Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – two questions

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix announcement, 2007

The first ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be held in 2009 as the last race of the season.

But what has become of the plans for the Yas Island circuit to be a hybrid street and permanent track? And how has it suddenly landed the most coveted slot on the calendar?

Street circuit, road track or both?

Original plans for Yas Island described a hybrid track that included a permanent road course and ‘street circuit’ around a Marina. Such a thing has been seen in F1 before, such as at the Adelaide circuit, which included streets and a short purpose-built loop, and the Singapore Grand Prix track used this year will be similar.

The plans for Abu Dhabi, capital city of the United Arab Emirates, have apparently been changed as the organisers face the challenge of getting the track ready on time. But it’s not clear yet whether the final circuit will be a full permanent road course or a street track. According to Dieter Rencken in this week’s Autosport Journal (sub. req.):

Rumours have it that plans for a half-street/half-permanent circuit – like Singapore, in fact – have been dropped, and that it will be a full street circuit, or even vice-versa.

The race is still 17 months away, but the fact that they’re still not sure whether the track will be an open course with run-off areas or hemmed in by building and street furniture hints at how much work needs to be done by Philippe Gurdjian and his team.

How has it landed the best slot on the calendar?

When the provisional 2009 F1 calendar was published this week the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was expected to be in October. However it instead appears in the middle of November and – more intriguingly – is now the final date on the calendar.

The season finale is a prized slot for if the championship goes down to the final race it increases the publicity around the event enormously. Eyebrows were raised in 2004 when Interlagos was suddenly promoted to the season finale – despite the 2003 race almost descending to farce when a stream of rain water caused by poor circuit drainage eliminated several drivers from the race.

With the last race of the season potentially being the most-watched F1 race worldwide the risks of staging it at a new and unproven F1 venue are great. Yet Abu Dhabi has landed this honour for the first time since 1985, when the inaugural Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide was the last race of the season.

The 2,500-hectare site on man-made Yas Island, with its man-made hills, is an expensive project, and grabbing the final slot on the calendar surely increases its chances of bringing in valuable tourist cash. Bernie Ecclestone arranged a deal for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to run at the track from 2009-2015, but the final calendar but it has to be ratified by the FIA.

How has Yas Island landed the most sought-after spot the calendar? One suggestion is that because October is especially hot in Abu Dhabi the race was put back to November. The chairman of Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Management Khaldoon Al Mubarak hinted at this explanation when he responded to the provisional calendar:

This is another important milestone for the 2009 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There has been a great deal of speculation about the timing of our race and we are delighted with the provisional date of 15 November 2009 as this is the last race of the season and potentially the championship decider. This timing also ensures that visitors to the Emirate will be able to enjoy some of the best weather Abu Dhabi has to offer.

But would holding it earlier in the season not also have been a potential solution, without making it the last race of the year?

Or does it have something to do with the UAE’s FIA representative Mohammad Bin Sulayem being a staunch supporter of Max Mosley? When the news of the scandal surrounding Mosley’s involvement in a sadomasochistic sex orgy broke Sulayem defended Mosley in the strongest terms, calling it a “terrorist attack on his personal life.”

Sulayem also boasted he secured 41 of the 103 votes in favour of Mosley at the FIA Senate meeting earlier this month that allowed Mosley to remain FIA President. Had 25 of those votes gone the other way, Mosley would have lost.

Do ut des”, as a Roman might have said.

Yas Island F1 circuit, 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

2009 F1 season
2009 F1 calendar

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19 comments on Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – two questions

  1. DanielPT said on 29th June 2008, 17:33

    In real world doing favours in exchange of power or other favours works very well, so why should be different in F1? As you said Keith, “Do ut des”.

  2. Do you mean to say it was some sort of pay-off?
    I’m shocked!
    Oh, and horrified.

  3. Maybe it’s linked to the fact that the circuit organisers can’t make their mind up what configuration their circuit should be, so they (like the Chinese in 2004) will get extra time to avoid a potentially embarrassing cancellation.

  4. Robert McKay said on 29th June 2008, 20:00

    I don’t quite understand how they can have a big map all worked out but not know if it’s a street circuit or a permanent track (or a hybrid of the two). Unless the map is out of date and irrelevant.

  5. Gman said on 29th June 2008, 20:04

    I’m sure there is either some confusion on the mix of street circuit and/or road course to use, and perhaps Bernie wants to make sure they have the maximum amount of time to work out the bugs. However, if we look at just the logistical side, I think it would be much easier to slot Abu Dhabi in just after Bahrain- this would eliminate the need for seperate, back-to-back flyaways at the end of the season. Surley it would also save some money and make things easier on the teams?

    If there really are issues still to be resolved with the circuit, it’s disappointing to me that Bernie will seemingly cater to the planners, while we all know that at most other places he’d play hardball with the owners until he had things his way…

  6. Gman said on 29th June 2008, 20:05

    Haha, good point Robert!! That is a PR blunder on part of the planners if they diden’t have things sorted out when that press conference took place!!

  7. I think regarding the math, the truth would become apparent if you try to find the part of the course that ought to match a map of the actual streets on the island. It wouldn’t surprise me if that map is completely arbitrary.

    My gf commented that it looks like a gun.

  8. the limit said on 29th June 2008, 23:06

    Some of those straights look enormous, with some seriously tight corners at the end of them. As one of you blokes said earlier, from the diagram, this circuit does look like a gun.
    On the point of Abu Dhabi being the season finale, I have no problem with it as long as there are no foul ups. Personally, I would like to see the races rotated so that a different track got the finale each and every year. As much as a fan of tradition as I am, mix up the whole schedule, possibly starting the season in Europe for a change instead of overseas. Put Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia together on the roster, rather than splitting them.
    What is the point having Malaysia as the second race, and then Singapore as the 15th, when they are next door to each other? Have them as back to back grands prixs.
    Atleast try it, to see if it works.

  9. cgmasson said on 29th June 2008, 23:31

    Has the date been pushed as late as possible to allow the circuit time to be finished?

  10. Rashid said on 30th June 2008, 2:30

    I think they wanted to give the Abu Dhabi GP organizers more time , and maybe because the weather is at its best in that time of the year.

    I doubt that there will be any trouble completing the track on time…these days projects in the Emirates finish faster than ever.

  11. Nico Savidge said on 30th June 2008, 2:44

    I don’t like the idea of making Abu Dhabi the final race of the year. One of the best parts of having Brazil as the last round is the massive enthusiasm of huge Brazilian crowds. Based on how races have been attended in Bahrain, I doubt the Abu Dhabi race can attract the fans (much less the passion) of Sao Paolo.

  12. Gman said on 30th June 2008, 5:32

    Chunter, as a semi-frequent target shooter, I see what you mean about the gun shape. This is the first i’ve seen of any drawings of the proposed circuit, so thanks for the insight! And if your GF is reading this page, that’s very good for you- my interest in F1 and other sports has turned off several of my dates recently :(

  13. Yas Island is a man-made island off the coast of Abu Dhabi, so if they want a nice marina, it will have one, and if they want a Montreal style park, they can have one of those. Its easy when its a DIY circuit!
    I am suspicious of the date though, it does sound like someone pulling strings in high places, for whatever reasons.
    Is it going to be another ‘F1 only’ circuit, or will there be real racing series there as well?

  14. michael counsell said on 30th June 2008, 9:05

    “Frist Abu Dhabi GP?”

    I guess if the race was held earlier in the season there would be a lot less time to complete the track, but I wouldn’t let that stand in the way of a good conspiracy story…

  15. theRoswellite said on 1st July 2008, 2:12

    Just a short question about circuit design…aimed at no one particular.

    If you get to create a complete circuit from scratch, and you, with a bit of research, can identify most of the “great corners” -past and present-; why couldn’t you come up with the ultimate in a “racers track”? A track with numerous corners that were both very difficult to get spot on, and ones that would promote passing. And please, if you can build the entire island you can certainly provide a track with some elevation change.

    Please give us something with its own personality.

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