficult, “It's usually been quite difficult to overtake here, especially last year, but I think that DRS will change all that. The back straight is one of the longest in Formula One so I expect to see a lot of action there. It would be great to see the new rules turn this circuit into a place where overtaking is more common and more exciting.”
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh is determined as ever, “Even though we've secured second place in the Constructors' Championship, and Jenson has a very healthy margin in second place in the Drivers' Championship, the season isn't over for us by any means. We're continuing to bring new developments to our car and we'll be fighting every bit as hard as we did at the first race in Australia back in March."
Webber still aiming for first season win
It seems far more important for Australian Webber to win a race, rather than to finish as runner-up in the championship this year. Last year he won four Grands Prix and scored five pole positions, this year he scored three pole positions but is still waiting for that much desired victory. Webber thinks the first stint of the race will be crucial, and he wants to work on that.
“The first stint from the race start to the first pit stop is still very important, almost as much as it was in previous years. With the difference that, when we had in-race refueling, you could be flexible with strategies, going from one stop to two or the other way around,” said Webber to the Italian Autosprint. “Nowadays it's practically all decided from the outset, especially if you race for the top four positions. The three at the front [of qualifying] do the same things in the race, covering for the others' strategies. When your rivals pit, you pit too. If instead you get left behind and need to fight to catch up, the tyres degrade quickly,” he commented.
2010 Abu Dhabi GP still a painful memory for Ferrari
Ferrari’s Alonso lost the title to Vettel last year due to a wrong strategy, and the memory is still haunting the Maranello-based team. Ferrari’s Technical Director Pat Fry, “I was in what we call the "remote garage" back in the factory last year for this race and I think that for me, as indeed for the whole team, to come that close to winning the championship and then lose it at the last minute was very hard to take.” But he also wants to put the experience behind him, “I always try and take each race as it comes and we will be trying to do our best there this year, while I regard what happened last year as history. Now we have to look forward, trying to do the best we can this weekend.”
Alonso also wants to forget about last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he got stuck behind the yellow Renault of Vitaly Petrov, who relentlessly defended his position. Like Webber, Alonso is more interested to add another victory to his C.V. “There’s still second place in the drivers’ standings to play for but, to be honest, I would we much happier if we could add another win to the one we took at Silverstone in July,” the Spaniard wrote in his Ferrari diary. But as he said, winning the race will be difficult, but not impossible, “In this closing part of the season the relative positions are very clear but we have also seen there are some conditions in which we can fight for victory: as happened in Suzuka, for example.”
His team mate Felipe Massa was again involved in an incident with his rival Hamilton during the Indian Grand Prix. His team boss Stefano Domenicali and Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo still support the Brazilian, despite his lack of success this season. “It is important that I have the full support of the team behind me, which is always very positive,” Massa stated.
Massa missed the 2009 edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after he was injured during the Hungarian Grand Prix, but is a fan of the 1001 night-like Yas Marina track. “The facility itself is fantastic and the track is quite interesting. However, one negative point about it was that we did not see much overtaking, but I expect this year with the DRS, it should help to produce a better race this weekend.”
And last but not least, the ‘fluttering’ new Ferrari front wing that attracted so much attention in India has been revised and Fry doesn’t expect many problems, “Much work has been done to modify certain aspects of it before both drivers will try it this coming weekend.” And added, “It [the wing] does change the characteristics of the car and getting to understand how to get the most out of it is certainly an interesting challenge, and in the short term it has helped our performance.”
Mercedes poised to end the season on a high
Another team that is looking for a successful end of the season is Mercedes GP. Despite all the efforts and the millions of Euros the German Mercedes-Benz mother company has poured into the team for the past two years, the results certainly didn’t meet the expectations. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher are currently seventh and eighth in the Drivers’ Championship. Rosberg’s best result was a fifth place during the Chinese and Turkish Grand Prix, while his compatriot Schumacher managed to grab fourth place during a very rainy Canadian Grand Prix.
Team Principal Ross Brawn admitted he is already concentrating on the 2012 season, but is determined to equal the result of the Indian Grand Prix, where his team took fifth and sixth position. “On the back of a two-car points finish, and a very good team performance, at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, we will be working towards a similar result in Abu Dhabi, “ the Briton said.
Mercedes Motorsport Director Norbert Haug describes the challenges of the Abu Dhabi circuit, “The circuit features relatively few high-speed corners, so mechanical grip and traction are at a premium, while the power train is also highly stressed: the percentage of the lap spent at wide open throttle, as well as the total number of gearshifts in the race, are both well above the season average.”
Rosberg, who just extended his contract until the end of 2013, is confident to score a positive result, “I felt very comfortable in my car over the Indian Grand Prix weekend, and I'm planning to build on the result there in Abu Dhabi. I hope that we can get closer to the fastest teams for the last couple of races this season, and we are pushing very hard to achieve that.”
Schumacher agreed, “I hope that we can carry on our good team performance next weekend, at the home race for Aabar, and I look forward to scoring more points.”
Yas Marina Circuit - Abu Dhabi
|Yas Marina Circuit||Abu Dhabi|
|Circuit length||5.554 km|
|Corners||21 turns, 12 left, 9 right|
|Longest straight||1140 meter|
|Total number of race laps||55|
|Total race distance||305,355 km|
|Top speed||320 km/h|
|Average speed||204 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Prime: Medium (white), Option: Soft (yellow)|
|Down force level||Medium to high|
|Lap record||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull - 1:40.279 (2009)|
|2010 Pole Position||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull - 1m40.318|
|2010 Race Winner||Fernando Alonso - Ferrari - 1h39m36.837|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice, qualifying and the race|
|FIA Stewards||Derek Warwick (GBR), Vincenzo Spano (VEN), Paul Gutjahr (SUI)|
Yas Marina Circuit - Abu Dhabi - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Clear sky, sunny and hot||16C||28C|
|Saturday||Clear sky, sunny and hot||16C||28C|
|Sunday||Clear sky, sunny and very hot||15C||30C|
Pirelli tyre report
For the penultimate round of the season Pirelli has allocated the Medium (prime, white marked) and Soft (option, yellow marked) tyre compounds. The Yas Marina track poses several problems for the tyres, the race is started late in the afternoon and finishes in the evening, which means ambient temperatures will drop as the race progresses. According to Pirelli, this extends the life of the tyres. The most challenging part of the circuit from a tyre point of view is the main straight and the following sequence of Turns 2, 3 and 4.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “At this point in the season, our emphasis is obviously on refining our tyre choices for next year, which is why we are seeing some new tyres during free practice here and the young driver test.” He also revealed the 2012 tyres will be different, “It is important for us to collect information as we develop our strategy for 2012, which will feature tyres that are a bit different from this year's range.” About this weekend’s tyre choice he commented, “We're very familiar with the Yas Marina circuit as a testing venue so we're confident that the tyre choice we have made for the race should suit the characteristics of the track.”
The FIA have announced a two-zone DRS setup for the Yas Marina circuit. The detection line for the first zone starts 40 meter before Turn 7, and the activation zone starts 470 meter after Turn 7 and ends at the end of that 1140 meter long main straight. The detection point for the second zone is located 50 meter after Turn 9, and the activation zone is at the apex of Turn 10 and ends just ahead of Turn 11.
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting about the setup, “The race came in for a bit of criticism last year because the cars found it very difficult to overtake. But there are two DRS zones this year, with two activation points, and they should make a significant difference in that respect.”
Force India invests in sixth place
Once again the battle for sixth place in the Constructor’s Championship continues, currently Force India is in sixth place with 51 points, and is followed by Sauber and Toro Rosso who are seventh and eighth with 41 points each. Although Force India is 10 points ahead, team owner and Team Principal Vijay Mallya recently revealed they intend to keep that place, as losing it would cost the Indian team some 9 million Euros of revenues.
Force India therefore has decided to invest money in sixth place, Team Manager Otmar Szafnauer said. “Sixth is extremely important for us, that's why we have scheduled another four wind tunnel sessions with the current car. A few hundred thousand Euros would be invested well if it comes back to you twenty-fold,” Szafnauer explained.
Although both Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta face a very uncertain future, they still remain optimistic about the race. “It was a difficult race for us last year, but I think this year it should be much better. There are long straights and hairpins, and it's a track where low-speed corner performance counts. That should suit our car so I think we'll be okay,” Sutil said ahead of the race.
Scot di Resta has limited experience on the Yas Marina circuit, but participated in last year’s 'Your Drivers Test' and had an afternoon of track time. “It's a very technical circuit with a lot of tight, low-speed corners and you need to be very precise with the car. There's very little high-speed stuff, apart from the esses after turn one, but they are taken pretty much flat anyway. There are definitely some similarities with Singapore so that's a reason to be optimistic because the lack of high-speed corners seems to suit our package,” the 25-year old said.
For the Swiss Sauber team, things went wrong halfway the season and they lost sixth place to Force India and now could also lose seventh place to Toro Rosso, again something that the team would cost millions in revenues. Team Principal Peter Sauber recently confessed they had stopped development of the blown diffuser after the FIA in July had decided to ban the nifty device in 2012. The Sauber team however, was under the impression it would be banned this year, and that was a major mistake according to team boss Sauber, “We believed in July that the FIA would go ahead with the prohibition and therefore we stopped a complex development. For cost reasons!”
Regardless of this, Sauber has arrived in Abu Dhabi with a Indian-spec car, meaning there have been no updates and both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez can look forward to a stiff competition of the Toro Rosso team, who did not stop the development of their current 2011 car.
But Technical Director James Key remains cautiously optimistic, “Certainly it will be an interesting race where the strategy could play a role. We go there with the soft and medium tyres, which is the same combination we had in Suzuka.” And he added, “The car will be the same specification we had in India. We have, however, several new approaches to some of the mechanical set-up, coming off the back of a difficult qualifying in India, where we just couldn't get the tyres to work.”
More team and driver quotes
Lotus Renault are 21 points ahead of Force India, but have to be careful not to further slide down the hill, as their recent performance during the last eight Grands Prix was far under par, and the team only scored seven points during those last eight races, while Force India have scored 39 points during those same last eight races. Brazilian Bruno Senna still sees some opportunities, “We need to be realistic, but also put in a massive effort to extract the maximum possible from the weekend. In terms of managing our expectations, fortunately we always wait until Friday to know what to expect in terms of results, and we believe that we can do a good job again in Abu Dhabi.”
Vitaly Petrov believes the tyres are the key to a good performance, “When we arrive and are able to observe how the tyres are working, we will know where we are placed relative to our rivals. I hope we show signs of speed, like we have at time during the past three races. I think good results are attainable. I want to end the season on a high.”
Team Lotus, who will be competing under the name Caterham F1 Team next year, are still the best of the newer teams, but like their peers at Marussia Virgin and HRT, are still waiting to score their first championship points ever. Jarno Trulli is adamant overtaking is the key at the Yas Marina circuit, “We saw last year that it's very hard to overtake around the Abu Dhabi track but DRS and the way the Pirellis have performed all year will definitely change that - the run down to T8 where the DRS zone will be activated will definitely see a lot of passing and I want to make sure I'm up there with the teams we've been fighting with in the last few Grands Prix and racing all weekend.”
While Team Lotus are currently 10th, 11th place is now for HRT who have beaten Marussia Virgin. Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi will be back in the seat at Abu Dhabi, “After lending my car to Narain [Karthikeyan] for the Indian Grand Prix, I'm really looking forward to getting back into the action in Abu Dhabi. I'm positive coming into it because in India the car appeared to suit the track well and our pace was good in comparison to our rivals.”
HRT Team Principal Colin Kolles is happy with 11th place and wants to keep up the pace, “We had quite an encouraging weekend in India, showing a much better pace than our direct rivals, and we are looking forward to Abu Dhabi to round it off. However, we have to keep our feet on the ground, focus on ourselves and do our job properly.”
The penultimate round of the season
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the 18th and penultimate race on the 2011 calendar, but the Yas Marina circuit with its stunning contemporary architecture has certainly plenty to offer for drivers and spectators. Last year it hosted the final race of the season, but this year both championships have already been decided, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to lose or to gain.
The battle for second place in the Drivers’ Championship is still wide open, as is the battle for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship. For Hamilton it is his last chance to still make a bid for second place, but his team mate Button has been very strong lately and he will be a tough nut to crack. Not a good time for Hamilton to continue his crash record, he has to keep his nose clean and has to stay out of trouble.
Webber is still on a crusade to score his first victory of the season, while Vettel is intrigued by numbers and records, and the 25-year old youngest double World Champion ever is incredibly ambitious and it would therefore be no surprise if he takes another pole and victory at the Yas Marina circuit this weekend.